I am often asked what food items a cook should keep in their kitchen. The answer to that may vary depending on the type of food you like to cook and eat, but here are a few things you should have on hand and how to be smart about using the products you buy.
Remember you can't make great food with poor quality ingredients. You don't need to have the most expensive food products available but there are some items where the expense is worth it and shows. It is also about how you are using food products. Here are some examples.
Olive oil-have a good bottle on hand and store it as you would wine. For those of you who don't know how to store wine, two things are important. Consistent temperature (not hot) and out of the light.
It doesn't make any sense to buy a $30 bottle of olive oil if you are going to use it for cooking. If you are going to saute or cook with the oil, then get a basic olive oil or even blend. Once you heat the oil to high temperatures it won't matter anyways.
If you are making a salad or drizzling olive oil over a piece of cooked fish then use a high quality one.
Salt- spend a little bit on a top quality sea salt. My favorite is the Camargue brand but there are many others. There are also many flavors now such as red wine infused, black salt, red clay salt and so forth. I really like a high quality smoked sea salt on a piece of meat, fish or poultry.
Vinegar-There is a huge difference in a salad made with a top quality vinegar and oil as opposed to one made with cheaper quality products.
If you go to the store and purchase a few nice greens, toss them with a little high quality olive oil (don't drown them), vinegar and sea salt you will see how much different a simple salad can be.
Here is my favorite salad. Baby red romaine, endive, hydroponic bibb lettuce, green oak and baby arugula tossed with Frantoia extra virgin olive oil (about $32 per bottle), Banyul vinegar and high quality sea salt.
Mustard-I absolutely love mustard. I put mustard on everything. Steak, lamb, chicken, sandwiches, hot dogs, hot cats, everything! Maille is very good. My favorite is Edmund Fallot. Grill a piece of steak, sprinkle some of that smoked sea salt and serve it with a dollop of Edmund Fallot dijon, tarragon or green peppercorn mustard..BAM!!!
Remember this important rule when using any of these ingredients: Use them for simple preparations. It doesn't make any sense to use a top quality oil or salt if you are making, for example, a stew, casserole, braised item, lasagna or anything like that because you won't be able to taste what you spent your money on. Remember, you want to be able to taste these items.
Grill a piece of meat, fish or poultry and sprinkle some of that nice olive oil and salt on top.
If you are making barbeque sauce with vinegar in it don't use the high quality one.
Basically what I am saying is you don't want to cook with any of these items.
You will find that a top quality oil, vinegar, mustard or salt will be expensive but here is the good thing: they will go a long way because you won't be using large quantities of them.