Your secret ingredients.

In a thread that I cannot find a doper (I think it was Athena but since I cannot find the thread I can’t be sure) said that her homemade chicken stock is the secret ingredient that makes many of her dishes special. I, too, have secret ingredients that elevate a few of my dishes.

The first I learned from mi abuela. Recaito. Also called sofrito when cooked. This aromatic from Puerto Rico is put in a lot of stuffs. Kinda like Louisiana’s holy trinity, it goes into almost everything. The basic recaito recipe is recao (or culantro-- cilantro’s stronger tasting cousin), garlic, sweet chiles and green peppers. All of it goes into a blender. P.S., bell peppers are not the taste you’re going for in recaito. Cubanelle’s, sweet Italians, ajies dulce-- that’ll rev it up. And if you can’t find recao, cilantro will do just fine. Just add more.

My second secret ingredient is my homemade chili powder. But not any homemade chili powder. My super secret smoked homemade chili powder. Chiles guajillo, ancho and, for a bit of heat, arbol go into the cast iron skillet. Let the chiles start smoking before pulling them out. Roast some cumin and coriander seeds too. If I knew how to make my own smoked paprika, and powder my own garlic and onions, I’d try that too but since I can’t, it’s store bought. And just like mi abuela, into the pilon it goes. I like a mortar and pestle because it’s better a little bit coarse. A food processor or blender would make it too powdery for me.

I make other chili powder but this powder is the base for bbq rubs, kidney beans and, of course, chile. It goes great in curry and beef stew. I love this stuff.

Now let me steal from you. Tell me about your secret ingredient.

My secret ingredient is a very simple one: summer savory.

It isn’t very strongly flavored itself, but it enhances the flavor of meat dishes wonderfully, especially beef dishes, and it’s a small but critical component of the bastes I use for grilling. I also use a touch in combination with stronger flavors in my herb breads, especially rosemary bread.

Very few people seem to know about it around here.

Horse radish adds a nice zing to the spread we make for our rueben sandwich. Just a little bit though.

Vegemite! In sauces, chowders, soups, on sandwiches. Well, some sandwiches.

Or Jalepeno summer sausage. Grind it and add to ground beef or pork.

Smoked paprika.

I use Dr. Pepper when I’m making sausage, peppers and onions. Slice the sausage on the diagonal, add to fry pan with a touch of oil and brown (I like mine well browned). When the sausage is almost browned enough, add some coase grained mustard and a dash of steak sauce and stir it 'round. Add about 3/4 cup of Dr. Pepper and the cut up veggies - the moisture from the Dr. Pepper steams the veggies and it caramelizes the sausage. Stir until veggies are done to your liking and serve.

Hey! I forgot the onions in the recaito! Onions are mandatory.

Tiger Sauce.

My secret ingredient for guacamole: a drop of liquid smoke.

Try a dash of Worcestershire. Gives it a subtle “Ooh mommy!”

For years, I heard that McDonald’s Big Mac secret sauce was basically ketchup & Thousand Island dressing…

and that may be true, as long as you add a bit of horseradish.

Montreal Steak spice gives lots of non meat dishes a “meaty” savoriness. I give a little shake into mashed potatoes or lentil soup in lieu or regular salt (that stuff tends toward hella salty so I use it sparingly).

Pomegranate molasses. Sweet, sour, exotic. Very hard to place and quite tasty.

Duke’s mayonnaise

Oyster sauce.

Vinegar of several varieties can work wonders.


Laced with LSD.

The only thing I do is I add more vanilla than necessary. I don’t think that counts as a “secret ingredient” though.

Black mustard seeds are a pretty good secret ingredient. Fry some up (like popcorn) and they make a great addition to fried rice. Mix them into a stew and they add more flavor than black pepper, with no fear of making it too spicy.

Summer savoury is my family’s go-to ingredient for turkey stuffing.

MSG. I’m not kidding. You wouldn’t believe how much people love the taste of this stuff. Now, I don’t use it that regularly (my little bottle of Accent has lasted me over two years now), but when I’m making meals for a wider audience, MSG just delivers the kick the typical American palate desires. It does wonders, and I personally don’t think it’s the bete noire people think it is.

In lieu of MSG, I’m more likely to use fish sauce, which performs about the same function. Used sparingly, it amplifies the flavors and adds umami like MSG does, without imparting a particularly fishy flavor to the dish. It’s great in stews, soups, even a dash or two over steak before you grill.

Old Bay. Amazing in seafood, especially crabs, of course. But it’s equally awesome in eggs, potatoes, barbecue, marinades…almost everything. And of course, sprinkled on fries and the like.

That sounds like something I’d say, so I’ll take credit though I can’t find the thread either.

Another secret ingredient - fresh lime/lemon juice. Acid is like salt, a bit at the end can really make the flavor pop. I keep limes/lemons in the fridge the same way I keep milk and eggs and all the other basics. It’s become such second nature to me that I’m always surprised when I’m cooking at other people’s houses and they go :confused: when I ask for a lemon.