Lots of chefs don’t cook at home. I know this because I used to cook in restaurants, and on my one day off each week, the last thing I wanted to do was cook; I wanted someone else to cook for me. Fortunately, not everyone feels that way. There are also plenty of chefs who love making meals at home because it gives them the freedom to cook simple, straightforward dishes using the ingredients they love. The five creative chefs featured here all told me the same thing: the secret to quickly putting together a great meal at home is a well-stocked pantry. So what do these professionals always have on hand? Their favorite ingredients for boosting flavor run the gamut, from familiar (maple syrup) to exotic (yuzu kosho). Each one brings fantastic texture or flavor to otherwise tame fare and lasts for months in the cupboard, fridge, or freezer. Read on to find out more about the special ingredients these chefs love, and get their best recipes for using them, too. Thank goodness not all chefs are as lazy as I was.
Ever wonder what the editors of Fine Cooking magazine always have on hand in their pantries? View a slideshow of the editors’ favorite pantry ingredients.
Weeknight pantry pick: Fresh breadcrumbs
Known for Rustic, ingredient-driven Italian fare
Restaurants Nostrana, and Oven and Shaker, both in Portland, Oregon
What they are Homemade fresh far breadcrumbs taste far better than store-bought, and they’re infinitely versatile. Plus, they couldn’t be easier to make: Just pulse crust-on cubes of one- or two-day-old artisan-style bread in a food processor to your desired consistency. They’ll keep in the freezer for several months.
Why Cathy loves them “It’s amazing how stale bread—something you’re likely to throw away—can so easily turn into a delicious ingredient that adds wonderful character and texture to just about any dish.”
More ways to use them
• Make Italian-style egg drop soup by toasting them and then beating them with eggs, nutmeg, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and lemon zest; whisk into boiling broth.
• Sauté them in olive oil with garlic and fresh herbs until crisp; sprinkle over cooked fish fillets or pork or chicken cutlets.
• Toss them with olive oil, lemon zest, minced garlic, and fresh parsley; lightly press onto peeled shrimp or fish fillets before broiling.
• Sauté them in brown butter with nutmeg, a pinch of sugar, and chopped walnuts for a topping for gnocchi.
• Toast them and then sprinkle over sautéed greens, like chard, spinach, or escarole.
The Weeknight Pantry: Yuzu Kosho
Known for Elegant global cuisine
Restaurants Comme Ça in Los Angeles and Las Vegas; Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, California; Sola and David Myers Café in Tokyo
What it is This spicy-tart Japanese condiment is made from the zest of yuzu—an aromatic Asian citrus fruit—mixed with minced chiles and salt. There are two kinds: green and red. The spicier and more common green yuzu kosho is made from unripe green yuzu zest and green chiles, while the milder, brighter red version is made from ripe yellow yuzu zest and red chiles. You can find both varieties in Asian markets and online. Yuzu kosho will keep, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 3 months.
Why David loves it “Yuzu kosho’s tart citrus flavor and spicy chile bite make simple foods intensely flavorful. I put it on just about everything. To keep its flavor bright, I use it as a finishing ingredient or condiment rather than cooking with it.”
More ways to use it
• Add it to soups at the end of cooking.
• Spread it over cooked steaks, pork chops, or meaty fish fillets.
• Dab it on steamed or baked sweet potatoes or roasted root vegetables.
• Mix it with ponzu for a dipping sauce for dumplings or cold noodles, or mix with soy sauce for a dipping sauce for sushi or sashimi.
• Use it to add citrus and spice flavors to vinaigrettes.