Preparing meal after meal without running out to the grocery store to grab a few fresh items or the couple of ingredients you might be missing for a recipe isn’t easy. Cooking from pantry and freezer staples is an art—and as is true with all art forms, inspiration (and plenty of it) is essential. That’s why we tapped the professionals.
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Here, we’ve gathered insights from 10 chefs based around the country on how they’re making the most of their pantry staples. So the next time you make a quick market run or place an order via your favorite grocery delivery service, consider adding the following items to your list.
Blue Root | Birmingham, AL
Chef Robin Bashinsky
“I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been practically living on wheat berries and dried lentils (French and red) lately. Wheat berries are my go-to grain because beyond being nutritious, they keep really well in the fridge… versus rice or quinoa, which tends to dry out. I use those staples as a base for all sorts of grain bowl-esque meals combining whatever fresh components I have. For me, it’s been a lot of sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, since those keep well. Besides dried lentils, I have plenty of canned beans around so I can make big batches of things like white bean and kale soup, which is actually on our menu at Blue Root. Another key to pantry cooking for me is having a robust spice cabinet—I especially use a lot of cumin, curry powder, and togarashi to jazz meals up. Oh, and I always have a diverse hot sauce collection, and condiments like soy sauce, on hand. So if I make a big batch of that soup, I can change the flavor profile day to day by adding different seasonings and condiments to my bowl. In addition to the makings for grain bowls and vegetable soups, I’m also stocked on:
- Velveeta, Rotel, and Tortilla Chips: To make bulk batches of cheese dip for casual snacking throughout the week, obviously.
- Girl Scout Cookies: ‘Tis the season. And thankfully, I have a solid stockpile of Do-Si-Dos to see me through these uncertain times.
- Frozen Pizzas: This needs no explanation
Chez Fonfon | Birmingham, AL
Chef de Cuisine, John Finney
My pantry essentials list:
- Salt and black pepper
- Olive oil or your favorite oil
- I like to have 2 types on hand, such as olive and vegetable oils
- Dried beans or legumes
- Some sort of vegetable
- AP flour
- Dried noodles
- Chicken stock
- Hot sauce
- Fresh eggs
- Dried mushrooms. “Whole Foods had a mixed organic medley that you simply reconstitute with boiling water. My favorite is my grandmother Rose’s recipe for a beef mushroom barley soup, but the mushrooms add great flavor to soups, sauces or stocks.”
- Barley. “Barley is a very low-cost item that can be used as a side dish, added to soups, or even to make a breakfast porridge! It’s healthy and high in fiber.”
- Banza. “I am currently obsessed with everything Banza! It is a chickpea pasta and they even make a mac n cheese variety!”
- Dang Coconut Chips. “Great for giving your oatmeal a kick of flavor, overnight oats or granola parfaits. Also good for baking with oatmeal cookies.”
- Right Rice. “A blend of lentils, chickpeas, peas, and rice. A low carb, high-fiber and protein, flavorful alternative to regular rice.”
- Warm water
- Sugar or honey
- Active-dry yeast
- All-purpose flour
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Fresh rosemary, if available (I prefer herbs de Provence)
This list of essential ingredients would allow both a seasoned chef and a home cook to make pretty much anything. Past these ingredients, I would shop local for all of your produce if you can. This allows you to have fresh ingredients and also support local farmers.
Elvie’s | Jackson, MS
Chef Hunter Evans
“I always have chicken stock in my pantry. It’s so versatile and adds a lot of flavor. You can drop in any frozen vegetables for a quick and easy soup. My favorite thing to make is homemade egg drop soup when I’m feeling under the weather. It’s super simple; all you need is chicken stock, an egg, soy sauce and sesame oil.
Frozen pizza is also a staple in my freezer. I always have one or two frozen plain cheese pizzas on hand. I like to add my own toppings. One of my favorite thrown-together meals is a brunch pizza. I bake it halfway then add sautéed mushrooms, crack a few eggs on top and pop back in the oven for a few minutes. It’s quick and so delicious!”
KIM.CHI.AVOCADO by Yunnie Kim | Los Angeles
Yunnie Kim Morena
“One thing I keep on hand is canned beans, particularly pinto beans. They are a great source of protein and can be used in recipes like rice bowls, bean dips or nachos. I use them in my Kimchi Avocado Nachos which are easy to make, budget-friendly and great for family entertaining. I also love to keep rice and brown rice ramen noodles on hand to make fried rice, rice bowls and noodle soups. Additionally, boxed bone broth, coconut aminos and fish sauce are all great flavor boosters for ramen and fried rice.”
Elizabeth Blau | Las Vegas
“On a recent trip to the grocery store the shelves were alarmingly bare! My mission to shop became like a game show market basket of what to stock the pantry with!” said Elizabeth Blau, esteemed tastemaker, restaurateur and founder of Vegas’ new Women’s Hospitality Initiative. Here are Elizabeth’s top picks for what to buy:
Party Fowl | Nashville, TN
Executive Chef Bart Pickens
“My pantry essentials include salt, sugar, baking soda, flour, peanut butter, shortening and vanilla. It’s great stuff for making what you really want to eat: pancakes, cookies and biscuits.”
Chauhan Ale & Masala House and Chaatable | Nashville, TN
Co-owner and Executive Chef, Maneet Chauhan
“I always have organic tomato puree or tomato paste, garbanzo beans, rice and some Indian pickles in my pantry. With all of that, I can make a rice pilaf, rice garbanzo soup, arancinis, or even rice pudding. Garbanzo beans are my top must-have. I use garbanzo beans to make curries, soups, salad, hummus… the list goes on and on. For a snack, I drain the beans, dry them, add spices and bake them. I also use the garbanzo beans to make Chaat and can use the liquid to make a meringue.”
BENOIT | New York, NY
Executive Chef Laetitia Rouabah
In my home pantry, I have every ingredient that can be used to make all different kinds of bread; focaccia, flatbread, potato buns, you name it. Bread baking is a tradition in my family. When I was growing up in France, my family and I would spend quality time together by experimenting with the basic ingredients and trying out different recipes. My personal favorite is focaccia bread. It requires basic ingredients that are kitchen staples for any home cook:
I’ve also frozen some fresh-cut vegetables, fish and chicken. I can always unfreeze them if needed and oven-roast all three the same way; with herbs, spices, olive oil, salt & pepper. I’ll serve the veggies with a side of homemade focaccia.
Sarto’s | Denver, CO
Chef Garret Meyer
Canned items typically receive a bad rap in the culinary world, but when used properly and thoughtfully, they can be a cook's asset, especially during the unprecedented times we all are currently facing. Most commonly, it's not the canned product itself that lacks flavor, it’s the liquid the products are held in. If drained or rinsed, canned products can have a much fresher taste and texture.
Among my list of pantry essentials, which include vegetable broth, garlic, canola oil, and yellow onion, I always have cannellini beans on-hand. They are a great source of protein to add into salads, and they also make for a healthy, delicious and easy cannellini bean soup (utilizing my other pantry essentials). Blending cannellini beans together to make a puree also helps thicken soups and sauces.
Gun Izakaya | Oklahoma City, OK
Executive Chef/Partner, Jeff Chanchaleune
“I always like to have instant ramen in my pantry—yes, including Maruchan. I add my own twist by cutting up a hot dog (don’t judge) or leftover chicken, along with a soft boiled egg, fried shallots, chopped green onion and bean sprouts (if I have them). Chili oil is another great addition that I keep in my pantry at all times, since it can be used as a cooking base for meats and vegetables as well as a spicy dipping sauce.”
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