|Even if it does take me|
twenty minutes to locate
what I'm looking for,
it's MY store cupboard,
and I love it.
Anchovies- On toast. Melted into sauces. Clumsily yanked out of the jar when you're drunk, hungry, and in need of a juicy little salt-kick. Or maybe that's just me.
Capers- Another glorious multi-tasker, these are perfect for adding texture and balance to any dish that might otherwise be a bit on the rich side. Or, chuck a load over any kind of cured fish, put a dollop of creme fraiche on the side with a heaping of peppery rocket, and hey presto. A pretentious-looking lunch.
Olives- With the first two store cupboard essentials, these form a Holy Trinity of sorts. Just ask any passing Neopolitan, if you can find one.
Goose/Duck Fat- pricey, but ESSENTIAL for any roast potato worth its salt. Lard and vegetable oil don't even come close. If you don't fancy paying four quid for the tinned stuff, just pop round to your local butchers. Give them a cheeky little smile, ask very politley, and I'm sure they'll oblige with a good lump of tasty fat for far less than Mr. Tesco would ask of you.
Parmesan/Gran Padano/Parmigiano Regiano etc - Now, when I say Parmesan etc, I mean etc. Any kind of hard, piquant, peppery cheese is a must-have, in my house at least. Swap for manchego (derived from ewe's milk instead of cow's) or anything else you fancy. It's probably also worth mentioning that most hard cheeses of this nature freeze excellently- just pull out a nugget, and grate/shave/whatever, and it defrosts instantly. Pop it back in, and it'll keep for ages. My mother-in-law taught me that. Useful, eh?
Chilli- I'm a heat-fiend. I love anything with a kick- the hotter, the better- and I am yet to be trounced in any variety of hot sauce shooting contest. So needless to say, there's rarely a shortage of scoville-providing goodies in my kitchen. It is worth baring in mind that you never really know what you're getting heat wise until you test a chilli- some of the varieties considered 'medium' in heat can often turn out to be disappointingly mild. I always like to have a tiny little nibble first, just to gauge how much I should be using. That said, I wouldn't suggest trying this for any of the super spicy varieties. Scotch Bonnets burn. And, as always, WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER. I won't divulge any of the more intimate nasty experiences I've had after failing to do this, but be warned.
Oh, and chillis both dry and freeze quite nicely.
Lemons/Limes- Perhaps it has something to do with being wife to a mixologist. Or maybe it's because I'm overly fond of a nice G&T. Either way, lemons and limes are essential. You can even cook with them, if you must.
Garlic- Need I really justify this? No? Thought not.
Cheap Red/White Wine- Now nothing so good that you'll be tempted to drink it, but nothing so crap it'll turn a hearty chilli into a vinegary mess. Whilst wine can be used at the iffy point where you wouldn't really mind drinking it- you know, if you were desperate, don't be mistaken into thinking anything with a decent ABV will do. If you have a couple of bottles knocking around somewhere, you're only a few steps away from whipping up a decent pasta sauce or wintery stew.
Palm Sugar- Found pretty easily in ethnic food shops, markets, or even some bigger supermarkets (if you must), palm sugar is fantastic for anything Asian or Carribbean-inspired. With a bit of lime, chilli and oil, you have a beautiful little dressing for a Thai beef salad. Obviously you can just use normal sugar, but where's the fun in that?
|'Tipo 00'- the strong stuff|
Flours- Plain and self raising are, of course, store cupboard staples, but I always like to mix things up with a Spelt or Buckwheat. Both are really good for savoury recipes (galettes with goats cheese and chorizo are a personal favourite), but are also suitable for anyone with a gluten intolerance. Happy days.
Eggs- Please, forgive the rant. It will be a short one, because I'm planning an entire post dedicated to whinging about the awareness of food provenance (it's something us Brits in particular are double-crap at...) So- eggs. PLEASE please please, DO NOT ever buy from caged or battery farmed hens. Aside from the fact that the conditions these chickens are kept in are unbearably cruel, the resulting eggs are pale, tasteless little lumps of horribleness. Just shell out the extra- what? 30p?? And get some from hens that are free to roam around and be happy. Or better still, get them from a farm. Or a farm shop. Or my dad- he has loads of hens, and the eggs are big, juicy, with tasty golden yolks.
Result: you get nice eggs, keep a clear conscience, and people power will help destroy a cruel industry that's mean to chickens.
NB. Don't bother putting eggs in the fridge. They are almost always better off cooked from room temperature, and cold egg whites are a lot harder to fluff up. They'll keep just as long, promise.
Maldon Sea Salt- It has no preservatives (so none of that weird bitter taste some cheap cooking salts have), looks pretty, and is fun to smash up. It also has the added bonus of being British, which is always nice.
Virgin and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil- Don't just stick to what you know with oils. Virgin is best for cooking (don't waste the good extra-virgin stuff- the taste just disappears as soon as it heats up), but extra-virgin is where you can have fun experimenting. Different countries and regions can have a huge impact on the taste of the oil that's being produced. For instance, as a rule, Cypriot olive oils tend to be grassier, and the Italians more fruity and mellow. But shop around, and don't be afraid of spending a bit more on a nice bottle, because it's definitely worth it. Remember to keep in a cool, dark-ish cupboard (or else in a tinted bottle) to stop it going dodge.
Rapeseed Oil- It's British, it's a nice colour, and it tastes lovely.
|I wouldn't recommend eating Daffodils.|
Cumin (Ground and Seeds)- Essential for any kind of Indian or Middle-Eastern cooking. It has such a distinct taste, and it can really help to transform a meal in a jiffy. Seeds can be bashed up and fried lightly in oil to give an aromatic base to anything else you want to throw into the pan. Cumin and root veg- especially carrots or parsnips- are a match made in heaven, and it goes just as well with lamb and (perhaps surprisingly) shellfish.
Fennel Seeds- Use with lamb, fish, chicken, pork, or anything that reminds you of the sunshine.
Mustard Seeds- Black or yellow, these are great at imparting flavour into oil before you chuck your meat in, and help add a bit of heat and pepperiness into Indian cooking. You can also get creative and make your own mustards, if you feel inclined.
Chicken Stock- I really do believe that people don't poach chicken enough, and here's why it should be done more: 1) it keeps it so moist and lovely, whereas most other forms of cooking tend to dry it out, 2) it's a super laid back way of cooking, but really helps saturate the chicken with the flavour of whatever it is you're sticking in the water with it, 3) you get a nice big pan of stock at the end of it. Stick in a freezer bag, and use in soups, risottos, and sauces. I don't care what Marco Pierre White says, I seriously doubt he'd pick a bloody Knorr cube over home made stock any day.
Rices- Long grain, arborio risotto rice, and basmati. Cook it up in your chicken stock, and don't use the microwave stuff. Yes, it's quicker to turn to Uncle Ben, but it's also expensive and, let's face it, crap.
Now this is by no means a definitive list of the world's most useful ingredients, and it certainly isn't going to see you through any kind of nuclear holocaust (though I'm fairly certain I could survive off anchovies alone for a year or so...) That said, everything in here will help to provide a pretty solid basis to some decent meals. So what more can I say? Happy shopping!