Most certainly you have found yourself perusing recipes looking for just the right dish to prepare later that day. How often have you found one that looked good only to check the ingredient list and be disappointed by the inclusion of heavy cream, or shallots, or vermouth, or whole-grain mustard, or fresh tarragon – any particular ingredient that you don’t have on hand? It seems to happen to me once a week, at least.
Unless you’re extremely organized, wealthy, or blessed with a well-stocked grocery on the bl0ck, you occasionally find yourself without what seems to be a key ingredient in a recipe. Let me tell you that unless it is the eggplant in Eggplant Parmesan, or chicken in Chicken Cordon Bleu, or pasta in Spaghetti and Meatballs, you can usually work around the roadblock. Will your final outcome be sublime? Maybe not, but then again, even with the missing ingredient it might not have been sublime. With some kitchen experience, however, one can usually guess how a particular recipe will turn out without the missing item.
For example, I never let the lack of shallots prevent me from trying a new recipe. Regular onions or scallions will substitute. Will there be a difference in taste? Certainly. You can guess that the onions will produce a more pronounced taste, that the garlicky-component of the subtle shallot will be missing. Can you add a smidgeon of garlic to compensate? Give it a try. Unless the Queen or some other dignitary will be a guest, it really doesn’t matter. I usually go for scallions as a shallot substitute and forget the garlic.
Did you use the last of the whole-grain mustard on that ham sandwich last week? The use regular dijon. No dijon? Well, I would definitely not use yellow mustard. There is too big a gap between the tastes of yellow and dijon. But check you frig. You may have some honey mustard that could do the job.
Herb substitution is a little trickier. Fresh herbs and dried herbs are as different as night and day. You can substitute dried for fresh, using the general ratio of 1/3 part dried to 1 part fresh. The result will be different, not necessarily bad, just different. Dried basil on a fresh tomato is nothing like fresh basil leaves. In fact, I wouldn’t use dried in that case at all. But I would put it in spaghetti sauce.
Dried parsley is an abomination, in my opionion. I don’t even have it in the house. Fresh parsley is readily available and keeps for at least a week in the frig in a plastic bag or on the counter for a few days as a bouquet with stems in water in a small vase. Other frequently used fresh herbs can be grown or bought as needed, although I’ve never had good luck growing them on my kitchen windowsill. But I do grow them outside in the summer. It’s great to have a ready supply.
So, the moral of this story is this: Don’t let the lack of an ingredient stop you in your tracks. Unless you feel that it is absolutely essential, go ahead and make a substitution. Use your best judgement, and, if nothing will suffice, just leave that ingredient out altogether.
Here’s a recipe that adapts itself well to all the substitutions mentioned in the first paragraph.
MUSTARD AND TARRAGON CHICKEN SAUTE
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 1/2 T. butter, or olive oil
1/3 c. shallots, or onion, or scallions
1/3 c. vermouth, or dry white wine, or chicken broth
2 T. whole-grain mustard, or plain dijon, or honey dijon (NOT yellow mustard)
1/2 c. whipping cream, or heavy cream, or evaporated milk if using broth
2 1/2 T. fresh tarragon, or scant tablespoon (2 t.) dried, divided
1. Pound chicken to even thickness between waxed paper or plastic wrap. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Melt butter in skillet. When foamy, saute chicken until cooked through, 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm, or put in warm oven.
3. Add shallots or onions to skillet. Saute two-three minutes. Add vermouth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add cream and 2 T. fresh or all of the dried tarragon. Simmer until slightly thickened, stirring often.
4, Return chicken to the pan with any pan juices on the platter. Simmer three minutes. Sprinkle with the rest of the fresh tarragon and serve.