Foodies are everywhere these days. More and more people are interested in where their food comes from, and how it is prepared. Along with that interest, has come an enthusiasm for delicious and fancy meals. However, a lot of those gourmet ingredients are still pricey enough to be out of reach for most people.
The good news is that there are a lot of ways to substitute less expensive options that are just as tasty. Many ingredients can be found within your budget if you’re willing to look outside of the grocery store. And, when all else fails, many of them can be grown or made in your house or yard.
Many times ingredients are priced higher, because of the effort involved in creating them or the cost of moving them from one place to the other. Saffron, for example, has to be collected by hand. Thousands of flowers are harvested to get just a little of the spice. Vanilla beans, on the other hand, have to be aged to bring out the flavor.
Higher price does not always equal higher quality, however. The unfortunate reality is that when certain ingredients become fashionable or, even are perceived to be high quality when they are really not, the price can shoot up. The upside is that if you know what you’re doing, you can get what you need for your gourmet meals without having breaking your budget.
1. Good Cheese
When looking for cheaper alternatives, start by educating yourself on where ingredients come from, and what they taste like. Good Parmesan cheese is great on salads or over pasta, but can be expensive. Grana Padano is a cheese that is similar to Parmesan in terms of production and the resulting flavor, can sub in for Parmesan in many recipes and is usually less expensive.
2. Frozen Vegetables
Frozen foods have been getting a bad rap lately, but in a few cases they are just as good as fresh. There is an enzyme in peas that breaks down quickly after harvesting. Freezing the peas preserves the enzyme, which means that unless the fresh alternative is really fresh, frozen may actually be better.
3. Frozen Fruit
The difference between fresh and frozen fruit is usually its appearance. The flavors are pretty much the same. In recipes where appearance is not a factor, when make pie fillings or sauces, for example, using frozen fruit is cheaper and just as good.
4. Truffle Oil
Truffles are famously delicious, and famously expensive. A pound can cost over a $1000, putting them way out of most people’s price range. Truffle oil is much less expensive, however. It is made by infusing sunflower or olive oil with truffles, and can be used to give a dish that high class, delicious flavor.
Other alternatives require a little ingenuity. Saffron is expensive, but mixing paprika and turmeric can have a similar flavor at a fraction of the cost.
6. Whole Chicken
Whole chickens are less expensive, over all, than buying just a breast or thigh, though it does require you to separate out the parts you needs. If you’re not up to that, thighs are less expensive than breasts, and actually have more zinc and iron.
Finding a Deal
Sometimes there’s no substitute for the real thing. But just because you’re using genuine gourmet ingredients, there’s no reason to pay full gourmet prices. There are some strategies that came be used to find gourmet ingredients for reasonable prices.
7. Spices and Dried Goods
With some ingredients, buying fresh doesn’t necessarily make a difference. Spices and other dried goods can be bought online for less than they cost in stores.
8. Ethnic Food Stores
Ethnic food stores can often carry ingredients of quality equal to or better than what you find at the grocery store, but at a fraction of the cost. Curry powder and certain spices are best found at an Indian food store, and other ingredients can be found at Mexican or Chinese specialty stores.
9. Dried Pasta
There is a fashion for fresh pasta noodles these days. These usually have to be bought specially and can cost a great deal more than their dried equivalents. This causes some confusion among Italians, as they generally consider dried pasta to be of better quality. Dried pasta can also be stored for a while, so consider buying it when it’s on sale and saving it until you want to use it.
10. Local and Fresh Ingredients
Gourmet cooks always stress the necessity of using local and fresh ingredients whenever possible. The place to find that sort of thing is not at the grocery store, but rather at your local farmers’ market. Dealing directly with the growers usually means a lower cost.
Sometimes there’s no other option but make what you need yourself. Growing vanilla or digging up truffles yourself may be out of the question. There are some things, however, that you can tackle fairly easily.
11. Growing Your Own Ingredients
Many ingredients can be grown in your backyard, or even on a windowsill planter. There are a whole bunch of options to make it easy to grow your own thyme, mint, or whatever.
12. Sundried Tomatoes
Sometimes you can take the raw materials and turn them into what you need yourself. Sundried tomatoes have become a popular salad a pizza topping, as well as being used in a range of recipes. Using a dehydrator you can make your own sun dried tomatoes. If you don’t have a dehydrator, there are some methods that you can still use.
13. Pancetta or Bacon
Pancetta is particularly Italian meat. It’s pork belly that has been spiced and then salt cured, and has a delicious flavor that you can add to a salad, pasta, pizza, or other dishes. It can be on the pricier side, and the really good stuff has to be imported from Italy. Bacon, though, is a pretty close substitute. It has the same marbled fat as pancetta, and though it is not always spiced in the same way or to the same extent, there are types of bacon that are peppery and spicy that can make a good substitute and cost much less.
Gourmet dining is less about the price of the ingredients than it is the quality of the food, and the way it is prepared. It is using good ingredients to produce delicious food, and food that looks fantastic. There are a number of ways to bring the price of gourmet cooking down so that it fits into everyone’s budget.