What's your favorite underated ingredients?
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That no one bothered to answer your question. Well, here is my favorite underated ingredient--capers. Think about it how many lovely dishes would be so utterly boring and without any zip or tang without these delicious pearls of delight! Sorry, but they can make chicken with lemon into a gourmet meal with just by the one simple addition of them to the pan. Now THAT is a true feat for a single ingredient!
This is a good question, certainly got me thinking. I agree with Julie and with Hanna on the capers. I also agree that lemon (the acid) can do wonders for many dishes.
This next one, may not count for some, but I also say salt is very underrated. By this I mean people do not fully understand the power of properly seasoning. When cooking people will say "what does this need, something is missing" - often I just say, "add a touch more salt" and the result is quite amazing.
As for the salt I use....Kosher is the most common one, the one that I have on the counter, in a funky little dish...next is a grey salt and for finishing (or chocolate chip cookies) it's fleur de sel.
Yes, I think salt is underrated, often to the point af being villanized. Once I was trying to duplicate this wonderful Pico de Gallo a local restaurant serves. At first glance, it looked pretty straightforward; tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and cilantro, but I just couldn't get it to taste nearly as good. I pondered the "secret ingredient" they were using, went back and sampled, and so on, to no avail.
Then one day, inspiration struck, and I added what most would think to be way too much salt. Voila! There was the flavor I was looking for. :)
Fat is another. People keep trying to find substitutes for both, but fat equals flavor, and salted fat equals bliss. :)
I happen to need to be careful with my use of salt due to health reasons, but the right kind, used at the right time, is necessary for most dishes. However, people who dump salt on dishes which have not been properly seasoned throughout the preparation process, are doing nothing but eating useless, unhealthy salt. They might as well eat it out of the container, bowl, jar etc. and it will not enhance the flavor.
With regard to fat, I gave my sister my chili recipe (who seriously can mess up chili -- my sister) not a complex recipe, but I swapped SOME, not all, of the ground beef with ground pork. Because the pork, while being the "other white meat" still has some fat and yet is healthier than ground chuck ( you just don't use sirloin). Anyway sis used ground turkey, chicken and pork, because she believes her husband eats too much red meat (which he probably does) but you cannot take all of the fat out of a dish and expect it to taste like anything other than dry melbe toast. Forget the fact that she doesn't spice a dish, an entire other issue. But Kelly is correct fat does equal flavor. If I had thought the chili could be made with no beef, I'd have done so, isn't is incredible just how clueless people can be about the essentials of a recipe? My B-I-L called complaining I had given the wrong recipe. The execution of a dish can be so frustrating.
So you have the specific kind of hypertension that is triggered by sodium, labeled (go figure) sodium-induced hypertension? If this is the case, bummer. However, this is actually pretty rare.
The rest of these comments are general, and not directed at you, Julie, although they might address some of your comments.
Sodium is a necessary thing, to help your body make electrolytes, which in turn allow your nerves and muscles to communicate with each-other, to over-simplify things a bit. Okay, a lot, but the principal remains scientifically sound.
When pseudo-science discovered a link between sodium and hypertension many years ago, the media ran with it, and these days everyone "knows" that sodium is bad for you. Probably even your doctor. It's like this: "A tiny portion of the population experiences increases in blood pressure and health risks when they ingest sodium, therefore sodium is bad for everyone."
Ever wonder why salt is good for you in the desert? Or why ruminants love salt licks? Ever hear of a deer or a bovine dying of sodium-induced hypertension?
As far as dumping salt on dishes, this is one of my favorite insights by one of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett. He calls it "auto-condimenting," and says that companies can save a lot of money by leaving out the salt and pepper in the first place, as many people are going to dump it on anyway without even bothering to first taste the food. And he's right.
But speaking of dishes which have not been properly seasoned throughout the preparation process, there are many times when salting after the fact merely results in a dish with salt on it, instead of a fully-seasoned whole. Two things that come to mind here are soups, and fried foods. I don't often eat french fries, but when I do, I want them to be salted right after they come out of the fryer. It's entirely too late if I discover, once I get them home, that the fry-jockey has decided to look after my health by not salting them.
