Reestablish a few pantry-dwelling ingredients and use them as secret weapon flavor resources. Create versatility and mystery from the most basic ingredients. Unidentified flavors are what intrigue eaters and make them take those second and third bites. Use these easy-to-find ingredients to elevate your kitchen arsenal:
Pernod: Not just for cocktails, this anise-flavored liquor works its unexpected magic in both brothy and creamy seafood dishes. The liquor’s subtle licorice background will tighten and pull in flavor. Think of mussels in a Pernod, fennel, and tarragon broth.
Cinnamon: Try using the spice to deepen or slightly sweeten a chili recipe or tomato sauce. Brown meats for sauces or chilis with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, or simmer a sauce with just one cinnamon stick. Add cinnamon to spice rubs for subtle sweetness.
White Miso: Miso is a fermented soybean paste traditionally used in Japanese soups. White miso is mildly sweet, pleasurably salty, and extremely versatile. The paste will add depth and sweetness to condiments without overwhelming its accompaniments. Intensify mayonnaises or aiolis, add a sweet spot in salad dressings, and add layers to sauces and glazes. Red miso tends to be saltier, with a stronger flavor.
Lemon: Lemons bring out the best in underdeveloped dishes, almost acting as a salt or seasoning element. Utilize lemons for bringing bland food into focus. The citrus is also handy for reviving and preventing produce from dulling out.
Dried bay leaves: Try adding them to sweet beverage concoctions like lemonade and throw them in almost anything brothy and savory. Woody, floral and slightly bitter, bay leaves are commonly used to add complexity, flavor and aromatics to stocks, stews and soups.
Fresh herbs: Put them in your salad. Every time. Even just a single sprig of a favorite herb will develop and pull flavor in any meal. Fresh torn leaves, minces and chops add vibrant color and aromatic lure to dishes.
Chocolate: Some savory recipes hide a deep, dark secret: chocolate. It’s the must-have in mole, the muscle in zucchini bread, the mystery element in several sauces for game, and it sneaks into some Italian raviolis. Chocolate’s bitter quality brings out hidden earth flavors in some dishes while adding richness. The effect in a sauce is like adding Worcestershire; the sauce will become more hearty and stout-like, and the chocolate also acts as a thickener.
Fish sauce: Fish sauce has a strange way of adding wisdom and history to a dish. Fish sauce lies beyond noodle shops and is useful in braised meats and vinaigrettes. Try a dab in scrambled eggs and any guacamole recipe. Remember, a little goes a long way.
Anchovies: Anchovies give dull dishes a lift, smoothe and balance flavor and salt, and can transform a recipe from meek to mind-blowing. Think of this little fish as a big boost. There’s a reason Batali adds a few of these salties to braised meats. Add to pasta dishes, process in dips for crostini, add the tiniest bit to a chicken Caesar wrap, and use in condiments for lamb chops.
Buttermilk: Buttermilk is like something between milk and sour cream that makes it perfect for creamy sauce textures and adding tang to sauces and desserts. Think brines for chicken, make a better ranch dressing, make that fried chicken with buttermilk, and use it in cakes and for making ice creams. Try substituting cream and milk for buttermilk in soup recipes.