You have probably read something about this topic before, but we decided to bypass the internet and go straight to the experts; chefs, and foodservice professionals.
Now that we are all over the sourdough bread thing (we are, aren’t we?), and getting ourselves back into restaurant dining rooms, you may have considered trimming down the home pantry to pre-pandemic levels. That got us to thinking: “What ingredients do I actually need in my pantry when it’s not the middle of a pandemic, and everyone is overstocking?”
While most of us have leveled up our home cooking skills over the last year, it still makes sense to ask the people who get paid to cook for their picks on what we home cooks should keep on hand. Some of these ingredients will not surprise you, but what might is how we use them and how we are cutting the shelf life of some of our favorite staples short.
Garlic. Enough said.
“It makes almost any dish better and can cover a lot of mistakes if you don’t get crazy.”
“Skip the pre-peeled junk and go for the full cloves. If stored properly (cool, dark corner of your pantry), garlic will last forever.”
“If you know anything about food, you probably know about all the health benefits of garlic, but freshly crushed garlic has antiviral properties. I’m not a scientist, so how about this; it’s delicious.”
2. Olive Oil
It was probably not a surprise here, but nearly everyone we spoke to referred to its versatility but cautioned against improper storage, not only trimming its shelf life but also affecting its taste.
“An absolute must if you’re pan-frying; don’t overdo it if you are working with lighter flavored meats or ingredients.”
“It’s not just for cooking – you can throw together a dressing or bread accompaniment really fast.”
“Like any oil, when it is exposed to heat and oxygen and other elements, it’s going to change on you, and not in a good way. Keep it in your pantry where it’s not constantly exposed to light and temp changes.”
3. Kosher Salt & Pepper
We would be shocked how many people don’t keep these staples on hand, from what we heard. Bland food, anyone?
“Some people assume that salt and pepper are two ingredients you can do without in recipes to make them healthier, but if you start with a bad foundation, anything that is underseasoned from the get-go is not going to turn out great. Then you start overcompensating with other ingredients and end up with a mess.”
“Underseasoning is bad. Honestly, you’re a pretty bad host if you don’t have it on hand for guests. Even if you’re serving macaroni and cheese.”
“Most recipes are going to call for it, so you should always have it on hand. Kosher salt and cracked peppercorns are a no-brainer even if you make all your food in a microwave.”
Crackers? Say what? Yep. Read and learn.
“Most people overbuy bread and end up throwing it away. Crackers are a good alternative to have on hand. Wrapped well (tip: lose the packaging they came in), crackers will last a while and can be used to top off casseroles, provide texture in mac and cheese, make pie crusts, breading, etc., etc.”
“It’s an excellent alternative to bread if you have to host in a pinch. I am a fan of plain old Saltines or Ritz for cooking and baking, and they are just as filling as bread. Depending on what kind you buy, they might be healthier in some cases.”
“Crackers are just a savory snack to most people but can be used in many desserts that are manageable for a novice in the kitchen. Let’s make Christmas cracker toffee a year-round thing. Tell a friend.”
5. Chili paste
Don’t be scared. Keep reading.
“If you want to branch into multiple cuisines like Mexican, Caribbean, or Thai, you’re going to need it as a base for many dishes. So, get comfortable with chili paste.”
“It is great for cooking, but can also create more flavor to almost anything. Done right, you won't alienate most peoples' palates. You can add it to soup for some heat, and add it to create condiments and dips with it quickly. It's also great to mix in with hamburger meat or use it as the base of meat rub. It's the gift that keeps on giving, really.”
“Why chili paste? Do you like Sriracha? Well, it’s time to up your game.”
It sounds like it’s time for us to rethink what we need, favor things with multiple uses (bye, wheat flour!), and start Googling chili paste recipes. Enjoy!