I’d been wanting to do this entry for awhile, but I’d forgotten about it. I wanted to talk about my favorite, easy flavor-boosters. Things I use–time and again–to add that finishing touch to the food I make. These are not fancy ingredients and you can find them in even your humblest Piggly Wiggly. All of them should be in your pantry at pretty much all times. For some people this list may be interesting and useful. For others it may read like “Remedial Cooking for Dumbshits.” Fair warning.
1.) Red pepper flakes. They add oomph, but not overwhelming heat. I love to use these in Asian-influenced dressings and Italian-influenced dishes like my Sausage and Fennel pasta sauce.
2.) Parmesan cheese. Whole. Good quality. The nutty, salty, buttery, complexity of this miracle cheese can be used in SOOOOOOOOOOOOO many ways. Use the rind in a Meditarrean-influenced stew. Grate some over pasta (hell just pasta, garlic, olive oil and Parm is heaven) OR–and I freakin’ love this–use a kitchen peeler to create big shavings over a romaine lettuce salad with a simple balsamic or lemon vinaigrette. I love Parmesan so much I eat little chunks of it right off the wedge. I am a naughty cheese eater.
3.) Sugar (Brown or White, depending on the dish). Just a pinch. A. PINCH. The American palate likes even savory things entirely too sweet, but I find a niggardly sprinkling here and there can really add depth to–and take the acidic edge off–pasta sauces and salad dressings.
4.) Italian (Flat Leaf) Parsley (or really any fresh herb, although I find parsely to be so multi-purpose and easily available to everyone.) Pretty much every pan sauce should be finished with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, and they are divine in homemade Ranch dressings and potato smashes.
5.) Fresh lemon or lime juice. As the finishing touch to a pan sauce or just sprinkled over some fried fish, homemade tacos or avocado wedges, citrus’ ability to add brightness and a huge flavor punch right to the taste buds just cannot be matched.
6.) Vinegar (Balsamic, especially). You might be surprised to learn that just a teeny hint of Balsamic vinegar in Mediterranean-influenced red sauces and stews (like Ratatouille), and rich low-and slow-cooked things like braised short ribs can add so much depth and flavor and piquancy, added towards the end of the cooking process.
7.) Honey. A great, subtle sweetener for things like dressings, say for instance Mexican-influenced cole slaw (for topping fish tacos). I also use it in Asian-inspired marinades.
8.) Jalapeno peppers. Remove the seeds if you’re heat-wary and you can use these to add a fresh, green heat to both Mexican and Asian-influenced dishes. I use them in this wonderful soup if I don’t have Thai chiles on hand, which is most of the time.
9.) Basil. I consider basil the King of Herbs, because its aroma is so heady and intense. To me it smells like this weird but wonderful combination of pepper and flowers. Obviously, it’s amazing for finishing Thai and Italian dishes…but try adding it to an uncooked pasta sauce of olive oil-packed tuna, olive oil, sliced olives, diced tomatoes, fresh garlic, Italian parsely, freshly-grated Parm, and you will NOT be sorry.
10.) Lardon (tiny strips or squares of bacon you cut yourself. Pancetta is great too). For adding meaty depth and richness to hearty stews and braises it can’t be beat. But have you ever tried using it to start a simple squash and onion saute?
See, mikey? Lists focus me so I can write about stuff I love.
BTW, if any of you are interested in my recipes for Mexican-style Cole Slaw or my Sausage and Fennel Pasta Sauce, please let me know in the comments. I will update this entry so everyone can see it.
PS–not all of my entries will be in list form, because I think that has the potential to be annoying. It’s just occasionally, they really help me organize my thoughts, as I said in my last entry.