How to Stock Your Pantry Like a Michelin-Starred Chef

Dried beans, good soy sauce, harissa, anchovies and much, much more.

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Coronavirus put in to perspective how important a well-stocked pantry could be. While pantry staples may elicit images of dry goods — to be stored in an actual pantry — "pantry staples" encompasses anything with long shelf lives and a multitude of uses. We asked four Michelin-starred chefs for tips on what to buy to get a well-stocked pantry. From mayonnaise to beans, this is the start of your next grocery list.

Bet on Beans

Consumers tend to gravitate towards pasta and rice when stocking a pantry. As cheap and filling as they are, they're not exactly nutritious. Beans, on the other-hand, are hearty and nutrient-dense. They take on flavors just as well as rice, except they aren't empty calories.

"It's very important to have dried legumes that are of high quality so when you go to use them they don’t feel cheap but rich and creamy, as they should feel," Nico Russell, chef and owner of Brooklyn-based Oxalis, says.

Opt for dry beans, which can last for years, versus canned beans, which have comparable shelf lives but lose nutrients over time. A Dozen Cousins, a brand of ready-to-eat beans, shows the versatility of legumes, and they make quick, substantial meals for those short on time.

Creature Comforts

Pantry staples should highlight utility over luxury, but chefs agree that it's worth it to stock up on things that make you feel good. Bonus points for food that's good for you physically, too.

"I love making different flavored aiolis with store-bought mayonnaise at home, to eat with just about anything," Jason Fox, of the late Commonwealth restaurant in San Francisco, says. "Very comforting food in uncertain times."

During the initial stage of shelter-in-place orders in New York, Matt Danzer and Ann Redding, the husband-wife, chef-owner duo of the recently shuttered Uncle Boons, found themselves turning to easy-to-make meals that used key pantry staples. Redding's go-to was eggs, rice and soy sauce for "the easiest, most comforting meal;" Danzer kept it gluttonous with red wine and ice cream. And for their three-year old? Fresh ramen noodles.

Keep it Simple

Fox and Russell both agree that pantry staples for their homes are simpler than what they keep on-hand at their restaurants. While their restaurants are filled with condiments and flavorings made from scratch, their home pantries feature less-complicated essentials.

At Oxalis, Russell is more likely to keep proprietary products they made themselves, like various vinegars, ferments, syrups and jams. That doesn't mean you need to start your own fermentation project or open a Smucker's production plant.

Hit up your grocery store or a specialty market for pre-made sauces to enhance your dishes. Oxalis has its own online grocery store for those looking to get some of their Michelin-starred condiments into your own home. You should be looking for pantry staples that adapt to what you need, like harissa, which Russell says can work in dips, spreads or marinades in a pinch.

Additionally, chefs recommend stocking up on umami-packed ingredients like parmesan, anchovies and soy sauce to add tons of flavor with little effort.

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