What isn’t and should be

If you’re anything like me, your pantry is pretty full –  canned tuna, black olives and that lemon muffin mix that’s been there for years – but you still find yourself pulling the same five things out, week after week. What are some go-to pantry staples we’re not using but should be? Five nominees from yours truly:

Anchovies: Fantastically useful and owners of a seriously bad wrap. Toss two into a food processor with a couple cups of parsley, a few pine nuts and some olive oil and you’ve got a truly great sauce, suitable for everything from steaks to omelets.

Fish sauce: See “Anchovies, replacement for.” Also a difference-maker in stir-fries. The stuff smells pretty nasty on its own, but shares the sandbox quite nicely when cooked.

Chipotle chilis in adobo sauce: These are basically smoked jalapenos, but bear little resemblance to the sharp, biting heat of the original pepper. They’re deeply flavored, smoky and good in soups, for marinating chicken or pork, you name it. And they seem to last forever.

Balsamic vinegar: This is pretty obvious, but the black stuff is so damned useful I had to include it. As a reduction with boiler onions for topping steak, combined with olive oil as a simple salad dressing or (with the good stuff) drizzled over ice cream, balsamic shows up everywhere in our meals. I usually have three different bottles going, and highly recommend the 8-year balsamic from Aceita Reale (from World Harvest). Yes it’s $35 for a small bottle, but used sparingly for special occasions it usually lasts me four months or so.

Frozen pork bits: I save the trimmings of porchettas past, bacon and skin (smoked and sliced). As the base or later addition to soup or pasta these random pieces, which would otherwise go to waste, end up doing the pig proud.

A few more:

Great olive oil and good olive oil. Right now I’ve got Dal Raccolto and Saifan, respectively. Both from World Harvest.

Chicken stock. Homemade is better, but I usually have some low-sodium Swanson’s laying around in case of emergency. And it costs quite a bit more, but the organic, free range broth I got at The Root Cellar was also quite a bit better. Make and freeze your own, but have a Plan B.

Rice noodles, risotto, good canned tomatoes (I like Furmano but have to have them shipped in), peanuts…

Now it’s your turn. What do you find yourself reaching for time after time?


Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

7 thoughts

  1. In my house we always try to have the following on hand:

    Trader Joe’s Basil and Tomato Marinara Sauce – I am generally not a fan of jarred sauce, but this simple mix of tomatoes, basil and garlic is truly the best jarred sauce I’ve ever had -and- it’s cheap at $1.69/jar. We buy about 10 every time we make a trek to TJ’s.

    Pasta- we either have spaghetti or radiatores pasta in the pantry.

    Rice- we purchased about 50+ lbs of jasmine rice from Chong’s market. We store the rice in 5 gallon buckets purchased at your favorite discount store or hardware (my husband scrubbed the buckets with a mix of hot water and bleach). This rice should last us good while.

    Dark mushroom soy sauce. We make a lot of stir-fry’s at our house. I have a big bottle (maybe a liter or two?) of dark mushroom soy. No Kikkoman allowed!

    Oatmeal- I eat it every day for breakfast. I buy it in bulk and store in air tight container. Dump it in a bowl, add a few raisins and water and microwave for 2 minutes, then sprinkle on the cinnamon. Like an oatmeal raisin cookie in a bowl!

    I agree w/ Scott about Olive Oil. I use it in/on almost everything.

  2. These are the things I reach for routinely, not what I should be reaching for more.

    Roasted red peppers

    Garlic cloves


    Wine – to drink and to cook with

    Noodles – pasta and chinese style. Use angel hair pasta with your favorite stir fry instead of rice. Precook it and then throw it in the wok at the end or jsut throw the stir fry on top.

    Ok, two more – Tabasco Chipolte Hot Sauce and Crystal Vinegar with Sport Peppers – great on rice dishes.

    I also use the heck out of olive oil and peanut oil (best for stir fry).

  3. I haven’t bought tomato sauce in a long time, but do know some brands do a better job than others. Will have to give the mushroom soy sauce a try…haven’t heard of that before.

    Jeff’s comment about Crystal Vinegar reminded me of something else we do: pepper vinegar. During the summer I take slice up excess cayennes and habaneros, pour on a little white vinegar and refrigerate in Mason jars. It stays good indefinitely and is especially good on collards.

  4. Dang it all, Scott, I had a nice post on this subject all cued up for later this week…how’d you get into my account to scoop me?

    It’s really hard for me to narrow this down to just a few, but here goes:

    Olive oil
    Broth (homemade, various types)
    Soy/fish sauce
    Dried hot peppers (ours)

  5. Instead of a premade sauce, I usually have canned tomatoes or canned plain tomato sauce in the pantry, usually between 30 and 50 cents a can, that I can quickly spice up by sauteeing onions and garlic, adding the sauce, basil, oregano red pepper flakes and a splash of red wine. From there, you can add artichokes, mushrooms, zucchini or anything and pour it over pasta.

    Also in my pantry: broth, chickpeas and other canned beans, couscous, jasmine and basmati rice, a bottle of red and white wine, balsamic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, tahini, and probably 40 kinds of herbs and spices.

  6. Good idea Brittany.

    Ditto on the couscous. Great and easy stuff. I buy it in the Clover’s bulk section. It’s way less expensive than buying it at the grocery store.

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