When you’re cooking at home, sometimes a few chef-level elements can make a mediocre menu much more exciting. But, if you haven’t been educated in classical technique, it can be difficult to figure out when these finishes will add something special, and when they will flop. Fortunately, some of the fanciest touches in your favorite restaurant aren’t nearly as difficult as they look.
And you can make many of them with ingredients in your own pantry. If you keep a well-stocked kitchen and generally have ingredients like olive oil, fresh lemons, herbs, and chocolate chips, you can create any of these five fancy accompaniments to any dish (or dessert!) in just a few minutes. A few of these are more labor-intensive than others, but the results are always, always oh-so-worth it.
The rich, decadent flavor of chocolate ganache belies its simplicity. This simple mixture of chocolate and cream—we like Ina Garten’s easy ratio involves stirring chopped chocolate (you can use chocolate chips, but since they’re coated with a non-melting coating, your ganache won’t be as smooth) into a pan of warm cream. The only real trick is ensuring that you don’t scorch the cream or break the emulsion, but as long as you keep the temperature in check and whisk frantically for a few minutes, your ganache will turn out perfectly. Once you’ve mastered that technique, try infusing the cream for the ganache with herbs, teas, fruit, and other flavors.
Aioli is basically just mayonnaise, even if it’s been infused with fancy flavors like saffron and ras el hanout. You probably already have the ingredients on hand—egg yolks, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice—and the food processor can make quick work of emulsifying the yolks and oil. Once you get used to the taste of fresh aioli, you’ll be hard-pressed to find your way back to the jar. Experiment by using different types of citrus and oils for an incredible range of flavors.
French sauces can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know the difference between a reduction and a pan sauce. Fortunately, beurre blanc is one of the more simple ways to introduce yourself to French haute cuisine. You’ll just need to reduce a little lemon juice, minced shallot and white wine before adding a ton of delicious butter and whisking maniacally for a few minutes. It’s bright and acidic and fantastic over seafood or chicken. If it’s all you’ve got on hand, red wine can be substituted to make beurre rouge, a rich and flavorful sauce for meats of all kinds.
Duck confit is one of those dishes that you just have to order from a menu, likely because you think it’s too challenging to attempt at home. Duck legs might be difficult to come across at the grocery store, but chicken confit is easy to make at home, and equally as rich. By adding a little fat (like duck fat, schmaltz, or olive oil) to already fatty cuts of chicken like leg quarters, you can create a budget-friendly indulgence that doesn’t take much work at all. Try Food & Wine’s recipe for Crispy Chicken Confit to help you get through the process the first time. From there, tweak until you create your personalized and succulent confit.
You’ve seen this trendy broth on menus across the country, but you’d probably be surprised at how simple it is to make at home. Once you create your first batch of dashi, you’ll start adding it to dishes of all kinds. All you’ll need to make this Asian stock at home is a little kombu and bonito flakes, which you can pick up for just a couple of bucks at the Asian grocery, and of course, water. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can try David Chang’s (of Momofuku fame) bacon dashi, which involves adding a full pound of smoky bacon to the stock during the cooking process.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor.
Photo by Tim Pierce CC BY