Regarding soups, the stock the soup is made from needs to be flavorful when the soup is served. Any amount of salting after the fact will not fix a soup that was not properly seasoned to begin with.
As to fat, most people have bought into this "you are what you eat" idea. There is no basis in science to this whatsoever, and in fact, fat does not make you fat. And there is really no such thing as "too much red meat." The plains Indians ate almost nothing but buffalo, which is, of course, red meat. By the accounts from that time, no one was fat, and sickness was very rare. Until, of course, all the buffalo were gone, and they became wheat farmers and the like. Then people got sick, and fat, and after about thirty years started getting the really horrible things like diabetes.
Yes, really. Research it of you like, and feel free to call me on it after you do.
In any event, yes, having people "fix" a recipe to reduce the fat and sodium, and then wonder why it doesn't taste good is extremely frustrating.
Buffalo is an EXTREMELY lean red meat when compared to beef... and the plains Native Americans led an extremely active lifestyle... I spent a few years in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Rapid City and Keystone) to get a good understanding of working with Antelope and Bison meats that were both fresh and wild...
That being said, pork is also a red meat, contrary to popular belief by the household cook. The reason it has a "whiter" color is due to the lack of myoglobin because they eat grains instead of grazing on grass. The entire belief that pork is a red meat began in the mid-80's when red meat had a bad stigma to it and the pork industry was suffering.
Considering that pork has finally come back into its own and rivals if not surpasses lean chicken for nutritional value, the argument that red meat is bad for you is just propaganda... just like the egg is bad for you *roll eyes*
As for the original question... My favorite under-rated ingredients:
The fat content of beef cattle vs. bison is another subject entirely, however, I maintain that buffalo is not inherently healthier than beef, regardless of relative fat content.
However, I will admit it can be more tender with less marbling.
And it always seems to come back to this. Yes, the cavemen ate such and such, but they led a much more "active lifestyle." Yes, the Indians ate such and such, but they led a much more "active lifestyle." And so on. So, by that logic, it should be considered perfectly acceptable and proper for a modern professional athlete to eat a diet that is considered unhealthy for the rest of humanity. Why isn't it?
Depending on the sport and the athelete, it is...
Take power lifters, for example. I know several whose diets consist of merely big mac's, whoppers and french fries because their caloric needs are in excess of 9-10k to maintain muscle mass, density and strength...
Look at the diets of several marathon runners on their work up to competition... mostly red meats and fish.
That extremely active lifestyle does a lot... and that's not even taking into account the lack of non-processed and wholly organic foods that native americans ate.
I aspire to live a long life while eating butter, cream, cheese, and meat. If I die young I will have no regrets. Julia Child managed quite well worshipping the same golden calf, and so have many people in France, Italy and in my hometown. We all lived on these products in the 50's and no one was fat. I didn't know anyone that died of a heart attack either. My parents lived til almost 90. Butter, cheese, cheesecake, butterhorns, cream cheese, sour cream, buttermilk dressing, butter sauce, garlic & butter, butter and anything...butter on steak...butter & honey, this is worth living for! Ricotta and sauce, etc. Butter isn't bad for me, people telling me I will die if I eat it or shaming me for enjoying butter fat are bad for me. And I am not fat, either. Melted butter is the oil that anoints life with joy. It's holy.
I had to revive this to say first, Laura L., if you're still around here, you'll love the Weston A Price Foundation, all the good science to explain why all those traditional fats (when traditionally raised and prepared) are super healthy! And on that note, I think the most underrated ingredient is...
Lard (and tallow and suet and duck fat and...). I've used lard twice today already!
I recently found WHITE CONDIMENT OF MODENA and love it.
After the vinegar lesson and learning about MUSTS this is a must for lots of things for me now.
My secret ingredient is vinegars. I had a waiter take my camera to a Thomas Keller resturant shelf and was amazed at the selection and the light went on for me! Of course Rouxbe gave me the bulb!