Many of us amateur cooks seem to throw dinner together. It happens after a hectic day of work in an apartment that's too warm and in a kitchen shared with roommates.
Sometimes we take our time. We make a deliberate trip to the store and buy ingredients. We chop everything slowly, time things well, and focus up, all in pursuit of making something intentional and delicious. And we eat it. It's pretty solid.
But still, there's often something lacking. When we taste our creation it doesn't have the "oomph." that well-put-together quality we so confidently rely on at a sit-down restaurant meal.
The gap between the restaurant chef's creation and regularly "pretty good" entrees at home is often reduced to one thing: magic.
But a recent Reddit thread holds some chef secrets. The tips make the magic accessible to us mere mortals. And usually, the tip is as simple as an ingredient not often on our radar.
Don't Settle for the Extraction
"Subtle, but I usually use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract in most of my baking." -- rithult
"LOOK AT BIG DADDY WARBUCKS OVER HERE!!! But in all seriousness, I wish I could afford it lol" -- Patsson77
"I use rum personally, replace on a 1:1 basis and you're golden. You can get a quality rum at a better price per volume than vanilla and the 'quality testing' benefits of using alcohol." -- Sorcatarius
For a Substance Boost
"Unsweetened chocolate in chili."
"Also, I think dried chili peppers are something a lot of people are afraid of (if they didn't grow up in a house that used them) that adds immense depth to the flavor of a dish."
A Fresh Approach to Ginger
"Fresh ginger. I grab a decent sized piece from the grocery store , cut it into 1-2 inch pieces, throw it in the blender with about 1/4 cup of water and blend...no need to peel."
"Then freeze it flat in a plastic bag and break off a piece whenever I make a sauce or marinade."
"Time. Just leave the damn thing alone for awhile. Applies to letting meat cook long and slow, letting bread bulk ferment and rise for those extra hours, mixing at the correct speed for however long instead of cranking the KitchenAid to 10, marinating, getting ingredients up to room temp, whatever."
"You can get fancy and learn to time things well so you don't have dead time waiting on things, but rushing your ingredients is a great way to ruin a dish."
"My secret ingredient for most dishes is 15 seconds of smoke alarm." -- RedsAreRising
"It's gotten to the point where I just take my smoke alarm down every time I cook." -- prototypetolyfe
"My family has a saying, 'where there's smoke there's dinner.' " -- AssassinRaelyn
To Round it Out
"Worcestershire and oyster sauce are pretty irreplaceable flavours that I don't think many people use all that much." -- Barky_Bark
"Oyster sauce is such an underrated sauce. Boring stir fry? Oyster sauce. Add complexity and flavour to veg? Oyster sauce. Want your counter top to taste good? Oyster sauce. Wife left you? Need I say it? Slap some oyster sauce on it." -- rob_gfy
Not Too Much, Now
"Vinegar. It adds a missing flavor to lots of dishes." -- SpaceOtterInSpace
"Acid. Yes." -- Shadeauxmarie
"That is so true. I really love to finish a lot of dishes with a bit of vinegar and I never used to do that, but it truly does just give that last hit that takes it from 'this is fine' to something you'd pay for in a restaurant." -- Dingus_Guide
"It also works in cocktails." -- JerkJenkins
A Variety of Salts
"F***ing Kosher Salt."
"Table salt, iodized salt, the himilayan pink salt, sea salt; they all have their places as either "get your kid their iodine' or as nice finishing salts with their own flavor, but all those recipes you cook with?"
"All of them are tested with Kosher Salt, usually Diamond Kosher. The flakes are the perfect size for getting a consistent level of salt in a dish."
The Thick Stuff
"Full fat anything - you'll end up using less to achieve body and a fuller flavor in your dishes. Cream, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, quality butter, quality mayo, etc. Quality of dairy and fats is important."
Strong Feelings About Brightness
"Fresh herbs and lemon or lime makes everything taste clean and refreshing." -- 12128322000
"For sure, this. Everyone's tryin to up their umami game and I'm just sitting here with a bundle of fresh herbs and citrus like a f***in guy who just wants a little brightness in his flavors."
"No, I don't want to add soy sauce unless it's a dish from Asia. No, I don't want to add Whats-this-here sauce unless its for BBQ."
"Stop taking over my beautiful herbiness with your fucking dirty salt flavors, umami boi." -- oddlyDirty
Keep it Comin'
"Garlic. Always more garlic." -- Un__Real
"When I first started cooking for myself I thought 1 clove meant the whole head, and TBH I'm not really that far off" -- ryanhedden1
"Garlic is probably one of the few things that could convince me there is a higher power." -- celica18l
Jury is Still Out
"Bay Leaf. How did I get through this whole thread and not see the magical Bay Leaf?" -- Myfourcats1
"So... am I the only one who has used bay leaves a bunch of times and am still unsure if they actually add a flavor to the dish (or what flavor it is)??"
"I have a pretty good palate, but the bay leaf is the one spice I don't have a good handle on. I basically take it on faith that it's doing something when I toss it in." -- babyyoda4lyfe
An Intimidating Spice
"Nutmeg - freshly grated. On all cauliflower dishes, potatoes (mashed Mmmh), Sauce Béchamel, sometimes zucchini, celeriac...." -- SeeSwan
"Nutmeg in anything with cream/milk." -- DrkWht
"I throw a pinch of nutmeg in my Alfredo sauce and it's INCREDIBLE. Would definitely recommend that if you use it often and love it." -- splashmob
And One Technique
"It's not an ingredient, but I find that just sticking my plates in the microwave for 30-60 seconds before plating up makes a huge difference if you're serving warm food."
"Keeps things feeling like they just came right off the stove for much longer when it's not immediately placed in a vessel that's going to suck all the heat right out of it."
"Eggs especially. Putting eggs on a cold plate just feels wrong now."
Good When Hot Too
"Nuts. Wtf are these not on more things? (Ok, allergies and cost). Roasted veggies, pizza, pasta, salads. You name it." -- Girl-Here
"Ever had walnuts in a noodle stir fry? Heckin'brilliant." -- The_Soviette_Tank
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