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3 “Exotic” Ingredients to Jazz Up Your Kitchen

Falling into that same ole’ cooking funk? Or just intimidated or too lazy to try new things? Sounds about right. In cooking, just as in life, we tend to find our comfort zone and stick to it.  But just as hearing a new song or trying a new activity refreshes our world, new ingredients can make you all the more excited to get busy in your kitchen.

So, without further a do, three ingredients that will add a new thrill to your cooking:

Colatura: Italian fermented Anchovy liquid. Sounds a bit odd perhaps, but think of it as fancy fish sauce, though calling it such would be doing it an injustice.  Several years ago, at a food show in Parma, Italy, I discovered colatura. I had heard of it on occasion in the States. Lidia Bastianich famously called it her secret ingredient, but I never quite understood it’s appeal. But then, at Cibus, in a small booth, I tasted it.  Simply tossed with some pasta, crushed garlic and chili flakes, the colatura came to life and it all became so clear.  Just one drop of this amber liquid completely transformed the pasta before me into a bowl of umami, salty goodness. And just like that I was hooked.

A few months later, I made my way down to Cetara, a small town on the Amalfi coast, where colatura is produced to see how it was made. Cetara, not surprisingly, is known for it’s anchovies.  During the summer, at night, the fishermen go out and catch baskets full of anchovies. While some are used fresh-( I love fresh anchovies! Fried or tossed into pasta, they are delicious and a rarity!) Others are salted and packed either in oil or salt to be consumed whole, but the lucky ones are salted and packed into wooden barrels and then pressed. After months pass, usually in December, they make a whole in the barrel and the beautiful amber liquid that is colatura slowly drips out.

Colatura can now be pretty commonly found in specialty food stores and higher end supermarkets. It’s not cheap, but a tiny drop goes a LONG way and it lasts forever. The two main brands you can find in the States from Cetara are Delfino and Nettuno (of the two I prefer Nettuno, but it’s harder to find.) You can find Nettuno at TheGastroStore.

I mainly use colatura in pasta dishes, just as Gennaro did: a little spaghetti, colatura, olive oil, crushed garlic and some chili flakes and it is magnificent and SO easy. Colatura elevates many pasta sauces, obviously ones that go with seafood, but also works wonders on lighter, vegetable based ones. It really helps make all those flavors pop. It also works great in certain salad dressings, fish or meat marinades or even with mayo as a dip. If I’m ever making something and think, this could use a little umami with a salty, slightly fishy kick, I just add some colatura.  And like I said, a little goes a long way!

Yuzu: Asian citrus. A cross between a mandarin orange and a grapefruit.  An ugly fruit,but yields the most incredible juice. It’s difficult to explain other than saying it’s like a lemon-lime explosion of otherworldliness. I would say it’s umami, but I can’t verify that it is.  (Yes I’ve been using that word a lot because adding umami rich foods lead to better resulting dishes- Umami means mouthfeel and makes a dish better balanced.)

Unlike other citrus, you do not eat the flesh of yuzu.  The juice, however, can be used pretty much anywhere you might use a lemon or lime. I love yuzu in salad dressings, marinades for meat and especially fish, and in drinks & cocktails. It is especially exquisite over raw fish. Buy some super fresh fluke, slice it thin and drizzle a little yuzu with honey and salt. Oo baby now we are talking!

Yuzu also takes other forms, notably yuzu kosho, a spicy Japanese sauce made from green or yellow yuzu zest, green or red chili peppers, and salt.  Use yuzu kosho with some fresh herbs or miso and it makes for a great sauce or “pesto” for grilled seafood and fish. Yuzu and yuzu kosho is found in Asian specialty stores, but also online at TheGastroStore.

Ginger: Root. Fresh. Here’s one you might be familiar with but intimidated to use. First of all, ginger is not exclusively for Asian dishes. It thrives in them, but is not limited to them. I love putting ginger in my salad dressings, smoothies, tea, sauces and stir fries.  Ginger has a big distinct, spicy flavor and is very versatile: you can grate it, slice it, chop it, eat it raw or cooked, sauteed or steamed.  You can find ginger in most supermarkets or at TheGastroStore.  I generally peel ginger with a regular vegetable peeler. Some people say to use a spoon or pairing knife, but I find the peeler easiest and most convenient. Your call.

Smoothies & tea: Ginger is so good for, especially your tummy. Eating it raw is best for its nutritional benefits. When I throw ginger into a smoothie, the flavor is intense enough that I can throw in all the kale and spinach I want and not even taste it. (Sorry kids I don’t like the taste of liquid greens.) As for tea, throw a knob of ginger with some lemon rind and rosemary or just by itself and voilia tasty and caffeine free!

Salad Dressings: grate some ginger to spice up any ole salad dressing. Naturally the ginger lends itself well to Asian dressings: garlic, ginger, honey, soy, rice wine vinegar and oil and of course my favorite: Orange Carrot Ginger. Recipes to come but just know it’s orange juice, carrot, ginger, shallot, rice wine vinegar, and oil.

Sauces: Yes almost all Asian sauces apply, but have you ever made bbq sauce with ginger? Wow. Big flavor and it really adds a lil’ something else. It’s as simple as adding ginger to an existing bbq sauce or making your own.  I love sauces that feature orange and grated ginger and lots of garlic. The combinations are endless.

Steaming or Poaching: For fish especially, add some ginger to your cooking liquid to add a wonderful aromatic element or put some ginger on top of a piece of fish (you can add other aromatics here too i.e. garlic, scallions, thyme, cilantro ecc) and wrap it in foil and bake or steam. Just a few ideas to start!

Happy Cooking!


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