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20+ Staples You Should Always Have in Your Fridge

Our author today is Ryan Scott, author of One to Five: One Shortcut Recipe Transformed into Five Easy Dishes. In his new book, Ryan shows you how staple shortcut ingredients—like hardboiled eggs or frozen corn or cooked brown rice—can be the jumping off points for so many great homecooked recipes.

By
Kara Rota
6-minute read
Episode #124

You can do without many things, but you can’t do without food! If you nail down your staples—the tools you’ll use to cook and the ingredients you’ll always keep in your fridge, freezer, pantry shelves, and drawers—you’ll become a versatile chef who’s always ready for action. By keeping your kitchen well stocked, you’ll be economizing while simultaneously broadening the quality and diversity of your day-to-day meals.

Expanding your repertoire by picking up one new ingredient when you shop can take your food to a whole new level. It doesn’t need to have a fancy name or expensive price tag: Just grab something like tahini (sesame paste) or curry paste in a tube. Don’t be afraid to drop an extra five dollars here and there to try something new!

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Below I’ve described all of my favorite staples—the ingredients that get me ready to make the recipes in my cookbook, and so many other snacks and meals. Don’t feel pressured to buy everything in this list at once; instead use it as a guide that will help you grow your cooking skills. I will be honest and admit that items such as beef jerky, Sour Patch Kids, pretzel thins, and booze are also among my pantry staples. But that’s just me—they are optional for you!

Ryan's Favorite Fridge Staples

Beer

Did you know you can use this as a fantastic meat tenderizer, marinade, or base for a fluffy frying batter? In my house, I am usually double-fisting beers—one for cooking and one for drinking.

For more uses for beer, check out Who Knew's 20 Ways to Harness the Power of Beer (Besides Drinking It)

Better Than Bouillon

Forget those old-fashioned bouillon cubes and keep a jar of Better Than Bouillon paste in the fridge; it comes in flavors that range from beef to chicken to vegetable. It’s a MSG-free intensifier for soups and sauces, as well as an amazing base for marinades and rubs.

Biscuit dough

You can easily transform refrigerated biscuit dough into appetizers, desserts, and even the main event, all of which will have people begging for the recipe.

Crumbled blue cheese and feta cheese

It’s good to have a cheese with a lot of flavor on hand. If you’re new to these cheeses, they can smell overwhelming, but when used with other ingredients they will heighten the flavors of your food.

Unsalted butter

An emulsifier and a binder, butter makes quick sauces. You should be in control of the salt in your dishes, especially when baking, which is why I always use unsalted butter.

Capers

Capers make for a big flavor addition to your sauces, brines, salads (like Kale Caesar on page 79 of my cookbook) and seafood (including Danny’s Lemon-Pepper Scampi on page 178 of my cookbook). When people ask me what the trick is in a dish, it’s often the juice that the capers are stored in!

Cheddar

Buy this in a block, not preshredded; the dishes that call for shredded Cheddar will taste a lot better if you shred it yourself. It also makes a nice snack when you buy it this way; just slice and munch. By the way, true Cheddar is not orange; that’s a dye. Cheddar is white.

Dijon mustard

You won’t know how good this ingredient is until you start using it regularly. It’s not just an emulsifier for your vinaigrettes, it’s also a zesty rub and the unexpected kick in the best barbecue sauces. I love Dijon!

Eggs

This is an inexpensive protein that can feed a whole family when you’re in a bind (or even when you’re not).You can easily find easy and delicious ideas for hard-boiled eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Whoever said having breakfast for dinner was wrong? It’s a fast, easy, and cheap way to get a meal on the table.

Wondering about the health benefits of egg consumption? Check out Nutrition Diva's episode "Should You Eat Fewer Eggs?"

Fish sauce

Usually a combination of anchovies, salt, and water, fish sauce is an incredible condiment that makes many Asian dishes shine; there’s just no substitute for it. If you’ve never tried cooking with it, consider it one of your experiments. It can seem intimidating when you taste it on its own, but trust me, it’s another story when you add it to dishes!

Garlic

I prefer garlic paste above all other forms of garlic, but I also like to keep minced garlic in a tub or jar on hand—just stay away from varieties packed in oil, as they oxidize quickly.

