The New Pantry Must-Haves

The New Pantry Must-Haves

A Panera Bread chef shares his favorite flavor-enhancing kitchen secrets.

Bored by your meals? You don’t have to completely switch up the dishes you create—all you may need is a dash of this or a few drops of that to take ordinary meals from so-so to alive with flavor, says Panera Bread chef and Food Team member Mark McDonough. Whether you add a dash of artisan salt flakes to steamed vegetables, or sriracha to scrambled eggs—one of Mark’s favorites—using recipe boosters like the ones described here (everything is available in most grocery stores or online) will help you cook up your own culinary magic.

Balsamic glaze: Made from a reduction of balsamic vinegar and sugar, often infused with flavors such as fig or cherry or even blood orange, a balsamic glaze increases a dish’s flavor without adding a lot of calories or fat. Use it as a finishing ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes. Drizzle it over salads (as a substitute for vinegar), ice cream, sponge cake, fresh fruits, roasted vegetables, or grilled meats.

Artisan salts: Mark admits to owning more than 40 types of salts, but you don’t need to invest in quite that level of variety. Two or three types make a great addition to any pantry. Mark’s current favorites: truffle salt, which he sprinkles on french fries; Durango Hickory smoked sea salt, for seasoning eggs and fish; and Himalayan pink salt crystals, a fresh swap for table salt.

Tahini: A must for making hummus and many other Mediterranean-inspired dishes, this sesame seed paste can be added to salad dressings, sauces, and dips. Here’s a quick, easy sauce to try: Blend together ½ cup of tahini, 3 crushed cloves of garlic, ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, ¼ cup of lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of finely chopped parsley. Drizzle the sauce over grilled fish or use it instead of mayo in a tuna salad.

Sriracha: Ask Mark how he uses this savory Asian sauce, and prepare for a long answer. “It’s probably easier to tell you what I don’t use sriracha for,” he says, smiling. Kidding aside, just a few drops will quickly transform scrambled eggs, soups, and even ketchup, waking up flavors. 

Miso: A soybean paste that’s practically ubiquitous in Asian kitchens, miso is equally at home in salad dressings and stir-fries. Versatile and flavor-rich, just a little goes a long way on its own to enhance soups, sauces, marinades, and dips. Or mix miso with brown sugar to create a marinade for flank steak, or with maple syrup to dress roasted or grilled veggies.

Mascarpone: “This milky, sweet cheese is the key to getting just the right finish on a creamy sauce,” says Mark. Similar in texture to cream cheese, mascarpone is delightful stirred into sauce, risotto, pasta, or soup at the end of cooking, similar to the French technique of adding butter. It can also be used in desserts to add richness to sponge cakes, tiramisu, and cream fillings.