"Secret ingredient": a component of a product that is closely guarded from the public for competitive advantage.
Secret ingredients. Secret recipes.
An unexpected pinch of this or splash of that takes a common recipe from mundane to sublime. Family, friends, and colleagues detect something different about the dish, rave about the taste and texture, but can’t name the unique ingredient. A few ask, even beg, for the recipe.
Now comes the moment of truth: do I share a signature recipe and reveal my “secret” ingredients and techniques? Of course I do.
Often, I’m the one begging for the “secret” recipe or ingredient. Frequently, the cook cheerfully obliges. When I finally make the dish, however, I’m often disappointed – it doesn’t taste like the original.
Life in the kitchen has taught me that, when it comes to cooking, the real “secret” ingredient is the cook. He or she creates a one-of-a-kind dish by adding that extra special something: a passion for cooking or love of a particular cuisine, an insistence on using a specific pot or pan and only the freshest ingredients, and a “cooking by taste” method that never fails to add magic to the final dish.
Don’t despair. You can take your aunt’s secret salsa or cheesecake recipe, tweak it here and there to your liking and make it your own.
This Thanksgiving, instead of a canned variety, serve homemade cranberry sauce with a twist. My recipe’s three not-so-secret ingredients are: (1) cooking the cranberries in fresh orange juice, (2) adding orange zest to boost the citrus flavor and (3) stirring in a tablespoon or two of whisky just before serving for added kick and brightness.
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
Zest from one orange
1 to 2 tablespoons whisky or bourbon (optional)
Combine orange juice, sugar and cinnamon stick in a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Stir in cranberries and orange zest. Turn heat down and, stirring often, simmer until the berries burst and the sauce thickens slightly, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Transfer sauce to a heatproof glass container and cool for 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.
Just before serving, remove cinnamon stick and stir in whisky, if desired.