“This tastes AMAZING!”
Used properly, anchovy will elevate a simple rustic dish to an extraordinary experience. I’ve worked in many places that cook with anchovies across the menu (salad dressings, pasta sauces, tapenade, etc) but they would never mention it on the menu.
This week a friend used anchovy as an example to make me re-examine my feelings about the secret ingredient. I’ve always hated the notion of it; solid cooking technique and quality ingredients allow for infinitely more food combinations than one failsafe ingredient.
But he pointed out that there are all sorts of ingredients that we use in restaurants everyday that we’d never post on the menu. While I don’t consider anchovy a secret, it made me consider other items we use in our dishes that we don’t highlight to our customers.
Another friend of mine serves a seared duck breast dish with a peach/port reduction. As far as the customers know, the sauce is made with duck stock, port, and fresh peaches. It’s made with those three things but also gets a couple Tbsp of peach jelly and dash of vinegar. The servers don’t tell the diners about the jelly in their duck dish.
In his casual restaurant, he serves a house made bbq sauce that’s wildly popular. He smokes all the onion and tomato for the sauce in house, makes the base from scratch, and everyone loves it. He does, however, add a little bit of ketchup to give it the right body. No one needs to know about it, and his customers love it.
Do you think there are ethical issues when not listing all ingredients? Food allergy issues? Alfred Portale is known for omitting one major flavor from of his menu descriptions so his guests experience a small element of surprise when their plate hits the table. Would you consider this a pleasant surprise or do you need to know what you’ve ordered?
What other secret ingredients do you use in your restaurant?