Soy sauce is great. Soy sauce plus condensed milk is a game changer.
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illustrations of soy sauce, maple syrup, and dijon mustard
Credit: Peter Oumanski

Want to streamline your pantry? Embrace versatile, powerhouse ingredients that introduce dramatic contrast or add stabilizing balance. After polling dozens of chefs across the country, we found that three clear favorites emerged—soy sauce, maple syrup, and Dijon mustard. Paired with just one other ingredient, they bring the "power" to "power couple."

Soy Sauce: Brings Muscle to Luscious Fats

Umami Bomb

"Soy and crab are a great pair, crab and butter are a great pair, and using the three together makes for an outstanding, surprising result: umami, salt, sweetness, and creaminess," says Jim Smith of The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar in Mobile, Alabama. His best advice: "Seek out a high-quality soy sauce, and be bold with your ideas, but keep a light touch."

+ Mayo: "… for aioli on burgers." —Pierson Shields, Gessner, Vail, Colorado

+ Egg Yolk: "... for a sauce for veggies." —Joey Edwards, Three Sisters at Blackberry Mountain, Walland, Tennessee

+ Condensed Milk: "... as a glaze for roast duck or roast pork, seasoned with Chinese five-spice and orange peel." —Franklin Becker, F. Becker Hospitality, NYC

+ Butter: "... for sashimi."—Masa Hamaya, O-Ku, Atlanta "... for orecchiette."—Jeff Osaka, Osaka Ramen, Denver "... for crab cakes."—Jim Smith, The Humming- bird Way Oyster Bar, Mobile, Alabama

+ Benne Oil: "... for a dressing on a refreshing slaw, like shaved cabbage with tropical fruits." —Dean Neff, Seabird, Wilmington, North Carolina

Maple Syrup: Makes Sweet Magic in Contrast to Spicy Heat

Sweet Heat

At Barca Pier & Wine Bar in Alexandria, Virginia, Bryant Haren marries maple syrup with cooked-down chiles. With chipotles in adobo, it's a barbecue sauce to lacquer on wood-roasted spatchcocked chicken; it caramelizes in the heat, its sweet spice playing off the char from the fire. With blistered guajillos, it's a pickling brine to turn sliced apples into a snappy condiment.

+ Ginger: "... for a spicy, chewy ginger cookie." —Cassidee Dabney, The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee

+ Fresh Jalapeño: "... for basting roasted salmon." —Sarah Steffan, The Dogwood at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee

+ Black Pepper: "... for a base for dipping sauce for fried brussels, grilled skirt steak, and even aged cheeses." —Charlie Brooks, Sunday Vinyl, Denver

+ Franks' RedHot Sauce: "... as a great addition to mashed potatoes." —Glenn Rolnick, Virgil's Real Barbecue

+ Sambal: "... for wing sauce." —Tristen Epps, Red Rooster Overtown, Miami

+ Sriracha: "... for glazing tender belly bacon." —Ashlee Redger, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

Dijon Mustard: Gives Fruits and Vegetables a Supercharged Kick

Slight Bite

"Dijon's bite can open up the delicate flavors of fresh produce. Use it with preserved lemons and other fruit in a syrupy mostarda, or with aromatic herbs and vegetables in a pesto-like pistou to add punch to pan-roasted and parchment-baked fish," says chef Dean Neff of Seabird, in Wilmington, North Carolina. "Be gentle with the amount so it plays a supporting role."

+ Confit Beets: "... for a vegetarian tartare." —Okan Kizilbayir, Salt at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida

+ Peaches: "... for a quick chutney for pork chops." —Michael Breese, The James 710, Lake Charles, Louisiana

+ Guava: "... as a barbecue mop for baby back ribs." —George Fistrovich, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, Florida

+ Quince: "... as a sauce for venison." —Ricky Moore, Saltbox Seafood Joint, Durham, North Carolina

+ Tomatoes: "... for zingy pasta sauce." Paola Rocchi, Podere le Ripi, Montalcino, Italy