Bakers have known for centuries that vanilla is all you need to make an ordinary dessert or cake extraordinary. Now we hear the world’s favourite spice is the secret ingredient in many gourmet chef’s apron pockets; that little bit of magic that transforms any savory dish, even something simple like mashed potato and roasted vegetables.

The trick with using vanilla in savory dishes is to use the whole vanilla bean. Pure vanilla extract or paste can overpower a savory dish, detracting from the natural taste of the meat or seafood. Vanilla should invigorate a savory dish and not overwhelm it.

Vanilla mashed potato

Take this lowly side dish and elevate it to royal status. Rather than using butter to make creamy mashed potatoes, instead use extra-virgin olive oil, lime juice, cilantro and the flesh of whole vanilla beans. Add the vanilla seeds a bit at a time, tasting as you go so as not to add too much.

The lime and cilantro add a refreshing hit to the mashed potato and the vanilla gives it a sweetness that balances the olive oil.

Vanilla and black pepper vinaigrette

The sweetness of the vanilla and the intensity of the black pepper makes this an exceptional vinaigrette that goes with everything. Take a few quality vanilla beans, split and scrape them and add to course ground pepper.

Put the vanilla and black pepper mix into a small pot, cover with a neutral oil like canola and gently heat on a low temperature. Take it off the heat, let it cool and strain it, leaving behind the flavoured oil. Mix together light red wine vinegar, a splash of honey and slowly whisk in the intensely-flavoured oil to a vinaigrette consistency that pleases your palate.

Vanilla mayonnaise

Add a decadent flavor bomb to homemade mayonnaise with the help of the simple vanilla bean. Using your favourite mayonnaise recipe, add this simple step. Scrape the flesh of two or three vanilla beans and set aside. Take the bare vanilla pods and add to neutral oil like canola. At this point you can add the zest of grapefruit or lemon.

Heat the oil and vanilla pods over a low heat for a long time, allowing the vanilla to infuse into the oil. Take off the heat and strain, removing any sediment from the oil. Continue making your mayonnaise, adding the rich vanilla-infused oil into the rest of the ingredients.

Champagne vanilla sauce

This sauce might sound posh and something a gourmet chef would whip up but it’s really surprisingly easy. All you need to take an ordinary burnt butter sauce for ravioli to the next level is a splash of champagne and the simple vanilla bean.

Melt butter as per usual with diced shallots. Add a few tablespoons of white wine and reduce. Add sparkling wine and reduce further. Then add one split, scraped vanilla bean to the delicious buttery sauce and season with salt and white pepper. For a thicker sauce, add a splash of cream.

Seafood bake

You can use this little trick for any fish or shellfish you bake or fry in butter. Simply add one or two whole vanilla beans to the butter and brown. Drizzle over fish or seafood, or add to fish roasted in parchment paper.

Vanilla beurre blanc

If you’re not familiar with the classic French cooking term, it’s something magnificently delicious with steamed or poached fish and shellfish.

Simply add split and scraped vanilla beans or vanilla paste to your beurre blanc base which combines dry white wine, white wine vinegar and minced shallots. Simmer until reduced and then whip through cream and unsalted butter. Season, strain and keep warm until you’re ready to steam or poach whatever you fancy.

Tropical vanilla prawns

Pair vanilla, rum, coconut milk and cream in a decadent prawn dish and you’ll find yourself transported to the islands of the Caribbean. Do your usual thing, heat the oil and stir-fry the prawns until they turn pink. Remove and then turn your attention to the next step.

Add rum and a few vanilla pods to a frying pan, bring to the boil and reduce down to about two tablespoons. Add cream and coconut milk and reduce to half. Add the flesh of the vanilla pods into the cream mixture, discard the pod and season. Heat up the prawns in the deliciously yummy sauce.

Slow-cooked beef stew

Any stew benefits handsomely from the wonderfully flavorsome and aromatic vanilla bean. You can use vanilla powder if need be but whole vanilla beans are best.

Follow you favourite recipe for slow-cooked beef by first browning the meat. Add the whole vanilla beans to the wine and stock. Bring to the boil and reduce as per normal. Add the braised beef and cook until tender and falling apart. Remove the vanilla pods before serving.

Vanilla roasted vegetables

Make boring roast vegetables exciting by adding vanilla. It’s better to use whole vanilla beans rather than vanilla extract because the latter tends to make the vegetables too sweet. Slice the pods in half before adding to the tray. The vanilla imparts a wonderful flavor and aroma during the roasting process. Remove the vanilla beans before serving.

Chicken Masala

Chicken Masala is a festival of spices in your mouth and vanilla makes it even more festive. The sauce is typically a rich fusion of puréed tomatoes, cream, coconut cream and the popular masala spice mix. To give it a more fragrant aromatic profile, add vanilla during the cooking process. You can use vanilla paste if you don’t have whole vanilla pods.

After you’ve pan fried scallions and mushrooms and cooked them off to get rid of the liquid, add Marsala wine and whole vanilla beans, split in half to release the flavour. Bring to the boil, allowing the vanilla beans to infuse in the wine. When the wine has reduced by half, remove the vanilla beans and add the chicken stock. Continue with your fragrant curry as normal.

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