From pickled walnuts to Spam, these pantry staples are long-lasting and versatile.

By Clarissa Buch
April 09, 2020
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You may not have Spam, pickled walnuts, or lemon sea salt stored in your pantry right now, but you definitely should. As more of our cooking these days relies on pantry staples, we asked chefs to share the long-lasting, non-perishable items that they always keep in their kitchens, from protein powder to za'atar.

Roberto Machado Noa / Getty Images; Food Tree Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Spam

“As a kid, we ate a ton of Spam and Underwood Deviled Ham sandwiches. Today, I update that with seared Spam thinly sliced on toasted bread or a ciabatta roll, cheddar, Sriracha, pickled onion, and a bit of mayo.” — Paul Wahlberg, chef/co-owner of Wahlburgers

Pickled walnuts  

“Something that isn't very common in the U.S. but should be: pickled walnuts. I'm from London, so I grew up eating these with cheese, meats, and sandwiches. They can also be chopped and thrown into any braise at the last minute. They’re great for adding a pickled note to just about any dish.” —Philip Whitmarsh, executive chef of Jewel of the South

Fish sauce and tamarind paste 

“They are two of my favorite items to have on hand. Not only are they packed with flavor, but they are essential for making a great stir fry. You can also use them to marinate anything, from chicken to rice.” — Nina Compton, owner of Compere Lapin and Bywater American Bistro 

© John Kernick

Sesame seeds

"Even though they may not be used often in Western countries or cuisine, sesame seeds are very nutritious and a very common pantry item in Japan.  There are many creative ways to use sesame seeds in home cooking that can add great texture and flavor. I love to make goma-ae, which is usually made with vegetables, such as spinach, and sesame paste and miso. I always have those ingredients in my home and it's pretty easy to make." — Masaharu Morimoto, celebrity chef

Coconut flour 

“It’s a better alternative sweetener than sugar and makes for a great substitute in sweet recipes."  — Ed McFarland, chef/owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar

Spice blends, like za'atar and togarashi

"I'm a big fan of having a few spice blends such as za'atar or togarashi around at all times.  They are great for adding flavor in unexpected ways. I'm also more inclined to use them frequently as opposed to an entire spice cabinet that may get old and stale over time. I also like having some 'health food' or nutrient rich foods, such as nori and nutritional yeast. They are good for you and layer flavor in surprising ways, like ground up together and sprinkled on popcorn. (My parents were hippies for a while back in the day.)" — Nemo Bolin, executive chef of Eastern Standard

Anchovies

“I don't like foods that are 'too fishy,' but I'm telling you these babies pack some serious flavor. Nicknamed 'Italian MSG,' they are loaded with glutamates, the chemical compound that we perceive as umami. Take a few anchovy filets and sauté them in olive oil with garlic, then toss in some cooked pasta and parmesan cheese, and you have a delicious meal. Extra points if you add red pepper flakes, parsley, white wine, and/or lemon juice. I promise it won't taste fishy.” — Daniel Levine, chef/owner of Dasher & Crank

Lemon sea salt

"I recommend lemon sea salt. It’s excellent for salads and seafood dishes to brighten and enhance flavors in a unique way.” — Ed McFarland

Yeast

“I always have yeast at home to make my own bread, pizza dough, or beer. It's very versatile if you learn all of the different uses.” — Carlos Torres, executive chef of Villa Azur

Victor Protasio

Almond butter

“It’s an excellent source of protein. It’s our go-to every morning for breakfast with eggs and toast. My two-year-old son eats it nearly every day.” — Diego Oka, chef of La Mar by Gastón Acurio

Cornmeal

“Cornmeal (polenta or grits) because it's very versatile. It can turn into breakfast or dinner, thicken a soup, be a standalone dish, or used in dough. It's also filling, tasty, and lasts a long time." — Damon Menapace, culinary director of Primal Supply Meats

Lipton onion soup mix

“My mom used to make a ton of dishes with this dry envelope packed full of flavor. She would throw it into meatballs, meatloaf, rice pilaf, lasagna, and gravy. The dip is really good too, with potato chips. I would eat so many of them that the roof of my mouth would be all scratched up by the end.” — Judy Joo, chef, author, and television personality  

John Kernick

Protein powder

“As I look around my kitchen, I see some of the usual suspects, including dried beans, lentils, pasta, and rice. However, there are also items like protein powder. Think about it: It’s an inert powder. It literally never goes bad. It contains concentrated nutrition—and the kind of nutrition one would need in a lockdown. It’s also very versatile. You can make shakes and smoothies, of course, but you can also make bread, pancakes, muffins, crepes, burger buns, and many other everyday baked goods.” — Rocco DiSpirito, chef and television personality

Rice 

“I was in the middle of Philippines once with literally nothing but rice—and I was just fine.” — Richard Hales, chef/owner of Grateful Hospitality

Recipe: Egg Fried Rice

Paola + Murray

Mac and cheese

“After waging war against my children for years, I have accepted defeat. Anything that takes three minutes to make and keeps your kids quiet is a gift from the gods during these times.” — Clark Bowen, executive chef of Fooq’s

Pasta 

“You can do so many things with pasta—pasta with tomato sauce, noodles with soy and garlic, cold pasta salad, and even pasta mac and cheese for the kids.” — Michael Schulson, founder and CEO of Schulson Collective