Ginger paste

Ginger can be hard to chop and clean, so I’m a fan of using ginger paste. Using the tube form gives you instant ginger zing ASAP.

Herb pastes

I rely heavily on garlic and ginger pastes for the recipes in this book (they’re wonderful time-savers), but I also make sure I’ve got basil and chili pastes on hand. They’re a smart crutch that you won’t mind leaning on for marinades, rubs, and other quick fixes.

Pickled jalapeños

I used to be wary of jalapeño peppers until I learned that they don’t just offer heat—they give you sweet, savory, bitter, and salty flavors as well. They’re one of my go-to ingredients in my cookbook and you shouldn’t be intimidated by them; embrace the canned jalapeño!

Check out Mighty Mommy's 20 Grocery Shopping Tips to Save Your Family Big Bucks before you head to the store for all of these new ingredients! 

Ketchup

Don’t overlook this condiment! It can be the base for a barbecue sauce and the key to a nice crust on a meatloaf. Thousand Island dressing is nothing without ketchup, after all.

Mayonnaise

This condiment can be taken in so many directions. Use it on chili, rub it on tuna (you heard me right), or bake a mayo-tossed chicken breast—it keeps proteins so moist.

Whole milk

Keep milk around for more than just your cereal. It’s useful as a cooking liquid or as a base for dressings.

Italian parsley

Also sold as flat-leaf parsley, it’s got such a vibrant flavor that it can withstand a whirl in the food processor. Mince with garlic and lemon zest to rub on pork roast or beef top round, or use it with lemon juice to dress fish.

Pepperoncinis

I’m addicted to pepperoncinis, either sliced or whole. They contribute a little hidden kick of acid that bumps up the flavor of so many dishes or salads!

Pickles

Think outside the pickle jar. Dill pickles contain acid, just like capers and pepperoncinis; utilize the juice as an alternative brine for fried chicken.

Salsa

Find a brand you like with good heat, and add it to ground beef for tacos, to avocados and lemon juice for a quick guacamole, or just enjoy it with tortilla chips.

If you're a salsa fiend, check out Domestic CEO's recipe for Salsa Verde Pork

Sour cream

Perfect for creamy dressings or as a soup topper, sour cream can also cut the heat in spicy dishes in no time flat. 

Yogurt

It’s a good meat tenderizer or a substitute for mayonnaise in a low-calorie salad dressing. For versatility, your best bet is the plain unsweetened kind; I’m a fan of the nonfat one from Fage.

Bonus recipe from ONE TO FIVE:

Elvis Pancakes (from the BACON chapter)

  • prep time: 15 minutes
  • cook time: 25-30 minutes
  • yield: 3 to 4 cups

This hunka hunka burnin’ breakfast is my take on Elvis’ favorite meal, minus the peanut butter. Like The King, they’re unapologetically messy. You may think the pancakes themselves need more sugar, but with the brown sugar in the bacon and the banana in the batter I think you’ll get your sweet fix here.

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 2 ½ cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 pieces of Brown Sugar Black Pepper Bacon, each broken into three pieces
  • 2 bananas, sliced

1. Heat oven to 200°F. In a medium bowl, mix cake flour, baking soda, baking powder and sugar until combined. In a medium bowl, add the melted butter to the egg yolks and mix well. Slowly add the buttermilk, milk and vanilla and mix well. In a medium bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff (but not dry).

2. Add the dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture and blend until everything is moist and lumpy. Fold in the whipped egg whites with a rubber spatula until blended (small specks of egg white are good). Let the batter rest for 20 minutes.

3. Lightly grease a skillet. Heat skillet over medium heat and add ¼ cup of batter. Repeat 3 times. Cook three pancakes at a time until the pancake starts bubbling and the underside is light brown, about three minutes. Once a crust has started to set, add three slices of banana and three pieces of bacon to each pancake so that the bacon looks like spiders crawling out of the pancakes.

4. Flatten with a metal spatula and cook for another three minutes. Flip and cook until golden brown, about two minutes. Repeat with remaining batter. Keep pancakes warm in oven until ready to serve. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.