Aaron Sanchez's Ultimate Secret Ingredient

You probably know Aarón Sánchez as a judge on FOX's "MasterChef" and "MasterChef Junior," as well as Food Network's "Chopped" and "Chopped Junior." But he's much more than a TV personality; he's also an accomplished chef and restaurateur. He is currently a chef-partner at Johnny Sánchez, a successful Latin restaurant in New Orleans, and he also founded New York's Centrico and Kansas City's Mestizo (via Institute of Culinary Education).

So when a chef of Aarón Sánchez's pedigree has cooking tips, namely a secret ingredient, we're all ears. And what is his go-to ingredient that enlivens and elevates a dish? It's cilantro. Granted, cilantro is a divisive issue. We're not trying to start something. You've probably seen the Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and Reddit threads dedicated to hating the herb. And that's because everyone tastes the herb differently. A University of Toronto study published in the journal Flavour found that flavor perceptions of cilantro vary from person to person. Those who like the herb enjoy its fragrant, almost citrus-like flavor. But those who hate it report it tastes like soap, dirt, mold, or even bugs.

Sánchez swaps basil for cilantro in this sauce

Aarón Sánchez loves cilantro so much that he uses it in dishes that don't traditionally call for the herb. When asked what secret ingredient makes his dishes unique, Sánchez told Food Network he likes to use cilantro instead of basil in pesto, which he tosses with pasta or drizzles over grilled fish.  When he guest-starred in an episode on Cocina, a Latin food YouTube channel, he made a cilantro-pumpkin seed-cotija cheese pesto, which he combined with pasta for an "Italy meets Mexico" dish. He describes it as "a fresh, vibrant expression of Spring."

Cilantro is also an important ingredient in Sánchez's Brussels Sprouts Salad, which was published in his book "Where I Come From." It's part of a vinaigrette made with rice vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, agave nectar, and garlic. When it comes to cilantro, Sánchez says there's one misstep you shouldn't make. He told Food & Wine that one rookie mistake he sees people making is tearing off the leaves but throwing out the stems. "When I see people not using the stems, that's what I call a gringo move," he told the magazine. He explains that garnishing with a full stem and leaves gives tacos an extra zest. Cook's Illustrated agrees, saying the cilantro stems taste similar to the leaves, just more intense.