17 Essential Items That Your Pantry is Missing

By   

View as:

Photo credit: Africa Studio/shutterstock

SMARTY PANTRIES

A well-stocked pantry full of unique ingredients will help keep grocery lists short and make meal planning easier. Learn a few dishes using these pantry staples, and it'll be easy to whip up family meals in no time.
Photo credit: successo images/shutterstock

FISH SAUCE

There's no need to fear fish sauce, besides there's probably some worcestershire in your pantry already -- and that's also made with fermented fish. This sauce boosts the flavor of many foods, especially beef or pork. Try it as a tart dressing for a refreshing bun, a Vietnamese salad noodle bowl, in a recipe from Bowl of Delicious.
Photo credit: Ivaschenko Roman/shutterstock

RED WINE VINEGAR

Vinegars are some of the most versatile pantry ingredients. Red wine vinegar is particularly tasty, with Greek, Italian, and other Mediterranean flavors. You may never buy store-bought dressing again after learn to make Epicurious' super simple Italian vinaigrette.
Photo credit: Lentilka/shutterstock

CAPERS

Add little punches of briny, salty flavor to many dishes with capers. Most brands of the unopened flower bud come packed in brine, similar to pickles. Just a few tablespoons of capers will make the lemon sauce in chicken piccata pop in a recipe from Epicurious.
Photo credit: Gita Kulinitch Studio/shutterstock

RICE NOODLES

We all have Italian pasta in our pantry, but what about rice noodles? There's a wide variety of shapes and types of these Asian noodles available. Try making one of the most popular Thai takeout dishes, pad Thai, for yourself with a recipe from Food & Wine.
Photo credit: Courtesy of walmart.com

JERK PASTE

Sometimes you just need a little island flavor in your life, and for those times, there's Jamaican jerk paste. The paste, with ingredients such as scallions and scotch bonnet peppers, has more flavor than dry seasoning. Rub it on a chicken and pop it on the grill for a simple summer meal.
Photo credit: Julie Clopper/shutterstock

OLD BAY

The favorite seasoning of Maryland is great for all kinds of foods, not just crabs. Old Bay can be sprinkled on anything that would benefit from the flavors of celery, pepper, and paprika. Baked potatoes, scrambled eggs, and even bloody marys, in a recipe from Cup of Jo, are all better with Old Bay.
Photo credit: Kondor83/shutterstock

SHERRY

Cooking with alcohol gives a depth of flavor that's not possible from many other ingredients, and sherry, a fortified wine from Spain, goes especially well in cream sauces. Don't make turkey or Epicurious' chicken tetrazzini without it.
Photo credit: Elzbieta Sekowska/shutterstock

THAI CURRY PASTE

Thai curry paste comes in a variety of flavors, including red, green, yellow, panang, and massaman. They all have slightly different flavor profiles -- try a few different recipes that call for different types to find a favorite. A simple red curry with chicken from Cookie + Kate is a good recipe to start with.
Photo credit: sasimoto/shutterstock

MIRIN

A sweet Japanese rice wine, mirin is used as a condiment and ingredient in Asian cooking. Generally sold seasoned with salt, it's found on grocery shelves, not in liquor departments. Try it in a sweet, salty teriyaki glaze over salmon in a recipe from Bon Appetit.
Photo credit: Csehak Szabolcs/shutterstock

MARSALA

A Sicilian fortified wine, marsala usually comes in dry and sweet varieties. It can be aged as long as 10 years to produce a mellow aperitif, but when it comes to cooking, less expensive versions will suffice. Its rich flavor is celebrated in one of the most beloved Italian-American dishes, chicken marsala, as in a recipe by Tyler Florence.

Photo credit: BW Folsom/shutterstock

ANCHOVY PASTE

Like fish sauce and worcestershire, anchovy paste gives many dishes a boost of flavor without adding an unwanted amount of fishiness. It comes in tubes, so only a little need be used at a time; store the rest in the fridge. Use it in place of canned anchovy fillets in any recipe, such as one for classic caesar salad from Serious Eats.
Photo credit: phloen/shutterstock

GARAM MASALA

Used extensively in Indian cuisine, garam masala is a fragrant blend of spices -- including peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom -- more delicate and nuanced than what's typically labeled as curry powder. It's often used in a stew of chickpeas in spiced tomato sauce called chana masala, such as in a recipe by Serious Eats.
Photo credit: MOAimage/shutterstock

MOLASSES

Some people think of molasses as an old-fashioned ingredient, but just because grandma used it doesn't mean it's not still delicious. Most people are familiar with chewy molasses cookies and Boston baked beans, but what about shoofly pie? A recipe from The Splendid Table uses a cup of it.
Photo credit: jordache/shutterstock

ROASTED RED PEPPERS

When bell peppers are roasted, they take on a sweet flavor that can't be replicated any other way. Roasted red peppers are sold in jars packed in water and olive oil. They lend great flavor to Italian pasta sauces and are perfect in panini sandwiches with pesto and mozzarella, such as in a recipe by Layers of Happiness.
Photo credit: HandmadePictures/shutterstock

COCONUT MILK

Those creamy Thai, Indonesian, or Caribbean dishes were all very likely made with coconut milk, which comes unsweetened in cans. It is used all over the world, particularly tropical areas where coconut palms grow. Try it in a curried coconut carrot soup from The Kitchn.
Photo credit: bonchan/shutterstock

SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK

Not to be confused with canned evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk is thick like syrup and very sweet. It's often used in desserts such as pies, tarts, and bar cookies and is essential for making a Mexican tres leches cake, a light vanilla cake by Browneyed Baker soaking in sweet milk and topped with whipped cream.
Photo credit: Volosina/shutterstock

TOMATO PASTE

Did you know tomato paste comes in tubes? Instead of having to use an entire can all at once, a tube allows cooks to use a couple tablespoons in a recipe and save the rest. Caramelizing a bit of tomato paste in the pan for a beef stew by Once Upon a Chef is a great way to impart sweet tomato flavor without making a tomato sauce.