Over time, a home cook builds ingredients. I started by buying spices. Then interesting olive oils and vinegars. Mustards – not as many as Wisconsin’s zany Mustard Museum, but quite a few none the less. A second freezer comes into the equation. Friends will occasionally offer game they have harvested. Stock gets made, and frozen. Mushroom ends and carcasses are frozen for “stock day”. Spicy mayo is discovered. Making preserved lemons is really easy, and they are incredibly versatile. Experiments in pickling and fermentation. Learning how much I like refrigerator pickling, and how much I have to learn about fermentation. One year, the gas company relocated our gas meter from an inside closet to outside our home. For my birthday, my wife put in shelving to supplement the other places in the house that I stash the components of the larder. Within a few months it was full.
Here are my essentials. While some are expensive, only a little is used at a time and these ingredients can represent some of the best bang for your buck in home cooking.
- Home made stock
- Preserved lemons, which are better after a few months of rest (lots of recipes are available on line – the simplest are quartered Meyer lemons packed in salt and the juices from the lemons, possibly with a little fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sugar to top off your clean mason jar)
- Refrigerator pickled red onions
- Fermentation experiments
- Pickled beets
- XO sauce, Momofuku style, or chopped cured ham ends.
- Hot sauce. Current favorites are Mazi Piri Piri and Co-op Hot Sauce . The perennial classic that I grew up with (and always have on hand) with is Clancy’s Fancy, which has been made in Ann Arbor MI since the 1970s.
- A nice assortment of spices. Recently I have been using a lot of sumac; aleppo pepper has been a long time favorite, and I keep a few blends on hand.
- Honey. There are many great local purveyors, and Beez Kneez has a very cool zip code series and they are great advocates for honey bees.
- Interesting olive oil and vinegars. We haven’t purchased salad dressing in a long, long time. Two or three olive oils with different flavor profiles on hand (peppery and sharp, full bodied, or soft and smooth) can dramatically enhance a dish or some simple greens. A white wine or champagne vinegar is my go to for salad dressing, and the best bang for your buck is probably a sherry vinegar. Balsamic is a nice treat and can really range in flavor profiles.
When watching Mind of a Chef Season 2 in my basement during a cold winter on a stationary bike Sean Brock pronounced that “he who dies with the biggest larder wins”. To modify his statement, “s/he who dies with the most interesting, and highest utilized, larder definately wins.”
More to come in how I use these. They are the foundation for my cooking.