Salt and acid. Americans want more of those flavors in their foods, and Alex Guarnaschelli is ready to deliver.
When it comes to developing big, bold flavors, salty and acidic ingredients are among the most basic of building blocks. It’s why salt and vinegars are such go-to items in the American kitchen; a small amount of either can heighten the flavors — and particularly the natural sweetness — of all the other ingredients.
But Guarnaschelli — a regular on Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America” — says home cooks have started looking for new sources. And to help them out, she recently shared the five ingredients she thinks Americans should use more often. (The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Pickle juice: “Particularly cornichons, you know, the little pickles. The liquid in there really makes a great vinaigrette. And it really adds a lot when you have a mayonnaise-based sauce or an aioli or a tartar sauce or a spicy mayo. Just throw in a splash of that. It’s sort of like adding some salt and some vinegar at the same time and I find it has a way of really rounding flavors out.”
Lemon marmalade: “That is another underground flavor helper. If I make something spicy, it adds both a touch of sweetness and a bitter note. I’m always looking for jars of things that I can just add a tiny dot of to round flavors out and make them more complex, and I find marmalade does that. Sometimes when I’m making a salad dressing, like a lemon vinaigrette, I add a little bit of lemon marmalade to that. It adds body to the dressing, but it also adds a little bit of pleasant bitterness. My grandmother used to make chicken with marmalade on it, she used to brush the chicken with it to glaze it.”
Mustard seeds: “If I am making a spice rub or a spice mix for a braise or even just to crust a piece of fish, I’ll use mustard seeds. If you soak them in a little bit of vinegar and let them get plumped and soft and then you puree them, they’re delicious. And there’s just a touch of heat to them. The texture, the taste, the pop, I love that. Add them to a vinaigrette or a sauce. It’s an ingredient that doesn’t just add body, it really can be transformed by a little hydration, a little spa treatment.”
Dry marsala: “I find that it’s good in anything, especially a marinade for a chicken or a steak. Mix it with a little bit of mustard to make a delicious marinade. I can pretty much add a splash of it to almost any soup under the sun with good results. Any fish stews, fish soup, even meat stews, I just find a splash of that at the end takes things to the next level. It’s like adding the fortified wine version of vinegar. I’ve also cooked it down, cooked that raw boozy taste out of it, and used that to make a vinaigrette. It’s delicious.”
Turnips: “People think of them as this misshapen lonely, lumpy overstewed kind of bland vegetable. First of all, they’re delicious chopped up raw. I love to slice them thin and lay them out over a plate and then lay some slices of apple over it with olive oil. They’re really a lot more like radishes than one might think. They’re also delicious roasted. Toss them with a little olive oil and throw them in a really hot oven with nothing, and then I just toss them with a vinaigrette when they come out and they’re dynamite. They’re really good roasted with fruits. I love roasting them with pears and putting them underneath chicken. You can also peel them and cook them down and puree them and use that puree to thicken a vegetable soup instead of flour. There’s got to be more nobility for the turnip in 2014.”