There are times in the Cooking Inside the Lines kitchen (and more than I would like to admit) that some recipes are just missing the certain something; that, you just can’t put your finger on it “thing” that would make it really sing. The je ne sais quoi if you will? Oui, oui! This circumstance happened last night when a friend brought over a red wine sauce and we were both turning our heads in thought as to what the heck it needed.
When I’m making dinner, I’ll stop and ask David to try a sauce or a dressing and we always equate it to having a “hole” in the middle. The brightness might be there in the beginning and the nice spice kick might be there at the end, but there’s nothing really in the middle to make it totally palatable. Through all of these years – yes, years! – of doing this, I noticed I turn to a few things to help save a sauce or dressing. Like a culinary ER doctor, I try to find out what’s causing the damage and then, save the dish. Here are my go-tos when something is amiss in the kitchen. You can try one or a combo of them to see if they might work for you:
- Low-sodium chicken broth: this is usually for sauces with a wine base. Sometimes, after you burn off the alcohol, the flavor just isn’t there. I usually add a cup of broth, let it simmer and then bam, you have a low-fat and low-sodium but flavorful sauce.
- Tomato paste: If chicken broth hasn’t saved your sauce above, or, that marinara just doesn’t have the oomph you are looking for, it probably needs more acidity. Try adding tomato paste and see if it gives it the kick you are looking for.
- Honey or sugar: I know sugar is no-no to some of you, but sometimes, you have to have a little bit of sweet to balance out the flavors. I’m not talking about a cup, I’m saying a 1/2 teaspoon. I use honey or agave or sometimes sugar to save sauces of all kinds and add roundness to dressings.
- Salt: Now go in reverse from the point above. when you are doing something sweet and it just seems to be missing something, trying adding an 1/8 of a teaspoon of sea salt or kosher salt. I promise it will make a huge difference.
- Fresh herbs: When all else fails, there is nothing like fresh herbs to add freshness and zing to a sauce or dressing. It’s unbelievable what fresh herbs can do and it’s virtually zero calories to boot!
- Red Pepper Flakes: This is a big go-to dish saver here. Sometimes all a dish needs is a hint of spice to make the sweetness and acidity play nicely together. Just a dash always does it for me.
- Cumin: Oddly, I use this in dressings most of the time when I find it’s off balance and I’ve applied honey and herbs to try and make it better. Cumin has a smokey undertone that sometimes is just what the doctored ordered to round out the flavors subtly.
- Cinnamon: This is a great little spice that people always ask, “what is that in there that makes it taste so good?” a little bit of spice and a little bit of that “you can’t put your finger on it flavor” is what makes cinnamon so special in my book. This is great in marinaras, cheese sauces and even broth-based sauces. A little goes a long way, so just pinch you guys!