You can never go wrong with seaweed, shrimp, and spicy beef jerky.

By Lane Nieset
June 01, 2021
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If there's one thing the pandemic taught us, it's the power of a well-stocked pantry. One simple ingredient can be the game-changer to make a quick pantry meal feel as well thought-out as Sunday night supper. From shrimp to seaweed, here are the dried staples your favorite chefs always have on hand at home.

jarred pantry items on a shelf
Credit: Shutterstock / Sentelia

Figs

"I dehydrate them myself and make sure to always have some stored in my pantry. It reminds me of my grandma's kitchen. It was the secret ingredient she used to give her dishes a natural sweetness. Think marmalades, tomato sauce, caramelized onions, or you can just snack on them as is." — Fabrizio Garofolin, executive chef of Kaori Miami

Za'atar

"I'm Lebanese, and one of the reasons I love za'atar is because it reminds me of breakfast with my family. I love mixing it with a good quality olive oil and spreading it on toast or sprinkling it on my salads. The key is to source quality ingredients and make sure your herbs are clean before drying. I thought of creating a za'atar and feta scone at Tapisserie, since it's something I would like to have for breakfast—and they usually sell out within an hour!" — Nesreen Mroueh, pastry chef of Tapisserie, Septime's pâtisserie

F&W Recipe: Za'atar Baked Eggs

Za'atar Baked Eggs
In her teens, Top Chef judge Gail Simmons spent a summer on a kibbutz in Israel, working in her first professional kitchen. She was assigned to breakfast duty and fell in love with scrambling, poaching and frying eggs by the dozens. “Today, one of my go-to brunches is baked eggs in a cherry tomato–pepper mix seasoned with the Mediterranean spice blend za’atar,” she says. “It never fails to conjure happy memories of that magical time.”
| Credit: John Kernick

Bay leaves

"I get bay leaves from a neighbor's tree, dry them, and grind them with black pepper. Almost any red meat I grill or put on the fire I season a day ahead of time with salt and that mix. It's a throwback to the first restaurant I worked at in Portland, whose bacon cure included bay leaf and black pepper, ground together." — Timothy Wastell, executive chef of Antica Terra winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley

Mushrooms

"Dried mushrooms are great because their flavor is intensified, compared to fresh mushrooms, and they are great additions when making soup or stews. They are rich in umami and add a nice, earthy depth of flavor." — Tyson Cole, executive chef and founder of Uchi Restaurants

"I love having Gustiamo's Borgotaro Dried Porcini Mushrooms in my pantry. There is truly nothing like them and they're so versatile. I prep them by soaking them in tepid water for 30 to 45 minutes and use them for everything from risotto to pastas. Don't forget to save the water—it's an amazing broth that is great for cooking or sipping as a snack." — Bianca Kenworthy, co-founder of La Rossi Pizza 

Jackfruit

"Dried jackfruit is a staple in my pantry. It's loaded with antioxidants and essential nutrients, low in sugar, and high in fiber. I'll usually enjoy it as a snack straight up, or chop it up to add into yogurt with granola. You can also use it in tropical rice dishes and baked goods." — Cesar Zapata, owner and chef of Miami's Phuc Yea, Arepitas Bar, and Pho Mo

Risotto rice

"My pantry feels empty without risotto. If I was Italian, I would be from the north." — Julian Baker, executive chef of Le Zoo

F&W Recipe: Saffron Risotto

Saffron Risotto
Credit: Jennifer Causey

Roasted salted pecans

"Growing up, the number one best dried food that we kept on hand was roasted salted pecans. I think this tradition started with my grandmother; I remember her always having a metal tin full of them. For the best ones, buy them directly from a pecan producer—not from the grocery store. They are delicious by the handful, or roughly chopped and thrown into sautéed spinach, folded into roasted Brussels sprouts, or with boiled green beans with butter." — Katie Button, chef of Cúrate, cookbook author, and co-founder of Katie Button Restaurants

Spicy beef jerky

"I love to serve it with chorizo and eggs. Make your eggs and chorizo and roast some sliced potatoes with diced beef jerky until brown. It's much better than SPAM!" — Dewey Losasso, corporate executive chef of Bill Hansen Catering and former personal chef to Donatella Versace

Ume kombu cha (plum kelp tea)

