25 Pantry Essentials for Holiday Dinners and Entertaining
A well-stocked pantry can help make holiday entertaining easier when everything you need is within reach. In addition to the olives, dried fruits and holiday spices you likely already have on-hand, we asked chefs for ideas of what they stock in their pantries, and best uses for each.
1. Bourbon: Executive Chef Ryan Wombacher of Lawry’s The Prime Rib and SideDoor in Chicago says, “A good bourbon is essential, not only to have a cocktail while preparing a meal, but you can also add it to savory or sweet sauces. Put it in desserts [and use to] de-glaze vegetables.”
2. Brown Butter: Using in place of either olive oil, clarified butter, or butter in general adds a warm nutty depth to anything you cook, and Chef Greg Proechel of Ferris in New York City thinks it can be used all over the place in the holiday season.
3. Butcher’s Twine: “There’s no other time of year where I need twine to tie up turkeys, ducks, goose, or roasts,” says Chef Kevin Chun of VERSA at Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel. “It’s often overlooked by most home cooks and is missing from their pantries.”
4. Cold Pressed Austrian Pumpkin Seed Oil: This is a favorite of Chef Greg Proechel’s in the fall and during holiday times. “Simply-roasted pumpkin seeds in this super high quality oil brings out such an amazing flavor in them and can be used as a topping for numerous things, or just using this as a finishing oil is amazing.”
5. Cornbread Stuffing Mix: You never know when you might need emergency stuffing. Or, Chef Greg Baker of The Refinery in Tampa suggests ditching the seasoning packet and tossing the cornbread croutons with some tomato, red onion and red vinegar for a quick Panzanella salad.
6. Duck or Chicken Fat: Suppose it’s 15 minutes until dinner and the stock for your gravy is weak; what to do? Chef Greg Baker suggests whipping together a quick roux with duck or chicken fat and use it to thicken your stock and amp the flavor and texture at the same time. Chef Diego Garcia of The Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City also uses duck fat to sweat vegetables, and he says using it in salad dressings gives body and texture to a vinaigrette.
7. French’s Crispy Fried Onions: “Yes, they’re pre-packaged food, but these things can save you in a pinch,” offers Chef Greg Baker. “They are, of course, necessary for green bean casserole of any worth, but they can also ratchet up a cheese log if you need a last minute appetizer for that party that you’d forgotten about.”
8. Fresh Nutmeg: Chef Ronnie Sanchez of Garden of the Gods Resort and Club in Colorado Springs considers this a must-have, and suggests using a microplane to grate over anything from fall soups and squash dishes to French toast and coffee drinks.
10. Fresh Sage: Chef Peter says it brings fall into any dish.
11. Frozen Cranberries: “These can come in handy in a pinch and can be frozen in a mold for a pretty, holiday-inspired punch bowl, or quickly cooked down with sugar and a little vinegar to make an easy cranberry sauce to serve with roasted root vegetables,” advises says Chef Lindsay Autry of The Regional Kitchen & Public House in West Palm Beach.
12. Good Cognac or Brandy: "People always forget that you can (and should!) use a good liquor to deglaze your pan after cooking a protein in it. It makes for a wonderful gravy and really changes the flavor profile of the sauce,” says Chef Diego.
13. Green Cardamom Pods: Grind in a spice grinder and mix into any chocolate desserts. Chef Ronnie adds they’re also good for pumpkin dishes and soups.
14. Hawaiian Red Salt: Chef Ronnie suggests finishing dishes, including desserts, with a small sprinkle on top.
15. Iberico Chorizo Chips: Executive Chef Matthew Voskuil of The Chanler at Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, says that these chips (which he makes ahead in bulk and stores) add a burst of umami and color, and are perfect for soups, salads and cold appetizers, “which is great for large groups while entertaining for the holidays.”
16. Nice Disposable Plateware/Silverware/Glassware: “I can’t say enough how much this can be a lifesaver after cooking and cleaning all day,” says Chef Kevin.
17. Organic Chicken Broth: “Sometimes, there’s just no time to be making your stocks from scratch,” explains Chef Kevin. “Organic chicken broth is a life saver for gravies, soups, stocks and other sauces.”
18. Pickled vegetables: Chef Peter uses these as relishes for smoked fish and cured meats.
19. Pimenton: Of another of Chef Greg Proechel’s favorite ingredients, he says, “…both the sweet and spicy [varieties] are amazing, and they have a smell that reminds me of fireplaces or campfires and that resonates with me during the colder months of really comfortable warm times spent with family.”
20. Sherry Vinegar: Versatile and flavorful and adds a distinguished, complex acidity to salad dressings, sauteed mushrooms, and sauces that pair perfectly with holiday flavors, according to Chef Matthew.
21. Spiced Rum: According to Chef Kevin, “It’s an essential ingredient for many sweet dishes as well as savory dishes during the holidays. To me, a splash of spiced rum in egg nog, cookies, baked ham, roasted pork shoulder, duck, and many other sweet and savory dishes, can make it taste like the holidays.”
22. Spicy Pepper Jelly: “Serve alongside a quick cheese board with crisps and crackers, or melt down and use as a dip for crispy fried chicken,” says Chef Lindsay.
23. Switchel: For refreshing cocktails, with or without alcohol, says Chef Peter.
24. Tupperware: Chef Bryan Emperor of O-Ku DC in Washington, DC likes to have “lots of Tupperware for leftovers.”
25. White Soy Sauce: Chef Cole Dickinson of Layla at MacArthur Place in Sonoma Valley (opening January 2019) considers this his “secret power ingredient” that “adds a fantastic umami flavor without discoloring the food.” He even adds it to oatmeal cookies, “a major secret,” and “…those oatmeal cookies are always gone within seconds!”