On Chopped, chef and judge Alex Guarnaschelli regularly tastes dishes made with a strange and random assortment of ingredients. But in her kitchen at New York City's Butter and at home, the food is gloriously, predictably delicious thanks in part to her well-stocked pantries. Here, Guarnaschelli reveals her must-have pantry staples.
“I like to chop them up really small and use them in surprising places, like in gravy for meat,” Guarnaschelli says. She will also add them to a savory cocktail mix with olives for an unorthodox martini. “The brine is awesome for that,” she says. “Plus, you can use it to make a simple vinaigrette—just mix the brine with olive oil.”
Smooth Dijon mustard
“It has to be Dijon,” she says. “It has a heat to it. It’s almost spicy, like chiles or ginger. Plus it has a natural thickening property.” She uses it to add both zing and body to sauces and vinaigrettes.
Red wine vinegar
“I can’t live without it,” Guarnaschelli says. “It’s not expensive, and it’s not as one-note as white vinegar, which is just a bracing punch of neutral acidity. Red wine vinegar has some personality as well acidity.” At Butter, she makes shrubs for cocktails by mixing a variety of things with red wine vinegar. She also relies on the vinegar for quick sauces. “A splash of red wine vinegar can pull things together like a pinch of salt,” she says.
“You need it for eggnog, gingerbread, vinaigrettes, macerated fruit—it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes,” she says. “Every time I feel like something is missing from a dish, I think, ‘Oh, I know, I’ll add a pinch of dry ginger.’ If it’s not salt and it’s not vinegar, it’s probably missing dry ginger.”
“I like it better than regular quinoa,” Guarnaschelli says. “It has a more interesting texture. I cook it and keep a bowl of it in my fridge. I eat it as a salad, and I also like to use it to crust fish or a pork tenderloin or even French toast.”
Guarnaschelli likes to splurge on a small bottle of nut oil like hazelnut oil, which she keeps in her fridge so it doesn’t go rancid. “It’s delicious on mushrooms and in vinaigrettes,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll toast nuts and mix them with the oil for a crunchy topping.”