11 Secret Ingredients That Will Take Your Cooking Routine up a Notch

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11 Secret Ingredients to Add to Your Cooking Routine | Wit & Delight

Editor’s Note: In this post, originally published in May 2019, we’re sharing eleven secret ingredients you may not regularly use that could change your cooking routine for the better. Read on for all the details.

Every so often, a new ingredient will come into my life via a new-to-me recipe that changes the way I think about my improvisational cooking approach. As I move back into my own kitchen with a new pantry and revised layout (optimized for more cooking space AND gatherings), I looked through my own fridge and pantry and collected a couple of ingredients I’d recommend adding to your shopping list.

Here are eleven secret ingredients that will take your cooking routine up a notch.

1. Anchovies

I used to ask for them to be removed from the top of my Caesar salad orders until I realized the reason I loved Caesar dressing SO MUCH was the fact that most of the great ones had anchovies IN the dressing itself! For some folks, it takes a bit of time to get used to handling them or even how they look on the plate. SO consider using them as a secret ingredient for sauces. They have great depth and a little bit of saltiness and pair wonderfully with most Italian dishes.

2. Creole Seasoning

This seasoning is a blend of onion powder, oregano, basil, thyme, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, and salt. A good quality brand of creole seasoning makes it a one-stop flavor bomb that takes the guesswork out of what to rub on your next pork chop or what to toss on shrimp before placing them on the grill. 

3. Fish Sauce

Again, this is something I bought for one recipe and didn’t know how to use until I understood how to improvise in the kitchen. In my experience, fish sauce works well with garlic; wherever garlic is front and center, you don’t really notice the sauce aside from the unique depth it provides. The resulting flavor is delicious and a little milder than when using anchovies. 

4. Harissa

This was one of the first fancy “I don’t really know what this is” purchases I made when I started to learn how to cook. It became a wonderful way to pack some extra punch into my marinades, dips, and sauces and take my cooking up a notch. Harissa is a North African type of paste/hot sauce that can also be used as a condiment or however you would typically use hot sauce. 

5. Horseradish

We were just in England, where they know how important dipping sauces are to a plate of fried food. I love mixing a bit of horseradish into tartar sauce or adding it over fish. It packs a bit of punch in sweet sauces as well. 

6. French Salted Butter

This is another love that came home from Paris with me. I like to make my own salted butter to make even the simplest loaf of bread extra special. Who says everyday, simple meals can’t be special in their own right? You can also add a generous helping to finish off sauces; the delicate flavor can really enhance protein—especially fish!

7. Pickle Juice

Before you throw out your next jar, consider adding pickle juice to brine for chicken or pork. You could even use it to boil potatoes or add to a dressing if you want to really live on the edge. 

8. Mascarpone Cheese

I recently used this cheese in a risotto recipe and OMG. It added another level of creaminess and subtle sweetness that worked so well with a dish in which I generally use grated pecorino cheese. Mascarpone cheese works for both sweet and savory dishes. It can be used in place of sour cream or cream cheese. 

9. White Miso

I gotta thank Gwyneth Paltrow for using this SO MUCH in her cookbooks that I finally bought some. Now I add it to EVERYTHING—soups, salad dressings, salmon, anything that needs a little extra layer of depth. A tub lasts a long time in the fridge and a little goes a long way. 

10. Pickled Jalapeños

This ingredient is perfect for SO MANY USES!! I love to add them to paninis, egg dishes, and salad dressings. I use them as toppings for a baked potato bar or chili night. Or, I use them to zest up a basic piece of cheese pizza my kids didn’t eat. 

11. Dijon Mustard

I often add Dijon mustard to salad dressings, to dress up some leftover roast chicken on a sandwich, or to zing up a marinade. 

If you are looking to get creative with ingredients in the kitchen and want to experiment with flavor, I recommend purchasing The Flavor Bible to study how flavor profiles work and understand how salt, acid, heat, and umami flavors are all levers to pull and tweak when getting creative in the kitchen. Happy cooking!

BY Kate Arends - June 18, 2021

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June 18, 2021 3:24 pm

Yes to these! I would add to this sumac for a punch of bright, lemony flavor on proteins like chicken and fish. And pickled onions (super easy to pickle yourself) for salads, taco night, you name it.

June 21, 2021 10:28 pm

Will definitely try these! I think the hubby’s getting sick of the usual salt and pepper on everything! LOL

April 5, 2023 9:29 am

You definitely picked some good ones. On first thought I couldn’t see it possible to come up 11 feasible ingredients worth being on a list. I would add smoked paprika to the list.

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