Chef Tom Douglas is a bit embarrassed to admit he was surfing around the Food Network's web site recently ("don't ask me why" he says) when he stumbled upon an article about the must-have items every cook should keep in their pantry. Suffice it so say he was unimpressed.
"When I was looking at their list it struck me that it wasn't a very interesting list. Dijon mustard, ketchup, barbeque sauce, canned tomatoes, reduced sodium broths. Fine, but just boring."
But on this week's edition of Seattle Kitchen, Tom says it doesn't take much to easily "take the blah out of blase."
For example, he suggests keeping some bacon fat in a little pot in the fridge. It stores well, and can be added to a number of dishes.
He's also a big fan of fish sauce. Just take two tablespoons of sugar, put it on high heat and caramelize it until it's golden brown, then add a little fish sauce to taste and some ginger or ginger paste.
"Boom, you have a delicious Vietnamese style marinade that can take a chicken thigh right out of blase into the atmosphere," he says.
Speaking of ginger paste, Tom says you can get a number of high quality ingredients in tubes these days, including Chinese mustard, anchovy, lemongrass and kefir lime leaf. "It's all pureed so it just makes it very easy to put into a marinade and keep around without going bad."
Another favorite of the Seattle Kitchen crew is spices. Tom, Thierry and Katie O are all big fans of sauces like Sriracha, the spicy red chili sauce commonly found in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. They also enjoy Sambal, a raw chili paste pureed along with vinegar and salt. Both can make a boring old dish peppy and brighter.
Thierry recommends keeping some nice finishing oils around the kitchen like sesame seed or walnut oil as well to add a unique twist to salads and a number of other dishes. But they come with a caveat.
"I keep it in the fridge because it goes bad so fast. That stuff, if you keep it on the counter, within a week your stuff is going bad."
Tom and Thierry also suggest different types of flour to shake up your baking and frying. Rice flour is one of Tom's favorites, which he says is really good for frying, making for a great, crispy edge and a lighter flavor. And both enjoy replacing white flours with buckwheat in things like pancakes and crepes.
"To me it's like going and having Pho. It has that healthy feeling about it. I don't know if it is," Tom laughs.
But the bottom line is by stocking your shelves with just a few more things, you can turn your kitchen from ordinary to extraordinary.