My top 10 ‘secret’ ingredients to transform recipes

We all have them: our secret ingredients that transform recipes into one-of-a-kind creations that are to die for. This is what keeps food exciting at the dinner table and makes it unique to us.

Although these top 10 of mine officially won’t be a “secret” anymore, I am happy to share them with you:

  • Blueberry jam
    • Beef or other red meats such as lamb or various game meats always will benefit from a little something bold and sweet. Blueberry jam is my “go to” ingredient for burger patties, chili, stews, etc.
    • It not only will complement in flavour but also the sweetness will help counteract any acidity in the recipe.
    • Blackberry jam is good, too, but the seeds aren’t pleasant.
  • Peanut butter
    • With the increasing number of peanut allergies in our society, peanut butter should never be “secretive.” However, it is wonderful for using as a base for any peanut dressings, dips (like for chicken satay, for example), or stir-fry sauces.
    • A dollop of peanut butter in a pot of chilli is great, too.
  • Sambal oelek
    • Every chef knows about the “sambal.” This is a liquid/paste crushed chili pepper product that can be purchased in small jars from the imported foods aisle of almost any major grocery store.
    • Dried chilis always need time for rehydration so this product is a perfect replacement as it is instant heat. I add a little (about 1/2 teaspoon or so) to spaghetti sauces, soups, and stews . . . not to make them spicy; just an extra dimension of flavour.
    • If you want your food spicy, then add more.
  • Soy sauce
    • If a dish requires extra seasoning, try adding soy sauce instead of salt. It not only will season your finished dish but also provide extra flavour and colour.
  • Canned anchovies
    • We all know this ingredient from Caesar dressings but this is another salty ingredient that will do wonders for seasoning and bringing out flavours in many of your recipes.
    • Add a couple of small filets to the beginning of the cooking process so they break down into more of a paste. They will add such a different dimension of flavour that it will keep your dinner guests guessing.
  • Wine, beer, juice, or broth
    • Water has no flavour or colour. When a recipe calls for a small amount of water to be added, I always replace it with a different liquid that will be appropriate in flavour and colour to the dish I’m making.
  • Whipping cream
    • Not “whipped” cream but “whipping” cream from a carton. This high fat content cream (usually 33-35 percent milk fat) is great to have on hand to add a little richness.
    • Plus because it is so high in milk fat, it won’t split when reducing down in a sauce–even if the sauce is acidic.
  • Butter
    • Obviously for health reasons, both cream and butter should be used in moderation, but a small pat of butter to finish a sauce is wonderfully delicious.
    • Simply pull your finished sauce off the heat and, just before serving, stir in a small amount until melted. Melting a pat of butter over a grilled steak also is great.
    • Oh, and for the record, I always use salted butter.
  • Fennel seed
    • Not from the same plant as the fennel bulb we see in the produce department, these do have a similar taste of black licorice.
    • Fennel seed is a traditional ingredient in Italian sausage but I always throw in a couple of teaspoons of these seeds to my tomato pasta sauces.
  • Charcoal
    • Although not an ingredient like the others listed here, cooking with this natural fuel of carbonized wood adds such a depth of flavour to everything from burgers to desserts.
    • We even cook sauces, soups, and stews over charcoal, as well as many baked goods, and, of course, traditional barbecue.
    • I’m not talking manufactured square-shaped “briquettes” here; I’m talking about lump charcoal: chunks of wood that have been heated with very little to no oxygen so they naturally carbonize.
    • According to archeological expeditions, we humans have been cooking with this fuel for thousands of years so this is the oldest known form of fuel to humankind.

Send your food/cooking questions to or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C., V2T 6R4.