Secret Ingredients- Asian Edition
With the same amount of time and effort it takes to reach for the ketchup or mayo, swap out some of your "regular" ingredients for these "secret ones" to elevate and re-energize your dishes. In this week's installment, we explore putting some typical Asian ingredients in non-Asian dishes for some delicious results.
Miso Paste: Miso is a Japanese product made from fermented soybeans, wheat, rice or barley. It is commonly used as a flavoring agent for soups, sauces or pickling applications in Japanese culture. Use it when you want a "layered saltiness" with a complex but mellow flavor. It makes a great vinaigrette for salads or grilled vegetables. Or add a little lemon juice to some white miso and whisk until it's a loose paste. Spread on a filet of salmon and broil, about 3-4 inches from the heat source for about 5 minutes. Whisk a couple tablespoons into mayonnaise for a delicious coleslaw dressing. Sprinkle miso sugar on homemade doughnuts or popcorn.
Soy Sauce: It doesn't seem like such a secret ingredient, but add a tablespoon of soy suace to your marinara, a dash to your shrimp cocktail sauce, or 1/2 cup to your fajita marinade, and you are adding a pop of umami that you can't get from plain salt.
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms. Of course you can just re-hydrate them to use in place of fresh mushrooms, but if you throw some in your spice grider, you can use the powder like a spice-- as a rub on your rib-eye, or that super-secret ingredient in your meatloaf and meatballs. Use the water in which you rehydrated the mushrooms as a flavorful broth to make risotto, cook grains like farro or barley or even lentils. Stir some rehydrated mushrooms in your queso fundido for an appetizer everyone will love.
Seaweed: Those seaweed chips from Trader Joes? Buzz them in your spice grinder and sprinkle on your homemade potato chips, roasted carrots, simply steamed asparagus or on fresh heirloom tomato slices in the summer. Cooking vegetarian, but want your food to taste "meaty" nonetheless? Make a stock with some wakame or kombu to replace chicken or beef stock. Need to soften your beans more quickly? The amino acids in kombu help soften beans and make them more digestible. Add a 4-6" strip of kombu to a pot of cooking beans. After an hour or two, the kombu will disintegrate when stirred. (Any stray pieces should be tender enough to eat, or you can remove them).
Cardamom: I probably over-use this spice, but it's really hard not to. In sweet or savory dishes, it is the most "intriguing" spice in my cabinet. A little goes a long way, but I add it to whipped cream, lamb chops, simple syrup for cocktails, mashed parsnips, strawberry-rhubarb pie, pickled onions, apple crisp, BBQ sauce for baby back ribs.
Szechuan and Pink Peppercorns: Szechauan Pepper has tongue-tingly flavor (think clove, but different), pink peppercorns are floral and complex. Both have less agressive "pepper bit" than typical black pepper. All can be swapped interchangably. Eggs, vegetables, potatoes.. just no carbonara. Black pepper only for that.
Gochujang: Think of this as Sriracha's sweeter, mellower sibling. Gochujang is a staple in Korean cooking and one of my favorite condiments to have on hand. Not familiar with it? It’s the bright red paste found in everything from bibimbap to dukbokki. I swap it one-for-one for plain ole American ketchup. On my hot dog or burger, with fries, in BBQ sauce. Here are 18 recipes from Bon Appetit to get you started.
Fish Sauce: Fish sauce smells like what would result from leaving anchovies wrapped in my son's dirty gym socks and left to marinate on the New York Subway from June-September... some pretty strong funk. But don't fear the funk! Make these chicken wings or Michael Ruhlman's Mac and Cheese or Michael Ruhlman's Bloody Mary, or Michael Ruhlman's Eggs in Puttanesca, or Michael Ruhlman's Tomato Sauce. Basically, if you'd like to learn what an amazing secret ingredient fish sauce can be, read Michael Ruhlman's recipes.
Curry Powders- Basically, curry powder saved our family dinner. They are mild enough for even the toughest New Hampshire toddler's palate, but add a little complexity to roasted sweet potatoes, cauliflower, chicken, so that we grown-ups weren't completely bored.
Tubes of Lemongrass, Tomato and Anchovy Paste: The lemongrass isn't as good as fresh lemongrass, but it's way easier, and way better than the tubes of garlic and ginger that you find next to the lemongrass at Wal-Mart. Add it to sour cream for a delicious alternative-to-Ranch-dip. Marinate shrimp with it before grilling. Add it to your squash or carrot soup. for a bright, fresh flavor along with ginger and coconut. Saute a little tomato paste into braises, sauces and stews for a deep, mysterious "backbone". And anchovy paste- I know, that one's going to be a hard sell. But just like Fish Sauce, it adds a mysterious "funky" complexity to vinaigrettes, pastas, eggs-- even pizza. Check out Huffington Post's Ode to the Anchovy here. The reason I love the tubes, is that you rarely need more than a teaspoon of any of these ingredients, and this way you don't need to open a whole can/ let a whole stalk rot in your fridge.