If you want to cook like a chef, half the battle is having a pantry and refrigerator filled with the right ingredients.
Chefs know you can’t cook well without the right stuff on hand to get the job done.
So we asked a group of chefs who work in restaurants, food trucks and corporate kitchens, as teachers and personal chefs, for their advice on the one common grocery store item they can’t live without.
Fill your shopping cart with these ingredients and you’ll have the makings of a fine chef’s pantry and some really good eating, too.
A really nice olive oil
“If you think about it, you can use it to cook with, for vinaigrettes or marinades. It’s the first thing that comes to mind. If I think about all of the cooking I do at home, I’m always using olive oil in some aspect,” said Aaron Hervey, chef/co-owner of Crave Restaurant in downtown Akron, Ohio.
Low-sodium chicken stock
“I use it for making soups, sauces and for getting quick dinners on the table. I use it in rice pilafs. It’s multifunctional, and I use it for all of my braises. You have to have low-salt chicken stock on hand,” said Glenn Gillespie, chef at Edgar’s Restaurant in Akron.
“With my wife and family, our go-to meal is always a really quick pasta. Bacon and pasta — if I’ve got those two things, I know I can put together a quick meal, especially at this time of year, when there’s lots of fresh vegetables. I add some vegetables and dinner’s on the table and I know the kids will eat it,” said Mike Mariola, chef/owner of City Square Steakhouse in Wooster, Ohio, and the Rail at Summit Mall in Fairlawn, Ohio.
Beans, canned or dried
“Cannellini beans, black beans, I use beans in a lot of dishes. Beans are a great source of protein. You can throw them together for a salad or you can put them in pasta or in soups. I can throw something together for dinner with beans and I don’t even need anything meat-wise.
“Cook whatever pasta you have on hand, drain, save some of the water. Add roasted, sauteed or steamed veggies, fresh or leftover, a couple of handfuls. Add a can of rinsed, drained beans — garbanzo, black, kidney, cannellini. Toss in some cheese, if you have it — ricotta, Parmesan. Season and garnish with fresh herbs. Add back some pasta water if necessary,” said Tamara Mitchell, chef/owner of Dine-In-Diva, Personal Chef Service in Akron.
“I use it a lot for baking. A lot of my dishes that I saute, I dust in flour first. I use it for making pasta. You have to have flour in your pantry. I use it for everything,” said Louis Prpich, chef/owner of Sugo Italian Bistro and the Chowder House Cafe in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
A whole chicken
“When you buy a whole chicken, you have at least a sauce and two meals. When you break down the chicken, you can have the chicken breasts, which you can pound for a sandwich or light dinner. You have the legs for a nice Sunday grill, or put your cast iron on and have some wonderful fried chicken, with the wings, too. You’re left with the back which is the most flavorful part, which you can roast and turn into chicken soup, or add wine and you have the basis for a nice sauce,” said David Russo, chef/owner of Russo’s Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls.
“Because it is so versatile, I can use it in salad dressing and for marinades, of course, but it is really useful when making soups and sauces, for adding just a touch to bring up the acidity level, which helps to extend the flavor [of the dish] so that is tasted in both the front and the back of the mouth. With cream of tomato soup, for example, adding a few drops at the end before serving heightens the acidity level in the soup so that you don’t just taste the tomato in the beginning, but it helps to carry the flavor all the way down your throat,” said Catherine St. John, chef/owner of the Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson.
Fresh thyme and lemons
Schneider described fresh thyme as her go-to all-purpose seasoning. “It adds to everything — potatoes, eggs, sauces, any reduction, if you are doing a roast, steaks on the grill. Second place, I’d have to say lemons. Thyme and lemons together. Maybe I should say lemon thyme. But lemons go in everything, too. I love lemon zest on roasted potatoes. If I roast redskins with garlic and thyme, I put lemon zest on them when they come out of the oven and it totally brightens them,” said Moe Schneider, chef/owner of Moe’s Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls.
“I’ve been using grits a lot lately. It’s gluten free, healthy. You can serve it as a side dish. It’s like America’s polenta or a Southern man’s polenta. I serve it a lot with barbecued shrimp. It’s an easy side dish, it goes with a lot of Creole and Cajun dishes. By itself, you can have it for breakfast, of course, but you can have it with cheese or with shrimp for an entree. You can use it at every meal,” said Johnny Schulze, chef/owner of Wadsworth-based Zydeco Bistro mobile food truck.
“The reason is, we probably do more things with that for dinner ideas than anything else. We throw salmon on it or grilled shrimp or nothing, and add some dried cranberries and nuts and cheese, and there’s just a million things you can do with it,” said Bev Shaffer, Seville-based cookbook author and corporate chef for Vitamix in Olmsted Falls.
Distributed by MCT Information Services