Plus, recipes for cooking with each of them.

By Clarissa Buch
April 10, 2020
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Canned and tinned foods are pantry MVPs. Long-lasting, packed with flavor, and often inexpensive, these preserved foods make great starting points for simple meals at home. Here, Rocco DiSpirito, Judy Joo, and more chefs share the canned foods they always keep in their home pantries.

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Brown anchovies

“An essential ingredient that is oftentimes overlooked is canned brown anchovies. Brown anchovies add a delicious umami element to any dish. They can be used in the base of any sauce for an extra savory pop of flavor.” — Philip Whitmarsh, executive chef of Jewel of the South 

Spam

“Seriously. Fry some up and make an egg and cheese sandwich. Or make fried rice or even drop some in a rich tomato sauce in place of fresh sausage." — Nemo Bolin, executive chef of Eastern Standard

Abby Hocking

Canned plum tomatoes

“So you can quickly make sauces or add tomato flavor to complement a dish.” — Ed McFarland, chef/owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar

Condensed milk

“A can of condensed milk can also become dulce de leche if you cook it for a while on hot water while in the same can (about 3 hours). Not a lot of people know this trick!” — Carlos Torres, executive chef of Villa Azur 

Greg DuPree

Stuffed grape leaves 

I’ve been eating a ton of grape leaves recently. They are so comforting and filling, a perfectly salty little carb snack that isn’t fried! They can take a “snack” meal (I’ve been having a ton of those lately) and turn it into a really enjoyable lunch or dinner. I like to have them on a platter with some hummus, crackers, olives, fresh veggies, and big chunks of feta—instant dinner that requires no cooking.” Robin Hollis, executive chef of Basic Kitchen

Or make them your own: Stuffed Grape Leaves

Chickpeas

"Chickpeas sound like a lame answer but they are really good for you and can be used directly from the can (rinsed and added to a salad), pureed or processed (hummus or vegan 'tuna salad'), cooked whole (in a pot with braised lamb shanks), or baked/fried (a prefect crispy snack when seasoned with salt and smoked paprika)." — Nemo Bolin

Sardines

“Canned sardines have a delicious salty brine to them similar to the whitefish salad I grew up with. Purée them with a bit of cream cheese, lemon, and parsley, and spread on some toasted whole grain bread. For those who like the popular avocado toast food trend, add some sliced avocado and a poached egg. The avocado and the egg really tone down the intense oceanic saltiness of the sardines.” — Matt King, vice president of culinary operations at Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group

© Con Poulos

Crushed tomatoes

“If I've got a tomato can on my shelf, I know I can make a meal with it, starting with pasta and pizza sauce. For pasta sauce, I chop up garlic and onion, sauté them with chili flakes in olive oil, throw crushed tomatoes in, and cook it all down on gentle heat for at least an hour. For a quick sauce for an easy pizza, you can crush canned tomatoes up, add garlic and olive oil, spread it on whatever bread you have, along with toppings, and stick it in the oven.” — Damon Menapace, culinary director of Primal Supply Meats

Cream of mushroom soup

“I grew up eating various recipes made from this totally addictive condensed can of magical goodness. The classic green bean casserole was probably my favorite, with Swedish meatballs coming in a close second. There are dozens of fabulous all Americana recipes you can make with this versatile can, including soup. If you don’t like mushrooms, cream of chicken works, too.” — Judy Joo, chef, author, and television personality

Coconut milk and coconut cream

“They are both great for desserts, sauces, soups, and smoothies. I always have coconut milk at home. Quality, full-fat coconut milk is a staple of many Indian and Asian dishes, and also makes a fantastic dairy-free substitute for milk in baking. Low-fat coconut milk is thinner and doesn’t separate as much, which can be useful sometimes as well.” — Stephen Parker, executive chef of Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

Beer 

“Beer. Period.” — Clark Bowen, executive chef of Fooq’s

© CON POULOS

Beans, of course

“Beans are great even if you hate them. Why? Protein. If you can’t get your hands on meat, there are thousands of recipes you can hit up with beans—and they are better for you, too.” — Jacqueline Siao, executive chef of W Aspen

Mushrooms, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots

“All you need for a killer stir-fry.” — Anthony Carron, chef/founder of 800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen

Literally everything  

“Since nearly anything and everything can be canned and will literally last close to forever, I recommend stockpiling canned food. I have everything from tactical bacon to canned salmon, sardines and anchovies, beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, collards, honey, coconut milk, Asian sauces and condiments (for big flavor), as well as canned meats like ground beef, ham, and bacon.” — Rocco DiSpirito, chef and television personality