What's in Your Pantry?

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Everyone in the food world loves to make lists of items that you should have in your kitchen at all times. But we're college kids-how many of them do we really need? A few of these staples are absolutely necessary, but don't feel pinned down by some chef's "official" rules. When you move into your own place, you'll figure out a list that works for you. While your roommate might always need soy sauce, you might find that you can't live without hot sauce.

So what if this is your first time out of the dorms? What do you get on your first trip to the grocery store to stock your kitchen? Here is what we would get. As we said before, this isn't some sort of rubric that limits your creativity. Go with what works for you.

SALT

Many chefs would argue that properly salting food is undeniably the most important culinary skill. Indeed, salt can almost miraculously bring out the flavor of an inexpensive cut of meat, elevating it to filet mignon status. This mineral works wonders, combating bitterness, highlighting sweetness (chocolate-dipped pretzels, anyone?) and even adding juiciness through the brining process. When searching the market for salt, you will probably find it in many forms: unrefined, iodized, hand-collected from the Hawaiian sea We love the simple (and inexpensive) coarse kosher salt because the hefty granules melt slowly into food, and what's more delicious than flakes of salt clinging to the top of French fries?

FLOUR

Flour is absolutely necessary if you want to bake anything-no ifs, ands or buts. Keeping some around is an excellent idea, especially for those late-night cookie cravings. Flour can come in handy for many other things as well, such as making sauces or even risotto cakes. Plus, kneading bread is cathartic, and might help you get rid of that O-Chem stress.

COOKING OIL

There are many types of oil that can be used in the kitchen, and all of them have their merits. Many people like to use vegetable oil or peanut oil, as these are fairly inexpensive. They are also incredibly versatile, and can be used for all types of cooking (from baking to deep-frying) because they are not as strongly flavored as olive oil. Just don't mix vegetable oil with your balsamic vinegar and dip bread into it. People can get kind of weird about reusing cooking oil, but we are all for it. If you make those risotto cakes one morning, you can definitely use the same batch of oil to heat up some corn tortillas later on.

OLIVE OIL

Olive oil is just as essential as cooking oil. It can be used for frying-we're fond of using it alongside butter-and it imparts that wonderful olive flavor. It may seem odd to have both types of oil on this list, but they really do serve different functions. Cooking oil is more of a tool for heating and cooking food, whereas olive oil is more of an ingredient. It adds flavor to your dishes and can be enjoyed simply with some good bread or even in a salad dressing. Olive oil can be a bit expensive so save some money by investing in one of those huge jugs and share it with a friend.

BUTTER

Butter is the most simple way to add richness and depth to any food. This subtle, savory fat enhances just about everything it is included in, from pound cake to filet mignon. Like olive oil, butter stands alone as a unique and indispensable ingredient. We like to use unsalted butter, which allows the chef to determine the dish's saltiness. It is hard to explain why butter is so fantastic, but anybody who has ever eaten it atop bread knows exactly how important it is.

So there you have it-a basic, easy, and non-binding guide to help you start your kitchen when you move out of the units. This is, of course, just a start. Don't be upset if we left off one of your favorite ingredients. A kitchen stocked with fish sauce, chow mein noodles and white rice can provide an equally great foundation for your culinary adventures. Especially the fish sauce. After all, it is apparently the secret to unlocking Asian cuisine.

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Have you ever heard of Umami? If not, eat more fish sauce with Maria and Graham at [email protected]



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