"I have a dried product in the kitchen pantry called ume kombu cha, a type of green tea used in Japan. It is incredible, and we use it on a number of dishes as a seasoning."— Brian Sutton, executive chef of Joseph Phelps Vineyards

Anchovies

"I love adding these to start a really hearty umami broth. You can add anchovies to the base of any sauce—even a hearty pasta sauce." — Valerie Chang, chef at B-Side by Itamae

Dates

"Not only is its longer shelf life practical, dried dates are a natural sweetener perfect for baking, snacking, elevating a simple salad, or sprinkled on a delightful goat cheese pizza. Dates also bring a tasteful crunch to any dish."— Bruno Lopez, executive chef of El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel, Santa Barbara

Date-and-Almond Fudge with Sesame and Coconut
Credit: © Nicholas Hopper

Apricots

"I love to have nice, dried apricots in my pantry. They are great for snacking on, but also make for a killer addition to rice, couscous, or even a sauce."— Greg Baxtrom, chef and owner of Olmsted and Maison Yaki 

Kelp and kombu

"New England is home to vast kelp prairies, which are among the most sustainable crops to harvest. Sugar kelp, horsetail, dulse, and sea lettuce can all add so much to your cooking. Used as the base of a broth, or steamed with veggies or fish, or powdered as a finishing salt, dried seaweed is a delicious and often surprising addition to many dishes that too few people know about." — Will Emery, chef of Tannat Market & Tavern

"Kombu (dried kelp) is something I always have on hand. It is a classic Indonesian/East Asian ingredient and staple in almost every sauce, stock, and soup that I make to provide a layer of umami and depth of flavoring. It's incredibly universal and shelf-stable, as it's dried, which is my preferred way to use it."— Cedric Vongerichten, executive chef and co-owner of Wayan

F&W Recipe: Seaweed Soup

Nori

"I always have sheets of nori (seaweed), since you can wrap pretty much everything in nori and it tastes delicious." — Oliver Lange, corporate executive chef of Zuma restaurants in the U.S.

Spam-and-Kimchi Musubi
Credit: © Con Poulos

Furikake

"I make mine with dried scallops and different vegetables, seaweed, and sesame seeds. It's always nice to have around to make even simple rice taste over the top." — Michael Treanor, executive chef of Hotel Bel-Air

Bottarga (the "truffle of the sea")

"Bottarga is a traditional delicacy in Sicily. It is a salted, pressed, and dried roe pouch of tuna; it's intense, very aromatic, and full of sea flavors. At Florie's, I use the bottarga by grating it over a classic linguine with clams."Nino La Spina, chef de cuisine at Florie's at Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach

Oregano

"Oregano is one of the few herbs that has a better flavor when dried. Growing up in Italy, I will never forget my mother and grandmother gathering bunches of oregano branches from Sicily and drying them in a small bag under the kitchen sink. To this day, I can still smell and taste the aromatic oregano, taking me back to the warm summer afternoons spent with my family on the coast of Italy." Antonio Mermolia, executive chef of Lido Restaurant at The Surf Club

Bonito flakes

"Bonito flakes—grated, dried flakes of skipjack tuna—are perfect to use as a topping over ceviche or in a broth, and deliver a mild, smokey fish flavor." — Jean Delgado, executive chef of Toro Toro Miami

Hibiscus flowers

"I always keep dried hibiscus flowers on hand. I use them to make the best simple syrup for tequila and lime spritzers with colorful tang. They're also great to use for aguachile. Soak and press them, then blend them with habanero and a touch of olive oil. Pulverized dried hibiscus flowers also add color and acidity similar to sumac when sprinkled on hummus, ceviche, and even cucumbers." — Sophina Uong, chef of Mister Mao

Hibiscus-Tangerine Iced Tea
Credit: © Con Poulos

Shrimp

"Dried shrimp is commonly used in Asian cuisines, but it's also great for salsas, vinaigrettes, and perfect to toss into a salad or grind up for a sprinkle garnish of umami, similar to using fish sauce." — Scott Linquist, executive chef of Como Como, Serena, and Coyo Taco

F&W Recipe: Shrimp Pad Thai

Korean chili flakes

"They have tons of deep pepper flavor, but not too much heat. At Rolo's, we finish our polenta bread with chili butter and a generous sprinkling of Korean chili flakes. They're also great to have around for kimchi." — Howard Kalachnikoff, chef and partner at Rolo's