A Bunch of Chefs Shared Their Most Overrated Ingredients, And I'm Sharing My Most Underrated Ones

I think it's easier to pick on trendy ingredients than it is to celebrate those that are under-used.
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Claire Lower
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I think it's easier to pick on trendy ingredients than it is to celebrate those that are under-used.

Eater's Young Guns competition, which highlights new culinary talent under 30 years of age, is a great way to find out about new, exciting chefs in your city. (One of the best meals I've ever had was prepared by 2015 Young Gun semifinalist Ryan Fox and Ali Atteis of Nomad, which you should definitely check out if you happen to be in Portland.)

In addition to focusing on the food of these talented young people, Eater also takes the time to interview the chefs, bakers, beverage directors, and other food folk to get their opinions, advice, and hot takes on various tasty subjects. 

This year, Eater asked the Young Guns for what they felt were the most "overrated" ingredients being used on menus today. The biggest culprit was truffles and truffle oil, which I guess isn't that surprising. Truffle oil I totally agree with, as it tastes more like dirty socks than actual truffles, but I had some black truffle ice cream recently that was earthy, slightly savory, and simply divine. (I still understand the fatigue though; that shit is expensive and ubiquitous.) Other "overrated" ingredients on the list included butter (wut), avocado, foie, chocolate, sriracha, bacon, kimchi, St. Germain (called "bartender's ketchup"!), and meat, but there were more.

I don't necessarily disagree with these assessments — I have no desire to eat a truffle fry ever again — but I think it's easier to pick on trendy ingredients than it is to celebrate those that are under-used. So, I present to you what I feel are some of the most underrated ingredients.

Mayonnaise

My stepmother makes the best mashed potatoes, and her secret ingredient is mayonnaise. You don't taste the mayo in any noticeable way, but it adds a fantastic creaminess and silky mouthfeel that you don't get from butter and cream alone. That's because it's an emulsion (a suspension of one immiscible liquid in another), and emulsions have mouthfeel on lock. 

Sumac

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This brilliantly tangy and lemony spice is made from the ground up berries of the sumac bush, and is good on pretty much everything. It's fantastic mixed into middle eastern dips like hummus (or really any dip), sprinkled over chicken, fish, and lamb, or simply stirred into rice, but it is a revelation on eggs.

American Cheese

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Yeah, I know it's not technically "cheese," but it melts like nothing else, and there is no other cheese I'd rather have on a burger. 

Lard

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This one is starting to become trendy, and I am trilled. Everything fries up crispier in animal fat and, if it is well-strained — it actually doesn't impart any porky flavor. Of course, I don't mind my vegetables tasting a little meaty, so I rarely strain my bacon grease. 

True story: I once had a pork fat milkshake, and it was the best milkshake I ever had. It also makes super flakey pie crusts.

Salt Pork

Okay, so maybe I'm just really into pork and pork fat, but salt pork is fantastic in beans, stir fries, or on its own. Though it can technically be lean, streaky, or almost entirely fatty, know that I am talking about the fatty stuff. When sauteed along with other foods, it provides a salty, fatty flavor and crisps up into delightful little crunchy bits. I am not above eating these crunchy bits on their own.

Beef Heart

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I once made a beef heart tartare for you, and it was delicious. It also makes a really good cheese steak. It's a great, underrated organ that has a beefy, slightly gamey flavor and tender texture. Slice it thin. Marinate it. Stir fry. Repeat.

Pickle Brine

Thanks to picklebacks, brine has become popular as a chaser, but it's a great cocktail ingredient all on its own, particularly in dirty martinis and Bloody Marys. In addition to drinks, pickle brine is great in salad dressings, marinades, mixed into tuna or potato salad, or used in place of lemon whenever you want a more pungent punch of acid.

Vermouth

A vermouth flight tbh.

A vermouth flight tbh.

In America, we tend to think of vermouth as a kind of cocktail accessory, reserved for martinis or Manhattans, rather than something that should be highlighted. This is too bad, because fortified wine is a pretty spectacular thing, and good ones can be sipped over ice or with a little soda water. (My personal favorite is Punt e Mes, which has a nice bitter flavor to it.)

Chicken or Duck Skin

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Chicken and duck skins are delicious, there is no way around this fact. They can be left on the chicken, sure, or they can be fried up all on their own and sprinkled over dishes to add texture and flavor like meaty croutons. You can also just eat them by themselves like chips. There is no shame in this.

Tahini

Sesame paste is savory and creamy and should really be mixed into every sauce and dressing you ever make. Not only does it have a wonderful nutty flavor, but it's completely vegan and vegetarian friendly, meaning everyone can enjoy its creamy goodness, no matter their lifestyle. (Well, my sister can't, but she's allergic to sesame, bless her heart.)

What do you think are some of the most underused and underappreciated ingredients out there. What would you like to see more of on menus? How do you feel about truffles?