Nothing is worse than food that is bland and tasteless. Unfortunately, you may end up with exactly that, if you’re not used to cooking at all! Thankfully, there’s always room for improvement by adding a few ingredients that will help elevate the taste of your cooking! Check out these 10 Essential Ingredients To Make You A Better Cook!
1) Worcestershire Sauce
For most of us Malaysians, this is better known as Lea & Perrins sauce. You can easily find them in most supermarkets. Made from distilled white vinegar, molasses, salt, onions and other seasonings, this popular kitchen staple is versatile enough for both Asian and Western cuisines. Its distinctively savoury and slightly tangy taste helps to elevate your cooking, say fried rice or even a sunny-side-up egg. Give it a splash on meaty dishes like burger patties and stews for added richness and depth of flavour.
2) Panko Breadcrumbs
Panko breadcrumbs are versatile! You can sprinkle them on your favourite pasta or coat them on French toast and meat prior to cooking, with the latter helping to add crunch and flavour. Panko breadcrumbs are usually sold in supermarkets but you can easily make it at home. All you need to do is trim off the crusts and grate a few pieces of white bread using a manual grater or better yet, a food processor. Then, spread the freshly-grated crumbs evenly on a baking sheet and set the oven at 300°F (148°C) for 10 minutes until they become dry and crispy. Once done, let it cool completely before transferring them in a resealable plastic bag. It should be able to last around a few weeks.
Ginger is typically synonymous with Asian recipes. This includes the likes of stir-fries, noodle dishes, sauces and even baking such as cookies, banana bread and spice cakes — all of which helps to provide a refreshingly zesty flavour. Depending on your recipes, you might need either fresh or dried ginger. They are readily available all year-round in supermarkets, grocery stores as well as morning and night markets.
You might have heard of this familiar “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” phrase. But in the world of cooking, lemons can do a lot more than just lemonade. For instance, you can grate some lemon zest to brighten up pasta dishes, garnishes, baked goods and sauces. Lemon juice can be used as an ideal substitute for vinegar in salad dressings while its natural acidity helps to tenderise and moisten meat.
5) Dried Herbs
Typically available in small bottles, dried herbs can come in handy whenever you need to boost the flavour of your dish. Of course, every herb has its own characteristic that suits certain cooking. For instance, dill is best for fish and egg dishes while oregano turns out to be a must-have herb for Italian cooking such as pasta. Other essential dried herbs you should consider buying include bay leaves (stews, stocks and braises), thyme (soups and chicken), rosemary (chicken, lamb and stews) and parsley (stir-fries, chicken, fish and egg dishes).
No essential ingredient list would be complete without nary a mention of good old salt. Salt is good for enhancing the flavour and aroma of your cooking dish. Most of us would settle for table salt since it is noticeably cheaper. But if you are feeling a little fancy for a change, you can purchase sea salt or pink Himalayan salt.
Pepper is like a close sibling to salt that can’t be separated. Which explains why salt and pepper often go hand in hand. There is generally black and white pepper available — both of which help to spice up the dishes and also enhance the flavour. The key difference is that black pepper generally tastes richer and bolder than the lighter white pepper varieties. You can use them on almost any dishes regardless of Asian and Western cuisines from fried rice to soups and steaks.
8) Fish Sauce
Okay, fish sauce isn’t just for Thai cuisine. It is also versatile enough to be used as dipping sauces, stir-fries, curries, soups, dressings and stews. You can even use it to marinate meat as well. But a word of warning, though: fish sauce tends to be bolder in taste so use it sparingly.
9) Soy & Sweet Soy Sauce
These fermented soybean sauces are undoubtedly a must-have for your kitchen pantry. The latter is also known as kicap manis, where the soy sauce has added sugar. They are versatile for almost all dishes such as fried rice, stir-fry noodles/vegetables as well as meat and poultry dishes.
10) Red Wine
Apparently, red wine isn’t just reserved for drinking purposes. You can use it in some the cooking recipes. The only setback is that red wine contains alcohol and is not suitable for Muslim households. Look for a dry red wine such as pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. They are commonly used to add flavour to sauces (e.g. tomato-based pasta sauce works wonders with red wine!) and is even ideal for marinating and deglazing.