Salt is the first thing that comes to mind. It's what makes everything taste good. It's what draws out flavor, it's what draws out texture, makes things sear properly, makes people buy beer—it's pretty much the perfect ingredient.
Favorite ingredient: Most of my Korean dishes contain malt syrup. It's about the texture of a heavy corn syrup or a really high-grade heavy maple syrup, but it's made of barley malt. It adds a really faint sweetness, whereas you would usually think of syrup as being sweet. But it also adds a viscosity and a really nice kind of shine to the food. (Find it at H Mart.)
Salt. Good salt. Sea salt. We use a coarse, gray sea salt from France in most of our cooking. It's not a
but it's a really nice salt. I'm one of those believers that everything needs a pinch of salt to bring all the flavors together.
Favorite ingredient: Butter. Unsalted, high-butterfat butter. It's what I base my life on. It's who we are—we're all about butter. (At WW, we like Rose Valley butter, made in McMinnville and sold at New Seasons, Zupan's and Whole Foods, among other locations.)
Extra-virgin olive oil is the basis for so much of what we do, from sautéeing to grilling to deep-frying to dressing salads. The best stuff is incredible, but isn't low on calories or cheap, so I recommend you buy the best you can afford for dressing and finishing and a good basic oil for cooking.
Favorite ingredient: Parmigiano-Reggiano is probably the single greatest cheese in Italy and is so amazingly versatile. It can be used to fill ravioli, bring the flavor out of pasta, finish a salad or on its own with a few drops of balsamic vinegar makes an incredible antipasto.
Piment d'Espelette, from Viridian Farms
at the Portland Farmers Market. Manuel and Leslie of Viridian expertly grow everything Spanish that they can in Oregon. Pimentón is basically a less refined paprika, more coarse and a bit spicier. Excellent finish to Spanish dishes and tapas.
Favorite ingredient: Navarre chorizo, from Olympic Provisions; cured in the Navarre style, heavy on the spice and paprika. Olympic is making excellent charcuterie here in PDX. I use it on my charcuterie plate alongside Basque cider gelée and pickled market veggies, as well as alongside my olive oil-poached baby octopus.
Fish sauce. You can get it everywhere now, certainly at every Asian market in town.
Favorite ingredient: Whole dried cuttlefish, from Thailand. We use it at Whiskey Soda Lounge. A quintessential Thai drinking snack, it is grilled over charcoal, put through a hand-cranked press to score it and tenderize it, then is eaten by tearing off little shreds that you dip in a chile sauce and eat with beer or whiskey. You can buy it at Fubonn market. Look for Thai brands—the Chinese stuff can be downright moldy and gross.