As a Chef, more often than I can count, people ask me how they can make the food they cook at home taste like it came from a restaurant. For most, the answer is simple-season your food. Chefs taste, re-taste, have their buddy taste, final taste, and taste again and again and again and again; each time adding what they think the item will need to get to that restaurant quality. This may mean adding a touch of salt, pinch of a spice, dash of lemon juice or hot sauce. Really whatever it takes…which brings us to the point of all this: none of the tasting does any good without the pantry of ingredients to back it up.
So, what should be in your pantry?
Spices-everyone’s taste buds have different preferences. Which spices you prefer to keep as staples are ultimately up to you but if you want flavorful and interesting food, you will need an arsenal. Personally I always keep black and white pepper, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic powder, chile powder, and dry italian seasoning. Most spices go stale after about 3-4 months, so never buy huge amounts, unless you know you are going to use them.
Vinegars- vinegar can be made from anything, but to keep life simple , stick to the basics. Cider, red wine, champagne, rice wine, and balsamic vinegar are really all you need.
Hot Sauce-keep a few around, preferably homemade, but if not make sure its all natural with no preservatives. Hot sauce usually has enough vinegar in it to have an almost indefinite shelf life.
Tamari- Tamari is fermented soy sauce. Fermentation removes the anti-nutrients found in traditional forms of soy. Tamari is typically Gluten-Free as well. Feel free to do your research on this amazing flavoring sauce.
Worcestershire Sauce-All natural, small batch distillers pump this stuff out all over the country. Your life will be changed forever. If you want, you can make your own too.
Lastly, you need salt. Kosher salt and large crystal sea salt. I know, I know. You’ve been told forever that salt is bad. Don’t eat it. Put it on the black list with white sugar and flour. Your body needs salt though. It is vital in helping retain water during any physical activity. Plus a whole slew of other things. More importantly though, salt is what makes FOOD TASTE GOOD! When a chef is doing the taste and re-taste, more often then not, he is adjusting salt. Plus, real food-from a farm or field-is not already pumped full of salt like processed foods tend to be. Want more info, check out this great post on Marks Daily Apple for some great info. You will need kosher salt as your basic seasoning salt. Its crystal size is the perfect size to pinch and sprinkle which helps it coat food evenly. The large crystal sea salt, is for finishing, A touch on pretty much anything before eating is always a good choice.
What else? The pantry is an ever-changing beast. It is constantly evolving. You will discover new things to try out as you cook more and more. New spices will be found and familiar ones will just have to share the space. A few simple pantry items though, and you can start building dishes that have you questioning whether to go out to eat or stay in.
Until next time Eat well. Play hard. Give Back.—The Primal Bohemian.