Everyone who cooks has that one ingredient they always find themselves returning to. Maybe you can’t stop putting garlic in every savory dish you make, or maybe you feel like no soup is complete without some chopped onions. When it comes to the restaurant business, professional chefs are no different. Here, we’ve asked a dozen local chefs to weigh in on that one ingredient they just can’t live without.
My favorite ingredient is fresh herbs. Fresh herbs are
an easy way to take any dish to the next level by adding depth of flavor. My favorite herb is thyme, but it can be time-consuming to pick and prep, so if I’m pressed for time, my go-to is oregano. Oregano can be added to braised dishes to deepen the flavor or used as a raw ingredient in chilled salads like quinoa salad or chicken salad. One important tip when it comes to using fresh herbs is to cut them right before using them, especially if you are not cooking them.
My favorite ingredient is gochujang. It adds not only heat to my dishes, but an excellent depth of flavor as well. I love to use it in marinades, dipping sauces, soups, dressings – pretty much anything you can think of. It works especially well paired with sesame oil. We use gochujang in most of our dishes here at Nooga Bop.
My favorite ingredient is the egg. It’s so versatile, and it’s used all over the world, from the classic hen egg to the delicate quail egg finishing a favorite tartare. To recognize a fresh egg, plunge it in cold water – if it floats, it is no longer fresh.
Eggs are associated with high-end products such as black truffles and caviar, which are elegant, popular appetizers. There is the famous eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce, as well as many other sauces made with eggs. Then there are the savory and sweet soufflés, pastry creams, and custards, all using eggs. Many fine desserts such as Île flottante, meringues, and sabayon are popular egg creations. From appetizer to dessert, from simple to elegant, it is eggs.Finally, a little history: The number of pleats that are on a chef’s toque (hat) is the number of egg dishes he is capable of preparing. Breakfast or brunch for 12? … An ostrich egg and a hacksaw!
I have a long-standing love of coriander. It’s an incredibly adaptable spice, and it pairs well with both light and dark meats. Lemony, fruity – almost ice cream-like in smell – coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant. The spice isn’t often used by itself; it’s usually paired with cumin for steaks and chops. It’s also a nice note to layer into a stew, adding a citrus, aromatic top-note. Coriander can often fill a void that you didn’t know you had.
While you can buy ground coriander in the spice aisle at the local grocery store, I suggest purchasing the seeds whole, then toasting and grinding them yourself. The spice responds well to heat, releasing a more pungent flavor than the store-bought varieties. I often crack coriander on a steak with salt and pepper for a simple, flavor-packed explosion.
Every cliché is true; that’s why they are clichés. My favorite ingredient is bacon. As a child, I grew up on turkey bacon because my father wouldn’t eat pork, so we never had it in the house. Once I started my culinary journey, I was constantly exposed to many different kinds of bacon: not just the applewood-smoked bacon you see everywhere, but that thick kind of bacon – the kind of bacon that makes you really appreciate where it comes from. Growing up in the South, you see bacon everywhere you go. I’ve learned through the years how versatile something with such a profound and distinct flavor can be. While I love bacon, it can certainly be overdone. You have to play it right to really hit those salty-sweet combinations. Everyone should know that when you have a bad day, bacon helps.
At Lupi’s Pizza Pies, our hands-down favorite ingredient is fresh basil! With five locations, we use pounds and pounds of it every week. Fresh basil is a very versatile herb that can be used as an ingredient in sauces or to top off a dish once plated. Lupi’s menu is fairly limited, and you’ll find fresh basil in almost every product we serve. We incorporate it into our red and white pizza sauces and our fabulous fresh Italian “salsa.” To add extraordinary flavor and freshness, we add a chiffonade of basil to our caprese and fresh mozzarella salads. Fresh basil may not be in our garden salad, but it’s probably in the house-made dressing served alongside. Last but not least, topping a piping hot pizza with chopped fresh basil … there’s nothing like it!
Olive oil is my favorite ingredient in our kitchen. I consider it to be an all-purpose ingredient because it has such a wide range of uses. You can use it to make some really unique flavored oils for dipping bread in very easily – just throw it on the stovetop and cook something like hot peppers or basil in it for a few minutes. It’s always great for toasting bread, especially if you need it to bake fast! It provides a nice crispiness to the bread as well.
In some way, shape, or form, olive oil is used for all of our pizzas. If you’re going to make pizza at home, it’s a great garnish to go on before popping the pizza in the oven. It’ll help make the texture of the pizza fresh and keep your toppings from getting dry. It’s a great substitute for tomato sauce as well.
To me, one of the most important ingredients when cooking is using a fresh product in dishes for your guests. In a daily setting at our restaurant, we are cutting fresh green peppers and jalapeños, or we’re tearing the lettuce to get the perfect size and quantity for our burgers. The fresh ingredients make a world of difference: The finished product simply has a better taste, elevated quality, and a higher sense of satisfaction for both the restaurant and the guest.
The onion is the most versatile and widely used ingredient in my kitchen at home and at work. It can be used to subtly enhance the flavor of beans by slow cooking, as a main texture in salads, or as a highlighted ingredient of a soup. Cultures around the world use onion as a staple ingredient due to its broad abilities.
My favorite way of preparation is to sauté since it gives the onion a nice crunchy texture, yet also leaves behind a caramelized flavor that adds body and richness to any dish. As the onions cook, the sugars caramelize, and the harsh onion taste starts to fade. This can be used in soups, rice dishes, vegetable medleys, or even as a stand-alone dish.
One thing I always want to have around in the kitchen is a bag of potatoes. Potatoes are wonderful because they can be cooked in so many different ways, and they go with almost everything. They can be mashed, baked, boiled, cooked in a stew, or fried six ways to Sunday. Breakfast is a specialty at Long Horn, and hash browns are a perfect way to round out a hearty morning meal. That being said, potatoes have a place at every meal – fries, chips, or tater tots make great sides with our lunches. If you’re ever struggling with what to pair with your meal, potatoes are a tried-and-true
winner. Keep a few around in your kitchen, and you’ll always be good to go.
No kitchen can be called a well-stocked kitchen without garlic on hand. When it comes to savory dishes, very few ingredients are more of a staple than garlic. It can be used in practically everything, from sauces and stews to side dishes and compound butters. It’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to elevate the flavor of a dish. Here at Community Pie, it’s an essential ingredient for so many of our menu items. It’s front and center on our garlic knots and a great topping for our pizzas. Whether you’re cooking in a restaurant or at home, it’s an ingredient you simply can’t do without.
My current favorite ingredient in the kitchen is fresh lime. The zest is a fabulous addition to spice rubs or baked goods. It also shines in salad dressings and marinades. Tangy and bright, lime adds the perfect pop to Tex-Mex or Asian dishes. I always have five or six on hand.