Kitchen Staples…Must haves to Accomplish Any Project

In every professional kitchen, unique to each individual business, there can always be found certain ingredients that make up the personality of its product.  Having spent time in many different kitchens myself, I have over the years, developed favorite components that help to round out certain culinary compositions and add depth to an otherwise single note dish.  Also, admittedly in some cases, I lean on selected ingredients like a crutch, an old friend, a reliable stand-by to achieve a consistent result.  Why is this worthy as “food” for thought?  Two reasons: First, everybody has their own desired list of staples and perhaps may add new ones after pondering this topic, thus expanding their personal repertoire.  Second, are you using such staples the fullest of their capabilities?  As a way of introducing a fresh look to some familiar elements to your already existing methods and techniques, I have broken down into categories, ingredients that I personally feel are essential to any kitchen.

Fats:

There are two basic kinds…vegetable and animal.  Olive oil is likely most commonly used these days and can be found in many kitchens, professional and private. Other oils such as corn, peanut, sesame, walnut, cottonseed, grape seed, and various other natural occurring oils are used for a variety of different purposes such as milder flavor oils for infusing with herbs, aromatics, or chilis, specifically flavored oils like walnut for salad dressings or peanut for frying.  Neutrally flavored oils are ideal for infused oils.  Animal fats are versatile and mostly impart very unique dimensions to certain recipes.  Bacon fat is one my personal favorites. It’s great for sauteing, as a vinaigrette, making a roux, basting a roast, or adding as a flavor profile to ground meats for meatballs, burgers, or meatloaf.  Duck fat is another favorite of mine and commonly used in French cookery.  To confit (con-fee) means to simmer a protein in its own fat.  Duck is especially enjoyed in this method and quite delicious!  Duck fat is also used effectively in frying or sauteing potatoes in many recipe applications and when searing duck breast, it is not only advisable, but mandatory to do so with skin in tact so the breast may essentially be self basted in its own fat.  When chicken is prepared in this fashion, it is refered to as “schmultz”.  Other animal fats may be utilized, but be aware of their limitations to temperatures and always store animals fats in the refrigerator and discard if not used after at least seven to ten days.  Butter is by far the most common and most widely used. Clarify butter by removing the solids and reserving the fat to use in sauteing in order to give it a higher viscosity and avoid burning.  Most often, butter is the fat of choice when making a roux and of course it is a mandatory ingredient in a hollandaise sauce.

Starches:

Starches come in many forms such as grains and their by-products, legumes, and vegetables and their by-products.  Likely, we may have rice, pasta, bread, flour, or some typed of processed starch as part of our regular inventory.  While rice is often thought of as an accompaniment, in some applications, it is used solely for its starch content as a thickening agent in soups and bisque.  Pasta, the base of which can be different types of flour (white, wheat, or semolina…), can take on hundreds of variations spanning many different cultural applications.  Personally, I ALWAYS have pasta of some type in my kitchen or the ingredients to make it fresh!  In my upcoming vlog, I will demonstrate making fresh pasta of different kinds, so keep an eye out for that!

Acids:

Acids come from a few different sources such as citrus, vinegar, and wine.  While being essential for flavor, acids contribute chemical properties that help to break foods down like in a marinade resulting in imparting additional flavors or chemically “cooking” a protein such an in the case of making a ceviche.  Acids also help with digestion and in some cultures, you will find some form of gastrique served with certain dishes.  For myself, I’m a fan of lemon and orange for both sweet and savory recipes.  Wine holds a special place in my heart for many sauce applications such as a beurre blanc or beurre rouge and reductions.

Spices/Seasonings:

Salt and pepper…no exceptions…every kitchen must have these in some form and there are literally hundreds of variations of these crucial seasonings you can choose from.  Salt can actually take on different notes depending on where it came from and it’s texture can play different roles in both savory and sweet applications.  Pepper can take on many forms and types and produce dramatically contrasting results and may also be toasted whole before grinding to add a whole other demention.   That being said, the rest is up to you.  There no limit to individual or combinations of spices and seasonings that are available.  My advice is…have fun with it and be adventurous!  Herbs, fresh or dried, dried chilis, ground seeds of many kinds…the world is your oyster and you should have some sort of selection in your kitchen.

Condiments/miscellaneous:

Everyone has something they favor and yes, that includes American tomato ketchup!  I love a good Dijon mustard.  Mustard is a natural emulsifier and I just really enjoy the flavor.  Mayonaise is another favorite. It’s easy to make yourself too either in a food processor or a blender and can be used as a base for aioli, salads, cold sauces, and infused with many flavors.  I affectionately refer to it as a “cold hollandaise” and love to dip my french fries in it.  Pickles, relishes, compotes, olives, cheeses, tampanades, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, eggs…this list and category could easily be never-ending.  Experiment…have fun with it…and always keep a nice selection on hand!

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