Groceries have become a more regular occurrence for most of us and knowing what is a must and what is just nice-to-have can make a big difference, especially when you are shopping with less. But cooking at home more frequently also means that some ingredients are worth the extra pennies for better results. We checked our culinary team’s grocery list and got the scoop on what they are cutting, where they are choosing to spend and how to buy in bulk.
Despite some snobbery around canned food, food in tins is not necessarily bad quality. Especially today, you get some highly nutritious canned foods with less preservatives, in particular tuna, sardines, beans and canned tomatoes which can be whipped up into easy lunches for the kids and several sauces. Canned foods are especially useful when ingredients are out of season and thus forced and flavourless. So while nothing can beat a sauce made from perfectly ripe, fresh tomatoes, out of season, tinned taste better. These ingredients are cost-effective and versatile, plus they store easily and last for ages, meaning less frequent trips to busy supermarkets.
Splurge-worthy items live predominantly in the organic meats and seafood aisles. When it comes to your proteins, you definitely want to level up on quality: prime beef, organic chicken and heritage-breed pork or lamb, plus sustainably sourced seafood. Not only will the extra dollars give you more premium quality and flavour but a better understanding of where your food comes from and how it is farmed or sourced.
For times when you want to treat yourself, or recreate a restaurant at home after being cooped up for a few days, handcrafted bread and gourmet cheese are hard to beat. Yes, they cost more but the difference is almost impossible to argue. A slice of fresh-baked sourdough, one you may even have baked yourself, lays the foundation for a slice of punchy gourmet camembert – a true treasure.
This might seem like a strange one but our chefs also like to splurge on ‘basic’ items like butter. High-quality basics enhance the flavour of pretty much everything they touch. The same goes for olive oil, vinegar, herbs and spices (the fresher the better, chuck out that musty nutmeg from 2014). Seasoning is such an essential component of good cooking, so while it sounds counterintuitive, great basics are often the unsung heroes of successful suppers.
In a city where nuts are usually more expensive than you would believe, buying in bulk is a go-to. You can find them in bulk in various supermarkets or, unexpectedly, at Sai Ying Pun’s Dried Seafood Street vendors. For home-cooking, nuts are a brilliant addition to your pantry stock. They can be eaten as a healthy snack, made into a sauce or garnish and add texture and flavour to anything you use them with, whether savoury or sweet. Make your own nut butters, add to salads and breakfast smoothies or toast them and use as a garnish. Choose your favourite and get creative.
When more is less, dried pasta – with its long shelf-life and easy storage – is a solid bulk buy. Pasta can be made in countless variations, with so many types available. If you are spending more time cooking at home, use the abundance of time and pasta to try new recipes. Whether lunch or dinner, meat-free or packed with protein, pasta’s success lies in its diversity.