A few weeks back, I started this three-part Essential Food Pantry series. Today we’re finishing it with animal protein & produce and how to handle them. I hope you’ve had the chance to try Maldon Salt and tellicherry pepper from Part 1 and the opportunity to sink your teeth into a chunk of some good Parmigiano-Reggiano from Part 2.
After this final part, you’ll have everything you need to be able to cook a delicious and satisfying dinner anytime without running out to the grocery store! Besides saving money by not having to order takeout or go out to dinner, you can save additional money by buying pantry items when they’re on sale.
Keep your pantry list on your smartphone. That way, whenever you have to go grocery shopping anyway, glance at your list and pick up items that are on sale.
One of my favorite freezer pantry items is a frozen bag of raw, peeled, deveined shrimp. You probably know that 95% percent of fresh shrimp at the fish counter were previously frozen and therefore should be used within two days. With a bag of frozen shrimp, you’re in control, for at least 10 months! Whenever you’re ready to cook, open the bag, remove as many frozen shrimp as you’d like, reseal the bag, and put it back in the freezer. Place the frozen shrimp in a bowl and cover with cold water. Change the water after about 10 minutes and in another 10 minutes your shrimp are ready to go (after you pat them dry). Just one note about frozen shrimp: Look for "IQF" (individually quick frozen) on the bag. They tend to have better flavor and texture than shrimp that were frozen together in a block of ice. And check the ingredient list, which should only say shrimp...not added preservatives or salt.
Another freezer pantry item that has saved the day innumerable times is chicken parts, especially chicken thighs. The only issue here is having to thaw them. Chicken has to be handled more carefully than other food, as they are more susceptible to airborne diseases. So the two big no-no’s are: Never thaw chicken on the kitchen counter, which could attract bacteria, and never wash them under running water, as this can splash bacteria around the kitchen, potentially cross-contaminating other food. So here’s how it's done properly:
- Place your frozen chicken parts in an airtight plastic bag and thaw in a bowl of lukewarm water (thighs should take about an hour)
- Thaw them in the fridge overnight (which kind of defies the whole purpose of this pantry series to whip up a meal in no time without prior planning)
- Defrost in the microwave and immediately cook after they’ve defrosted
- This is a weird one and I’ve never done it. But according to USDA, it’s perfectly ok to cook or bake without thawing, just increase cooking time by 50%
If you’re not a chicken kind-of-a-person and prefer pork, beef, bison, or porcupine, proceed the same way as described in the previous paragraph.
One more meat I must have in my freezer: fully cooked sausage (in my case, I always have some Polish kielbasa in the freezer). Sausage is so versatile to add some animal protein to your pantry meal. You can even add it to your scrambled eggs in the morning, together with other leftovers from the night before.
I always have garlic, shallots, and a jalapeño on my counter. In the fridge, I have a lemon (or sometimes a lime). And in the basement, I store a bag of all-purpose potatoes. And just in case I didn’t pick up some fresh produce on the way home or from my garden, I have some spinach, corn, and peas in the freezer.
Not that hard, right? The items listed here are items that I like. You can change them however you like. The Essential Food Pantry series is not an all-encompassing definitive list, but hopefully will give you a start to sit down, pick up a pen and paper, and create your own list.
Then go out and actually buy these items. You’ll be be surprised and happy that you actually did this, and simultaneously disappointed and angry that you haven’t done it sooner.
Please share your favorite pantry items. If you share your whole list with me, I’ll come up with a delicious, original recipe using only items from your list. Go ahead, challenge me!
Animal Protein (Freezer)
- Chicken parts
- Fully cooked sausage
- Potatoes (all purpose)
- Frozen vegetables
So here’s my entire Essential Pantry List to get you started. Print or download the list and go shopping. You’re gonna love it!
Essential Food Pantry (Printable PDF)
What else do you keep in your pantry? Let us know in the comments below!