We polled chefs on their unexpected yet essential pantry staples to make weeknight dinners more exciting. Here’s how they use them.
Palash Mitra, New Punjab Club
You can always find some variation of raita in my fridge. It’s a yoghurt-based sauce that you can adapt for anything. The base is yoghurt, cumin and herbs and you can use it as a dip, thin it out to use as a salad dressing, add some chilli to top grilled meat or add more garlic for seafood.
Daniel Calvert, BELON
Shio kombu is seasoned kelp which adds hits of umami, brininess and sweetness to dishes. It is great for curing fish or brightening finishing sauces.
Felipe Lopez, Buenos Aires Polo Club
Celery seed adds a savoury, warm note to beef, so I add it to marinades and rubs.
Noom Singdaechakarn, Soul Food Thai
I don’t keep it in my pantry all the time, but ant eggs are something unexpected that I play with. They add a sour note like lime in cooking. You can find them down in Little Thailand on Southwall Road.
Billy Otis, Carbone
Yuzo Kosho is my secret weapon pantry staple. It’s a Japanese condiment made from fresh chillis fermented with salt and yuzu. It’s punchy with acidity, salinity and umami, and enlivens meat dishes.
Steve Nguyen, Chôm Chôm
I always turn to fermented red bean curd. It’s too salty to eat on its own, but lends great umami flavour to sauces and marinades.
Safia Osman, The Bakery
I always turn to honey in my desserts when I am feeling nostalgic. My family is from Somalia, and when I was a kid, my dad would make us injera, which is a sweet crepe layered with honey. He would stack it six high then pour hot Arabic tea. It was our ritual breakfast and I always have honey on hand to bring that classic sweetness to desserts or add complexity to savoury dishes.
Jowett Yu, Ho Lee Fook
Instead of sugar, I like to use maple syrup as a sweetener. It provides a more complex and balanced sweetness and provides a deep caramelisation to meats.