I’m a minimalist in almost every aspect of my life, except when it comes to my pantry. I can’t resist a new addition, whether it’s a spice blend I picked up traveling, a unique type of hot sauce I stumbled upon at my corner grocer, or a niche ingredient called for as “optional” by a recipe I haven’t made since 2004. As a result, it looks like a bomb went off in my kitchen cupboard—and then ricocheted on over to my refrigerator shelves. (Though if you find yourself in an emergency wherein an obscure type of jam is the only antidote, I’m your girl.)
Now that I’m a full-time recipe developer, my larder situation has gotten downright dangerous. I can’t open an overhead cabinet without risking a precipitous toppling, say of some type of rainbow pepper I swore by for 20 minutes during an au poivre phase.
In an effort to turn things around, and honestly, to avoid losing a toe to various falling vinegar bottles, I turned to our team to identify what they consider essentials. These are their top 10 pantry and fridge staples, all under $10:
Hot sauce was by far the most popular response—sprinkle it on pizza! Drizzle it on eggs! Live large with take out!—though specific brand and flavor are contentious topics. Even Food52 co-founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs don’t agree on this one: Amanda prefers classic Cholula, while Merrill stocks up on Frank’s Red Hot. Our Marketing Coordinator Danielle Curtis-Williams likes Louisiana-style Crystal Hot Sauce, and VP of People and Culture Sean Lee puts Sriracha on pretty much everything.
It’s no surprise that our team loves mustard: It’s a key component of everything from a vinaigrette to a marinade to a properly delicious sandwich, from the humble turkey to the Croque-Monsieurs of the world. You can also use it to riff on classic mayo-starring dishes like potato salad and deviled eggs. Our favorite types are Colman’s English, Grey Poupon Dijon, and Maille Wholegrain.
For the mayonnaise-lovers in the office, it’s an everyday essential. We like to slather it on tomato sandwiches and lobster rolls, use it to emulsify dressings, and even add it as a surprise ingredient in killer chocolate cake. We consider Sir Kensington’s, Hellman’s, Kewpie, and Duke’s to be top-notch brands.
Both Amanda and Merrill swear by capers, most commonly known as those little green balls dotting your bagels-and-lox platter. Capers can come packed in salt or pickled in brine, and they’re clutch for adding bursts of salty punch to a weeknight pantry pasta, potato salad, tomato sauce, or greens bowl.
You didn’t think we’d forget about our Mediterranean fish friends, did you? It’s hard for us to imagine a savory dish that wouldn’t benefit from an anchovy or two, from aiolis to salad dressings to pestos to butters. And don’t sleep on bagna cauda! Your crudités game will never be the same. You can get them by the jar or in canned form.
Worcestershire Sauce is a British condiment made from fermenting a large handful of loud ingredients, including vinegars, molasses, sugar, and salt. It’s one of our team’s favorite ways to up the umami in everything from burgers to Bloody Marys to steak to barbecued shrimp. Our favorite is classic Lea & Perrins.
With chopped, whole peeled, or pureed tomatoes at your disposal, you’re never more than a pot of pasta and a salt-bae-like Parmesan sprinkle away from dinner. Amanda likes the chopped version from Pomi.
Tomato paste is another way our team loves to go big on umami. Keep a tube of the triple-concentrated stuff at the ready, and use it in any tomatoey ragu, braise, or soup to intensify the flavor.
Our Senior Editor Eric Kim swears by nori, also known as roasted seaweed snack. “I used to always have Garden of Eden–brand Herbes de Provence on hand. After that it was McCormick lemon pepper—the kind you can grind yourself (unsponsored)!” he says. “It’s funny how these spice jars I remember having to refill over and over speak to particular stages in my life and the way I used to cook when I was that person. I don’t have either of those herb/spice mixes anymore. But I do keep roasted seaweed snack in my pantry at all times.”
He uses nori to add flavor to sour cream dip, soft-scrambled eggs, and avocado toast.
Most of our team couldn’t go a single meal—nay, a snack—without a sprinkling of flaky sea salt, like Maldon. And we don’t stop at the savory: Flaky salt comes to the rescue to balance out the sweetness in chocolate desserts like brownies, cookies, and tarts.
What’s your number one pantry essential? Let us know in the comments.