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Ted Allen Has a Stash of Secret Ingredients

Leave the truffle oil at the kitchen door! Ted Allen, host of the hit show "Chopped," shares his picks for kitchen staples that can dress up many dishes.

You Can Do It!

If there’s one message about cooking that Chopped host Ted Allen would like to get across, it’s this: “You can do it.” With a little time, desire, and his picks for secret ingredients—really, everyday items from alcohol to spices—you too can cook like a pro.



A little-known flavor-booster might be sitting on your home bar. “When we think tequila, a lot of us think of frat parties and over-indulgence. But tequila is an excellent flavor to use in food,” says Allen. “Tequila has notes of vanilla, and it’s very sweet.” So instead of deglazing a pan with wine or chicken stock, add a splash of tequila for an unexpected note.


Smoked Paprika

Check your spice rack for this flavor front-runner. Add a dash of smoked paprika to chili, deviled eggs, soups, or vinaigrettes, suggests Allen. “Use it in anything where you just want to add a subtle hint of smoke,” he says. “It gives depth to anything.”


Grapefruit Zest and Juice

You probably see lots of recipes calling for lemon zest, but the other citrus fruits on your counter offer intriguing flavors and aromas as well—especially grapefruit. Allen cooks the juice down to concentrate the flavor, then uses it in place of lemon juice in his tangy vinaigrette salad dressing.


Homemade Caramel

You, make homemade caramel? Yes indeed, promises Allen, who is adamant that this 10-minute sauce makes any dessert better. “All you have to do is put sugar in a dry pan and cook over low heat until it melts and browns,” he instructs. Add cream and butter, and you have the secret sauce that elevates ice cream, pie, cake, or even store-bought cookies to restaurant quality.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest