Top | Features
(article, Culinate staff)
We've all been there: halfway through a recipe (because we know we're supposed to read recipes all the way through first, but often forget) when we realize that, while the liquid ingredients are slowly fermenting in a bowl or the mirepoix is simmering in the Dutch oven, we're missing an essential ingredient. We're even missing the backup ingredients that would make good substitutes. We are, in a word, stuck. Having a well-stocked pantry goes a long, long way toward salvaging these situations. Don't have brown sugar on hand? Make your own from white sugar and molasses. No cake flour? Whip up a chemical-free version with ordinary flour and cornstarch. [%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Brown sugar."] The following list of pantry essentials was culled, with extraordinarily unscientific precision, from the kitchens of the Culinate staff. Divided by category (whole grains, baking ingredients) and subdivided by priority (basics versus extras), we hope this list will serve as a handy buying reference. We might even update it from time to time. Cynthia Lair has her own list of pantry basics, and Matthew Amster-Burton has tips on buying and storing bulk goods. Store all your pantry goods in resealable, airtight containers, and stash them depending on how fast you consume them: on a shelf if you eat them quickly, in the fridge or freezer if you don't. Your pantry may vary depending on what kinds of food you like to cook the most; a pantry geared toward Mexican cuisine, for example, is going to look very different from one focused on Chinese cooking. Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World has a lengthy section titled "The International Pantry," broken down by region of the world. Of course, you can stock all you want and still forget to note when the flour bin is getting empty. So figure out which items are truly essential for your own kitchen, and then keep them around. You'll need 'em. h3. Flours Unless you're a baking demon, you won't need too many flours on hand. Ellen Jackson has tips on wheat flours and non-wheat flours, too. Recipe: Janice's Banana Bread h4. Basics All-purpose unbleached flour Whole-wheat flour (pastry flour, white whole-wheat, etc.) h4. Extras Bread flour Masa harina (cornmeal flour for making tortillas and tamales) Buckwheat flour Spelt flour Kamut flour Rice flour Durum or semolina flour (for pasta-making) High-gluten flour or vital wheat gluten Pastry flour Cake flour (or make your own: add 2 tablespoons cornstarch to 3/4 cup bleached all-purpose flour for the equivalent of 1 cup cake flour) h3. Sugars As Nancy Schatz Alton has pointed out on these pages, there's a bewildering variety of sugars on the market. Keep in mind that cheap "sugar" at the store is probably derived from sugar beets, not cane sugar; if cane sugar is what you want, make sure the label says so. Recipe: Multigrain No-Knead Bread h4. Basics Granulated sugar (evaporated instead of refined is fine) Light or dark brown sugar (or make your own: add 2 tablespoons molasses to 1 cup white sugar) h4. Extras Confectioners' sugar (essential for frostings) Molasses Honey Agave nectar Raw sugar (demerara, turbinado, muscovado) h3. Whole grains Man does not live by refined products alone; he needs whole grains. Get a variety for taste interest and good nutrition. Recipe: Quinoa Salad with Lemon Dressing h4. Basics Granola Popcorn Oats (rolled and/or steel-cut) Lentils (including split peas) Beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans, black beans, etc.) Polenta (coarse-ground cornmeal) Cornmeal (fine-ground) Quinoa Bulgur and/or millet h4. Extras Wheat bran Wheat germ Triticale Tapioca pearls (buy quick-cooking for baking, ordinary for pudding) Barley (pearled and otherwise) Farro Kamut or spelt Flaxseeds and/or flaxseed meal [%image grains float=right width=300 caption="From the top: farro, cracked wheat berries, and millet."] h3. Pasta, noodles, and rice Rice and noodles get most of us through the week; along with bread, they make up a nice carbohydrate trinity. Buy unrefined or multigrain versions for better nutrition. Recipe: Morel and Chicken Wild Rice Risotto h4. Basics Durum wheat pasta (long and short varieties) Whole-wheat pasta Rice noodles (vermicelli and medium-width varieties) White rice (long, short, and risotto varieties) Brown rice (long and short varieties) h4. Extras Couscous and/or orzo Soba noodles Rice paper Wild rice Black or red rice h3. Baking ingredients If you're allergic to chocolate, skip it in the list below. Otherwise, these baking basics are pretty basic. Recipe: Chocolate & Zucchini Cake (Gâteau Chocolat & Courgette) h4. Basics Sea salt (fine and coarse varieties) Kosher salt Baking powder (aluminum-free) Baking soda Baking cocoa (both Dutch-process and not) Baking chocolate Chocolate chips Cornstarch Vanilla extract h4. Extras Cream of tartar Almond extract Lemon extract and/or dried lemon zest Mint extract Dried buttermilk [%pageBreak] h3. Oils You can probably get away with using nothing but olive oil and butter in your kitchen, but you might want to consider corn oil for Mexican food and peanut, sesame, and coconut oils, as well as ghee, for Asian food. Canola oil is popular with bakers for its neutral taste. See also Matthew Amster-Burton's column on liquid oils. Recipe: Rosemary and Pepperoncino Oil h4. Basics Extra-virgin olive oil Canola oil (GMO-free and expeller-pressed) Peanut oil Sesame oil h4. Extras Corn oil Coconut oil (unrefined) Ghee Walnut oil (good for salads; keep in fridge) [%image vinegars float=right width=350 caption="Clockwise from top: red-wine vinegar, rice-wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar."] h3. Vinegars This acidic condiment isn't just for salads; you'll need it for pickling and for adding pop to anything savory that might benefit from, say, fresh lemon juice. Recipe: Tahini Salad Dressing h4. Basics Balsamic vinegar Red-wine vinegar Rice vinegar Distilled white vinegar h4. Extras Sherry vinegar Apple-cider vinegar Black rice vinegar h3. Condiments Apart from soy sauce and nut butters, you may not need any of these condiments. But bottled condiments, especially the Asian variety, are handy to have around. Read labels carefully; soy sauce, for example, should contain nothing more than soy, wheat, salt, water, and bacteria, but many "soy sauces" are just a batch of chemicals darkened with caramel coloring. Recipe: Red-Cooked Chinese Chicken h4. Basics Soy sauce (light, dark, tamari) Nut butters (peanut, almond, etc.) h4. Extras Worcestershire sauce Fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam) Sweet chile sauce Hot chile sauce (sambal oelek) Hoisin sauce Ponzu sauce Plum sauce Tahini Tamarind concentrate h3. Dried goods If you live in a caffeine-free world and can't stand gorp, skip this section. Recipe: Couscous with Dates, Cinnamon, and Toasted Almonds h4. Basics Tea Coffee Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, peanuts, etc.) Fruit (cranberries, raisins, figs, peaches, etc.) Shiitake mushrooms h4. Extras Seaweed sheets (for making sushi) Kelp (for making dashi stock) Instant coffee or espresso powder (for baking) h3. Canned goods The old reliables, useful on those days when you think you have nothing in the house to eat. Recipe: Friday-Night Spaghetti with Tuna and Black Olives h4. Basics Broth or stock Beans Tuna and anchovies Whole tomatoes, purée, and paste Coconut milk Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce Capers and olives [%image nutmeg float=right width=350 caption="Buy nutmeg whole and grate it as needed."] h3. Whole spices Buy these spices in whole form and use them that way. If you're hardcore, toast and grind some of them yourself as needed; they'll always taste fresher. Recipe: Custard Tart h4. Basics Peppercorns (kept in a grinder) Chile flakes Nutmeg Sesame seed (black and white) h4. Extras Cloves Cinnamon sticks Mustard seed Celery seed Cumin seed Coriander seed Caraway seed Dill seed Fennel seed Poppy seed Star anise Cardamom (black and green) Saffron h3. Ground spices Buy small quantities of these and replace them every year; because they're ground, they lose flavor fast. Recipe: Indian-Style Sauté of Cauliflower and Greens h4. Basics Coriander Cumin Turmeric Cinnamon Cloves Allspice Ginger Paprikas (hot, sweet and smoked) Mustard h4. Extras Chinese five-spice blend Garam masala curry blend Zatar blend h3. Dried herbs Fresh herbs are almost always better, but for soups and stews, dried is often best. Recipe: Eggplant Involtini h4. Basics Oregano Thyme Rosemary Bay leaves h4. Extras Herbes de Provence/Bouquet garni blends Basil Savory Marjoram Dill Sage h3. Fridge The fridge is perhaps the most idiosyncratic storage unit in the American home, a way station between the seldom-stale land of the pantry and the long-preserved domain of the freezer. These are the things that the Culinate staff — all omnivores — keep in the fridge. Recipe: Frisée aux Lardons h4. Basics Ketchup Mayonnaise Mustard Maple syrup Jam Yeast (instant or active dry) Fruit juice Milk Yogurt Butter (unsalted) Cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar, goat, cream, etc.) Eggs Bacon Onions, carrots, celery, garlic Fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil, etc.) h4. Extras Nuts Flaxseeds Chocolate sauce h3. Freezer If you're really into hoarding, consider getting a chest freezer. Otherwise, freeze items individually, then repackage them in plastic freezer bags to maximize the limited space of the average freezer. Recipe: Apricot Dumplings h4. Basics Butter Fruit Sliced bread Homemade stock Homemade breadcrumbs h4. Extras Ginger (peeled and sliced into 1-inch chunks) Tomato-paste cubes (tablespoons dolloped onto waxed paper, frozen, then stored in a plastic bag) Chipotle-chile cubes (same method as the tomato-paste cubes) Buttermilk (in 1-cup measures) Lemongrass stalks Kaffir lime and curry leaves Nuts, including pine nuts Shredded coconut Bones and vegetable scraps for making stock p(blue). Got pantry suggestions? Leave 'em in the comments below.