We asked 22 cooks for the secret supermarket staples they add to their dishes. The result: Deceptively delicious shortcuts.
Chef Secrets CHERRY COLA ON STEAK AND PORK
We use cherry cola to cook the filling in two of our bao (steamed buns). It sweetens and tenderizes the meat at the same time.
-Eddie Huang, BaoHaus, New York City
KETCHUP ON VEGETABLES
We love to use Heinz ketchup to batter our Manchurian-style cauliflower before frying it. People wonder what that sweet and tangy taste is, and they're usually shocked when we reveal the secret.
-Suvir Saran, Dévi, New York City
COCOA POWDER IN PASTA SAUCE
Our tomato-based broth for pasta doesn't take long to make, but the cocoa powder we sneak in gives it a complex, meaty taste, and tricks your tongue into thinking it's been slow-cooked for a long time.
-Ana Sortun, Oleana, Cambridge, MA
SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK FOR FRENCH TOAST
I mix sweetened condensed milk with beaten eggs, then soak bread in it for the most decadent french toast.
-Michael Cressotti, The Mermaid Inn, New York City
FUNYUNS ON FISH
I encrust fish fillets with Funyuns (wasabi flavored are the best, if you can still find them!). They're horrible for you, but really stinking good used as breading on roasted halibut. People know they recognize the flavor, but it gives them complete brain confusion.
-Tim Love, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Fort Worth, TX
POPCHIPS ON SANDWICHES
Sea Salt & Vinegar Popchips are a great, totally unexpected sandwich add-on. I smash them up and scatter them on top to give the fillings more crunch. It's especially good with tuna fish.
-Jeff Mason, Pal's Take Away, San Francisco
GROUND WHITE RICE IN SOUPS
We grind long-grain rice in the spice grinder, then add it to soups. It cooks quickly, but tastes creamy and rich. It works with carolina gold or jasmine rice, too.
-Andrea Reusing, Lantern, Chapel Hill, NC
OLD BAY ON PORK
Old Bay Seasoning is a recognizable flavor when it's on seafood (we do use it on crabs), but I'll also add it to brining liquid for pork. It's a nice-but unexpected-flavor booster.
-Andrew Little, Sheppard Mansion, Hanover, PA
RANCH SEASONING ON CHICKEN
I love Hidden Valley Ranch packets. My mom has been using them for years to make her macaroni, bacon and broccoli salad-her go-to picnic dish-and she inspired me. I am not ashamed to admit that I find many, many uses for them: I sprinkle them on potatoes for potato salad, and we even use them to brine chicken for my take on a popular fast food chain's chicken sandwich.
ANIMAL CRACKERS IN MOLE SAUCE
Believe it or not, I use crushed animal crackers in a Mexican chocolate sauce for our glazed pork chop dish. I love how they help thicken the mole and add a hint of sweetness. When people see a recipe with animal crackers in it, I think they are more inclined to try it out!
-Julian Medina, Yerba Buena, New York City
CHEETOS ON CHICKEN CUTLETS
When I run out of ingredients, I've been known to improvise. One night I had run out of panko breadcrumbs when making chicken katsu and used crushed-up Cheetos instead. It was a hit.
CORNFLAKES AS BREADING
I sometimes prefer cornflakes to breadcrumbs for frying foods like tofu because the cereal already has a flavor of its own, which adds another dimension to the dish. Cornflakes also stay nicely puffed in the fryer.
-Amanda Cohen, Dirt Candy, New York City
COFFEE ON MEAT
One of my shortcuts to braising chicken or beef is adding coffee into the cooking liquid. It lends a smoky, roasted flavor.
-Michael Solomonov, Zahav, Philadelphia, PA
FRENCH'S MUSTARD ON CRISPY FOODS
French's mustard is one of our secret ingredients. We've used it to make a more flavorful egg wash for coating our crispy rabbit legs. First we dredge them in flour, then in the mustardy beaten eggs.
-Jon Shook, Animal and Son of a Gun, Los Angeles
CHEEZ-ITS IN RISOTTO
I once took a road trip to Wisconsin and afterward created a dish utilizing everything I had been eating in the car. The trip inspired me to garnish my risotto with Cheez-Its, along with Wisconsin apples, onions braised in Pabst Blue Ribbon and powdered bacon bits.
POP ROCKS CANDY ON FOIE GRAS
I coat slices of foie gras in Pop Rocks for a hit of texture-and for the juxtaposition between a 25-cent candy and a $40 piece of foie gras.
-Graham Elliot, Graham Elliot restaurant, Chicago
Condiment Addiction: SRIRACHA CHILI SAUCE
Champion Mayonnaise: DUKE'S
Cheese Crutch: VELVEETA
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