Have you ever been to your favorite restaurant and wished that you knew just what it was that the chef put into your favorite dish? If you are someone who loves to cook, then you know that pretty much every chef has a way of adding something special to a well known dish to make it uniquely their own. One of the favorite past-times of good kitchen cooks is trying to determine just what spice, herb or new extra has been added to something they like to make at home, so they can try it out themselves.

Well we talked to a host of great chefs in a variety of different disciplines to ask them what they thought was an ingredient they love to use when they are experimenting with a new recipe. While my mom used to always say that love was her special ingredient, and our local barbeque master swears it is the Lin-Gas propane he uses at his favorite gas barbeque range, we thought these ingredients gave us all plenty of food for thought, and cooking experiments.

Vanilla – Not That Plain

While most of us think of vanilla as a flavor that is quiet, the truth is that vanilla brings a host of complex flavors to just about anything you can name. I use it in everything you can think of, from a simple white sauce for my eggs to a complicated sauté for that roast beef dinner. It can make a simple dish taste a bit sweeter and bring new notes to a savory dish because it compliments almost every herb you can name.

Earthy Bay Leaves

A few years back I had a bay bush outside my back door and loved the fact I could just grab a few branches whenever I was making a stew. Today I know that bay leaves are for so much more than just my old fashion beef stew. The earthy notes of the bay leaf can be quite strong if left in, which is why most recipes call for you to remove it before you finish cooking. Well, that and most of us don’t really want to chow down on a twig when we are enjoying our stew. But have you ever considered adding it to a cucumber and yogurt dipping sauce? Just grind down those dried leaves and add for an extra tone in that sauce that is incredible.

Butter is Making a Comeback

While for a while butter was seen as a food we wanted to avoid, today we know that it is part of a healthy diet. Brown butter is making a big splash with many chefs as the perfect ingredient for basting meat, particularly beef. It seals in the juiciness while adding a sweet touch to the meat. But beyond this, many dairy chefs are blending herbs and butter to make special very tasty spreads. Try it with curry to make a sweet and spicy spread for your next dinner party.

A Host of Options

Beyond this you can use vinegar as a sauce base, rice instead of bread crumbs and even a bit of anchovies in your next dish to add a salty extra. Just be creative and pull those spices out of your back shelf and into the light of day!