Stocking Your Pantry with Chef Mike Florea
Simple Kitchen Staples for Every Home Chef
Cooking at home is one of my favorite ways to spend time with family and friends. There’s something so special about sharing in the creativity and collaboration of cooking, coming together to make something new. Not only can dining in save you some money, but there’s no ambiance quite like the comfort of your own home. Keeping a few pantry essentials on hand is a great way to ensure quick and easy meals are always on the menu. Ready to get cooking like a pro in your very own kitchen? The first step is understanding the foundational elements of a balanced dish:
- Salt- Arguably the most important seasoning in cooking, salt enhances the natural flavors of your fresh ingredients and balances both sweet and bitter flavors.
- Acid- Acid adds brightness to your dishes, cutting through the heaviness of fattier elements. Acids like lemon juice and fermented or pickled elements not only add a refreshing zing to your recipes, but they also play an important role in tenderizing meats.
- Fat- Fat adds balance to dishes. It carries and enhances the flavors of other ingredients, adding richness and moisture. The right amount and type of fat can make the difference between a good dish and an exceptional one.
Understanding what a particular pantry ingredient brings to a dish will allow you to make creative substitutions and put your own unique spin on your favorite recipes, and seeing these elements reflected in your kitchen will help you stock your pantry with a variety of ingredients and create deliciously balanced dishes.
My Staple Grocery List
Here’s a staple grocery list to cover the basic pantry essentials. If you have a favorite ingredient that might’ve been missed, or something you’d like to swap, think of its role in your favorite recipe and aim for balance.
|Why I Keep Them In My Pantry
A quick way to elevate a dish, kosher salt just tastes better. It also doesn’t have the same iodized smell as traditional table salt.
Flaky salt is great to sprinkle on a dish or keep on the table. The saltiness and texture elevate everything on the plate from flavor to presentation.
|Soy Sauce and Amino Acids
This is a great way to add depth of flavor and umami to every dish.
Probably the most versatile, white vinegar is good for everything from poaching and pickling food to cleaning your garbage disposal. If you’re picking just the basics, you can’t go wrong with this one.
|Apple Cider Vinegar
This sweet, fruity and tangy vinegar is great for salads and marinades.
For Asian-inspired dishes, sushi and even deglazing your pan, rice vinegar offers a clean and crisp tanginess
Dark, sweet and slightly acidic, balsamic is deliciously complex and good for everything from meat marinades to fruit and salads. Cook it down for a sweet and tart reduction or keep a bottled glaze on hand for adding a touch of bright and tangy sweetness to finish a dish.
|Fresh Citrus or Lemon and Lime Juice
These are great to have on hand for adding a little zing to your recipes or to finish a dish with some brightness. I keep lemons and limes on my weekly grocery list for zesting and garnishing, and I keep high-quality bottled concentrates on hand for marinades and other quick applications.
I like to use canola or avocado oil to cook in high-heat situations like sautéing or frying.
I always keep a nice bottle of extra virgin or truffle oil to finish dishes, adding extra fat and flavor.
|Coconut Oil and Coconut Milk
Coconut oil is flavorful and has a relatively high smoke point at around 350°, making it great for sautéing or even adding to another oil for some flavor. Coconut milk is also rich and flavorful and works as a great dairy substitute. I use coconut milk all the time to add creaminess.
Having a variety of your favorite seasonings is a must: chili powder, cumin and paprika for Southwest-inspired dishes, curry and turmeric for Indian-inspired dishes, and some basil, oregano and thyme for Italian dishes. Get creative and curate your own spice cabinet to your tastes. I also recommend grabbing some fresh herbs, like cilantro and basil, on every grocery run to keep on hand for elevating even the simplest home cooking.
I always keep pepper in my kitchen: paprika, black and white, chipotle, whole black peppercorns for a freshly cracked finish…the list goes on and on.
From coconut or pickle-flavored cashews to lightly salted almonds, nuts are a great way to add salt and texture to dishes. They’re also great for snacking while you cook, which is one of my favorite ways to incorporate them.
All-purpose flour is essential for baking, thickening sauces and soups, and more.
I love using raw sugar whenever possible. It’s great for sweetening sauces, balancing bitterness and, of course, baking desserts.
Great for cold noodle salads, sandwiches, smoothies or snacking by the spoonful. This is a must-have for me.
|Pasta and Rice
I always keep a variety of dried pastas. These are great to have as a side dish for any protein or vegetable, or to stretch a one-pan meal to feed everyone.
I always keep beans in the pantry for bean-based burgers or salads, dips and soups. Cuban black beans, northern and chickpeas are always in my cupboard.
Keeping chicken, beef or vegetable stock and broth is a good way to add flavor to any dish. From soups to sauces or even just deglazing a pan of vegetables, a good stock adds a layer of flavor you’ll love.