Keeping a well-stocked pantry has always been a Milk Street must-do, but at a time when you might only go to the grocery store once a month, it’s more important than ever. The good news is that you can always make bold, satisfying meals if you keep a few staples on hand. So, the next time you’re about to stock up, take the advice of some of our kitchen staff to see what they keep turning to.
Julia Rackow, E-Commerce Culinary Coordinator
I keep using the same staples I try to always have on hand for pantry-pull meals, even if it’s not something stored in the pantry. Scallions for instance. Since the beginning of March, I've bought only two bunches of scallions and plopped them in a jar in my kitchen window. With good light and enough water to cover their roots, they have lasted me nearly two months.
Lemons and Limes
Also, lemons and limes, which last fairly well on the counter or in the fridge, or, as soon as they start to look sad, I'll zest and juice them. Refrigerate the juice and freeze the zest. Bright and fruity are two flavors that can be hard to come by when you are only going to the store once a month.
Then there are "ham circles,” our loving term for Canadian bacon. They come vacuum-sealed, so they have a long shelf life. The packages are also flat, so they slide into my freezer well. We cut them up for fried rice, put them in breakfast sandwiches and chop them for soup or stewed beans.
Courtney Hill, Senior Recipe Developer
I'm reaching for a giant bottle of oyster sauce I was given when this whole thing started. I'll use it as seasoning in my weekly soupy rice variations, mix it with soy sauce to glaze stir-fried veggies and am tossing it with udon noodles for bacon and egg noodles.
I'm also using so many spice blends—berbere, za'atar, rose harissa, Chinese five-spice—to liven up chicken and potato dishes. I'll either slash chicken legs or roast chicken parts (especially wings!) that are seasoned with any of my spice blends, then drizzle a quick vinaigrette made with the fresh spice blend, some acid and herbs once the chicken's out.
Rosemary Gill, Director of Education
Toasted Sesame Oil
A few drops of toasted sesame oil, right before eating, works on almost anything. It adds a really luscious aromatic quality to all manner of “pantry cardboard”—pasta, rice, even my morning oatmeal—as well as to refrigerator staples like eggs, avocados and tofu.
Chili Flakes and Whole Chilies
Also, chili flakes and whole chilies. So much flavor is packed into these little guys. I turn to Silk (or Aleppo), guajillo and chipotles all the time. Often I simmer whole ones with beans to add a smoky flavor.
Fennel + Chili + Lemon
I also cannot get enough of the fennel-plus-chili-plus-lemon combination as a flavoring for anything Mediterranean.
April Dodd, Cooking School Manager
Frozen peas can do much more than you might realize: Charred in a skillet as a side, smashed and added to pasta, turned into that addictive green pea dip from New York Times Cooking.
Plus, oats, for oatmeal, obviously, but I also find that I end up blitzing oats and replacing up to half of the all-purpose flour with DIY oat flour in almost every sweet baked good I make, especially with the Great Flour Shortage of 2020. Same goes for almond flour, but I don't make that one myself.
Finally, jars of tomato sauce. We do a big round of canning every September, so I have maybe 50 quarts of tomato sauce for the year. They get turned into lazy tomato soup, pizza sauce, slather-on-enchilada-sauce, meaty marinara. The tomato sauce itself is super simple, with no added seasoning, so the addition of different aromatics and spices can turn it into almost anything.