Sam the Cooking Guy

Stuff you gotta have in your kitchen

I'll be adding to this page - but for now here are a few key items I think need to be in a kitchen.

Stuff To Eat:

Pre Baked Pizza Crusts. - Don't be a crust snob, just go out buy one or two and throw them in the pantry.  Almost any combination of stuff in your fridge will turn this into a great dinner.  Ham, cheeses, shrimp, vegetables or whatever.  Try barbecued chicken, or roasted vegetables.  How about lox, capers and red onion for a fast brunch pizza?  Let your mind go.  Add a big salad and a very cold beer or two and you're styling.  Have a look in the recipes section for ideas.

Kosher Salt - It has no equal.  When a recipe calls for you to sprinkle salt on a piece of meat or fish before cooking - they mean kosher salt, not table salt.  And don't freak out about the grains being big - it's way less salty than regular salt.  Plus, if a Rabbi ever shows up to visit unannounced, you'll have at least something you can serve.

Pepper Grinder - Come on, if you don't own a decent pepper grinder, you should be ashamed of yourself.  I don't mean one of those jumbo wood ones like they have at your favorite steak joint.  I just mean something with a decent grind that will handle fresh peppercorns. 

Grilled Chicken - Already grilled chicken, even with barbeque stripes is readily available in the supermarket.  Grab an extra bag next time you shop and throw it in the freezer.  It's perfect for many things: in a grilled chicken Caesar salad, on top of a pizza, for a delicious chicken salad sandwich, in a quesadilla etc.  You'll be so glad it's there. 

Gingerroot - This beige skinned bark-like knobby thing is no longer just found in Asian markets.  Thick, peeled slices are bruised or crushed with the side of a cleaver to release the flavor, aroma and juices.  It can also be minced or shredded before using, and adds a clean, aromatic and spicy bite to all sorts of dishes.  An important ingredient in many Asian recipes, I use it in the Salt and Pepper Shrimp.

Sesame Oil - An Asian must.  It is pressed from roasted white sesame seeds and has a strong and distinctive nutty flavor.  It's wonderful, but definitely reinforces the old adage about 'too much of a good thing'.  Don't over do it - It's commonly drizzled over dishes at the table, or sometimes used in cooking but generally mixed with larger amounts of other oils. I like it simply mixed with oyster sauce over fresh steaming rice.  See below for oyster sauce.

Oyster Sauce - Also from the Asian side of my pantry.  Don't stop reading just because you're not an oyster fan.  I'm not, and this is one of my favorites. It's made from oyster extracts and soy sauce.  It's a very rich and thick dark brown sauce with a slightly sweet smoky flavor.  Used in Asian cooking, or as a condiment with meats and vegetables.

Vermouth - Forget the fact that it's a must have for any self-respecting martini - you'll be surprised how a small splash or two of vermouth will add to the flavor.  Not to mention it beats the pants out of opening a bottle of white wine every time you need a fraction of a cup - it'll keep in the pantry forever.  Try a little the next time you sauté mushrooms. 

Frozen Shrimp - I already know what you're thinking - "gross, frozen shrimp". But I'm not talking about those nasty little curly-pink-already-cooked-things in a frozen mass. I'm merely suggesting that a bag of frozen raw, shell-on shrimp can come in mighty handy. They defrost in a couple of minutes and can be used for a million things, like throwing them on a pizza or into a wok for a quick stir fry. Hey, have a look at the Shrimp Chowder - it's very good and very easy. 

Dried Pasta - 2 or 3 types.  Fresh is better, but this will keep almost forever and with only a couple of other ingredients beats the hell out of having toast for dinner - and almost as fast.  With a minimal amount of preparation it becomes quite amazing.  Try the Pasta with Vodka and Fresh Herbs recipe.

Chicken Broth - A reminder from viewer Kimberly (La Jolla, CA) that "any self respecting chef has chicken broth in their cabinet." Kimberly's right - you can use it for all sorts of things (have a look at the Shrimp Chowder). The cool part is that they now sell it in small juice-box sizes. Keep 'em on the shelf and use as little or as much as you like.

Tomato Paste and Sauce - Almost too obvious, but certainly necessary. Tomato paste goes a long way - that's why it comes in those little cans.

Sake - Japanese rice wine. Great to drink, either warm or on the rocks - and arguably even better to cook with. The Lemon Salmon Teriyaki is quite unbelievable - and uses sake. But sake does not improve with age - once a bottle is opened it's best to finish it fairly quickly. Unless you plan on using a lot of it, it's better to buy a small bottle. Available at any supermarket.

Tequila - Just because.  

Stuff to Use

Rice Cooker - Gone are the days of nasty, burnt rice in the pot because you forgot it was on the stove.  This is the only way to prepare perfect rice every time  You simply put the rice in, add water, turn it on, and walk away.  When it's done, it stays warm and perfect for hours.  I couldn't live without mine.  There are many types and range from about $25 - $150.  But apart from timers and special settings, the $25 models work just as well as the expensive ones. Just get one.

Zyliss Garlic Press - The only garlic press in the world worth owning.  Big praise, but I mean it.  With a Zyliss, all you do is drop in a whole, unpeeld clove and squeeze.  In their own words, "Extremely robust. Presses without peeling! Ideal lever action." They really mean it about the lever - you can feel the power.  It squishes out the pulp and leaves the papery stuff in the press.  Superb!

Tongs - A good pair of kitchen tongs makes life so much easier. The spring loaded, short handled model is ideal. Resist the temptation to get one of those long, goofy numbers with no tension. With the right pair you should be able to pick up something as large and heavy like a salami as well as something small like a quarter. It's all about control.