Open up a basic tool box and there will be some staple items to depend on: a hammer, screw driver, tape measure, and maybe some wrenches. Similarly, your pantry is a tool box for all your culinary endeavors. Some items in there we use more than others. There’s a spice you picked up for one specific holiday recipe that is now collecting dust. Then, there’s those items that you can’t seem to keep stocked, no matter how big the bottle.
A vital pantry item varies among cooks as much as their techniques. We asked three Jackson experts to name their five essential pantry ingredients. Hopefully, their tips will not only streamline your pantry, but elevate it as well.
Will Bradof is an executive chef and owner of Local Restaurant & Bar, Trio, and Local Butcher. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America, and completed apprenticeships in Tuscany, Italy and Napa, California. There are five pantry items he always has on hand: sea salt, fish sauce, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and soy sauce.
Although table salt is more likely to be on hand, the coarser sea salt variety is great for finishing any dish, especially steaks. Bradof says fish sauce is a must have for marinades, vinaigrettes and ribs. Fish sauce achieves umami, the fifth taste element, and adds a great depth of flavor to your dish. Olive oil is one of the most versatile items in your pantry. A heart healthy oil, it can be drizzled over salads or cooked pasta, added at the end of cooking for a burst of flavor, substituted for butter on your bread, or used in marinades and sauces. The options are endless with this ingredient. For Bradof, the sherry vinegar comes out to finish soups, starch purees, and sauces. Soy sauce, another umami ingredient, can be a simple touch on fresh seafood and steaks. The soy sauce will empower these natural flavors.
Over on Scott Lane, at Sweat Cheeks Meats, Nick and Nora Phillips are still utilizing the entire animal in their retail case and prepared foods. We love that this practice reduces waste, but recognize that some parts are easy to use, while others require some creative kitchen work. So, we asked Nick what he’s grabbing out of the pantry to create the tasty Sweet Cheeks products.
First, finishing salt. Like Bradof, Phillips says that salt elevates other flavors of the dish. Finishing salt lends a great texture to what you’re eating, and boosts the other flavors already present. Next, he introduces us to sambal. Nick calls sambal a “grown up’s version of Sriracha.” He uses it as a go-to for adding a little heat, without the sugar of Sriracha. Sambal is the hidden gem in the Sweet Cheeks spicy mayo. Always keep some form of acid on-hand, Phillips says, whether lemon or cider vinegar. Added to a veggie dish, the acid will brighten the flavors, in a salad dressing it will balance the fat, and in a spicy dish use it to combat the heat. Next, Phillips talks about fermented black soy beans, a Chinese staple that he says has endless possibilities. Great in a stir fry, it can also be added to a braise of fatty meat (like beef short ribs), soups, or a salad dressing. Finally, No. 5 for Phillips is anything fermented. Think pickles, olives, kraut, kimchee, etc. These products can stand alone and be eaten straight from the jar, or added to your dish. Ramen is a great example, where the pickled veggies and kimchee can take the broth, meat, and noodle to a whole other level. Not only do these products have a long shelf life, but they keep getting better with time.
Finally, we asked the folks in charge of the Pearl Street Market and the Aspen’s Market, which of their many unique store items would be simple, but valuable additions to an otherwise ordinary pantry. Here’s what we compiled:
Get your hands on some Epic Duck Fat, and use it as a butter replacement. This product makes roasted potatoes heavenly, but is also great in homestyle gravy, on fried chicken, and achieving a perfectly flaky pie crust. For some added texture and bursts of flavor, turn to pomegranate seeds. Great on salads or on roasted Brussels sprouts. Get them frozen at either market as a time saver. Add Bee Local Honey Water to your salad dressings, marinades, hot tea, and cocktails. It’s easy to pour and doesn’t crystallize. For your seasoning desires, turn to the Jacobsen Salt Co. brand. At the Pearl Street Market café they use the coarse sea salt and pepper shakers. Their favorite flavors are the six-vial salt sampler and pink Himalayan salt. The fifth pick here is champagne vinegar. They combine the champagne vinegar, Jacobson’s salt, and honey water for a simple, light dressing.
Kick things up a notch, and arm your pantry with these products and ingredients. You’ll be well on your way to easily enhancing your own culinary creations.