How to Create the Perfect Pantry

Confused by competing pantry lists? Here are Tom Rutledge's top 15 go-to staples to keep in your cupboard. 

In an age of 24 hour supermarkets, ubiquitous delivery services, and space food sticks a well stocked pantry will strike many as redundant. It's true that we're not eeking out some pioneer existence reliant on a quarterly provisioning service together with our own efforts at salting, pickling, and preserving. But it is still unbelievably handy to have just a few things at your disposal and in good supply. 
There's no shortage of pantry lists out there. Some are plainly ridiculous lists as long as your arm. A list of 101 staples, for instance, has as loose an interpretation of the term "staples" as Jamie Oliver does of "15 minutes". Those lists are fine list if you have a family of 37, a loading dock attached to your kitchen, and storage facilities on par with Costco. But they're not exactly elucidating. 
Others lists are depressing. They seek to prepare you for hard times followed by the sort of deprivations associated with eating meat out of a can.
I would like to suggest with this list that there is a middle ground when it comes to such lists. Below we have one that does not require a guidebook to navigate it's farthest reaches. Nor does it assume a pending apocolypse slash zombie influenza pandemic. It's simply fifteen simple things - in addition to the salt, pepper, oil triumvirate - that are good to have up your sleeve and will give you a decent run at most cuisines you can think of. 
These, in no particular order, are my go-tos: 
  • Fish sauce - Is it salty, is it sour?  No it's umami. An asian essntial as both an ingreient and a condiment. Made from fermetned fish it's much better to buy than make your own!
  • Vinegar - there are a variety of vinegars that can be used as an ingredient or on their own to add acidity to your culinary creations. Start of with a balsamic vinegar and a white vinegar. If you can run to it push the boat out and get your hands on a rice wine vinegar as well. 
  • Butter - Your PT won't like it, but if used in moderation there is nothing wrong with it at all. Keep a few sticks in the freezer so it's always on hand for cooking and your toast.
  • Brown sugar - Great in sweet as well as savoury dishes. The partially refined sugar can sweeten a salad dressing, and help you caramelise everthing from chicken wings to summer peaches. 
  • Chillies - they add punch to pretty much every cusisine. Keep them in your freezer to maximise longevity (and make them easier to chop). 
  • Garlic - where would we be without this? I always use double the recommended dosage. At least.  
  • Pasta - go gluten free if you wish - but this good old stodge keeps for ever in its freeze dried format and is a blank canvas for any combination of flavours you throw at it. 
  • Tinned tomatoes - chopped or whole these versatile staples add flavour and liquid to soups, pastas, braises, and more. 
  • Spices - not really one item, but you need surprisingly few to get good variety. Start with Ground Cumin, Ground Coriander, Turmeric, Smoked Paprika, and Curry Powder.  If you mix these in different ratios you'll be able to cover Mexico, Mumbai, and Marrakesh. 
  • Lemons - good with gin, pancakes, and almost everything else. You never want to run out of these. 
  • Soy Sauce - as a condiment it's genius, but it's also a hidden hero in many recipes that would be lost without that distinctive salty tang. 
  • Nuts - good as a snack in their own right, but great to have on hand to give dishes a little something extra. Whether you brown them in butter for your beans or throw some crunch on a salad it's always good to have some almonds and pistachios on hand. 
  • Fresh herbs - don't keep dried ones in your cupboard. Keep fresh ones on your windowsill. Their weight for flavour ratio must be the highest known to human kind and they will transfrom pretty much anything when scattered on top at the end. 
  • Mustard - made famous by the eponymous Colonel, this king of condiments goes great on a hotdog, but it's real wizardry lies in its qualities as an emulsifier which means it can make two unmixable liquids combine - think of oil and vinegar and the difference mustard makes to a salad dressing. 
  • Eggs - I've saved the best for last. Without a packaging redesign for thousands of years, these marvellous staples evidently sell themselves. Another pantry item that is as useful in it's own right as it is as an ingredient eggs have beguiled cooks the world over because it contains all sorts of different proteins that gel or solidify at different times. 


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