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Have you ever tried to recreate your favorite restaurant’s seemingly simple dish and you just couldn’t get the flavors right, couldn’t figure out what separated it from just “good” to over the top? What’s that secret ingredient that the chef doesn’t quite divulge, even after, with sparkly eyes across the restaurant bar, you muster up the courage to beg for their recipe as he/she slips in to get a much needed post-shift drink? They graciously rattled off the recipe and you diligently jotted it down. What could have gone wrong? Chances are, their secret ingredient was a flavor base, something so automatic that they simply forgot; forgot to mention that is, the onions, garlic, and spices listed at the beginning had been previously sautéed together for quite some time.
In fact, most cuisines have a base or stock that provides a backbone that, without its addition, gives the impression the dish is simply “missing” something. Japan uses Dashi, a simple stock made with Kombu seaweed and dried Bonito flakes. In Mexico, a blend of charred onions, peppers and tomatillos provides deep flavor for salsas, sauces, and marinades. Thailand and Southeast Asia have their curries, which are full of spices and herbs that are pounded and crushed before adding to soups and stir-frys. In Spain and France, where they make some of the richest bases, they simmer diced aromatics in oil for hours to achieve a deep rich color and flavor, thus creating the delicious base called Sofrito for Spain’s national dish Paella, or Mire Poix for France’s famous braises and stews.
Even if you aren’t a super experienced home cook, having a great flavor base on hand will not only make cooking easier, it may inspire you to cook more, as the convenience of a ready-made “flavor bomb” will make even the simplest dishes come alive.
In this post, I’m going to show you how to make three of my favorite go-tobases to have on hand when inspiration strikes and you don’t have a lot of time. Make a large batch in advance and freeze into ice cube trays or pint containers. Break the ice cube trays into ziplock baggies to have ready-made portioned flavor at your fingertips.
You may be wondering, why not just buy one of the many available at the store? Unfortunately, store-bought sauces and flavor bases are often loaded with MSG, salt, additives and synthetic flavor enhancers. If you make it yourself, you’ll know exactly what’s in it, and can start playing around with adding your own twists, making it your kitchen’s new secret weapon, not to mention cutting a lot of time out of your prep. Weeknight dinners will never be the same!