Chef’s Pantry: Tasty tools of the trade

FIFTY+SA Food Editor Mandy Hall rounded up some of South Australia's most talented chefs and asked what their favourite ingredients are in their home pantries.

WORDS: Mandy Hall, Food Editor

Do you ever wonder what ingredients chefs turn to when they’re cooking at home? What are their flavour heroes, family favourites or secrets to dish success? We asked some of South Australia’s finest and most successful chefs to share what they love, to spill the beans and give us a taste of the culinary equivalent to insider trading.

Maggie Beer

Chef, author, restaurateur, and food manufacturer

“Verjuice – not just because I make it, but it’s the gentle acid that gives balance to food without overtaking the flavour of the ingredient being cooked, it heightens rather than masks.”

“EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) – I can’t live without it, I could almost bathe in it. It must be freshest, obtained within the year of harvest, it adds so much to food.”

“Australian Pepper – the fragrance of Queensland grown pepper makes the most amazing difference to seasoning food, but for me, I never grind until the moment I’m going to use it, that makes all the difference.”

Karena Armstrong

Chef & Co-owner, Salopian Inn & Co-Festival Director, Tasting Australia

“Dairy Man Barossa Butter – it’s a simple ingredient, butter, elevated to perfection. Hand rolled, hand raised, cultured, and bloody so delicious. Walks the line of cheese/butter but I just love it.”

“Olsen Sea Salt Flakes – salt does matter. It lifts every dish. It’s essential and this SA beauty is the business.”

“Goolwa Pipis – love the texture and the wow factor of flavour, also love they don’t cost the earth both physically and metaphorically. Love that they are best shared.”

Justin James

Executive Chef, Restaurant Botanic

“Murray River Pink Salt – salt is one of the most important ingredients in the kitchen. Don’t overlook it and don’t go cheap on it. To me this is the best salt in the world. This is the foundation to delicious food.”

“Sriracha Sauce – this is a flavour enhancer, and is good on nearly everything (pizza, burgers, pasta, rice, soups, dressings, marinates, and so on!). I always have 2-3 bottles on hand. Just the right balance of chilli but not too spicy.”

“Lemons and Limes – fresh citric acid. I love it. It will heighten any dish whether you are making a pasta, to roast chicken or raw oysters. The best part of having lemons and limes on hand is cocktails as well. Always need to be prepared to make tasty food and drinks!”

(A bonus one – thanks Justin!) “Parmesan – the umami of cheese always has a place in my fridge. Plus, its shelf life is crazy good. I love it on pasta of course, but I also grate it in stews, soups, bakes, salads, and roasted or grilled vegetables.”

Duncan Welgemoed

Chef & Co-owner, Africola & Africola Canteen

“Rio Vista Garlic Oil – the best finishing ingredient for the simplest pasta, roast vegetables and of course, Garlic bread. The best part about it is that when you cook with the oil, the flavour changes from peppery/hot garlic to sweet and caramelised. Must-have pantry item.”

“Olsons Smoked Sea Salt – Another secret weapon that adds another layer to your cooking, it’s a wonderful finishing salt that’s not too overpowering, excellent on Roast chickens and pumpkin salads.”

“Oomite Spread – Magdalena Roze and Katie Graham’s Vegemite beater is so much richer and moorish than the OG. We use it not just on toast but mixed into a garlic, lemon and fennel puree and spread onto pork belly, rolled and slow roasted. It’s an umami bomb from the gods.”

David Swain

Chef & Co-owner, Fino Vino & Fino Seppeltsfield

“Rocket from the garden – it grows profusely in the summer and we are never without a salad. It starts the season mild and as the summer passes becomes more and more peppery, delicious. Let it go to seed so it self-seeds and you never have to buy salad again.”

“A good free range chicken – roast it whole stuffed with brown rice & herbs, butterfly it and barbeque with paprika and lemon, poach it in master stock and serve cold with a salad. So versatile, endless possibilities.”

“Summer home grown tomatoes – from cherry tomatoes in a pot on the patio to a full garden bed, nothing beats the flavour of a home-grown tomato, picked ripe and have never seen the fridge. My favourite variety is the Mortgage Lifter, meaty flesh with a rich sweet taste, all it needs is a dark red vinegar (Coriole sweet aged vinegar is excellent) some good olive oil and some crunchy sourdough.”

Clare Falzon

Executive Chef, Hentley Farm

“Fermented Shrimp Paste – I like the thick, sticky type. I use it in pretty much all of my South East Asian cooking. Whether frying off at the start, or letting it melt into a soup or curry, it just makes it taste that bit better .”

“Dried currants – I almost always add them to salads, warm or cold, or in Middle Eastern dishes. They’re nice and tart, without being overpowering, and add a nice texture.”

“Super fresh cucumbers – these go great in salads or pickled, but my favourite is still warm from the garden, sliced, salted, and eaten fresh.”

Kane Pollard

Executive Chef & Co-owner, Topiary Restaurant

“Local berries – picking up a tray of in-season strawberries from the farmers market is a highlight of the year. They’re so sweet, making a great treat for the kids either fresh or frozen. Once they start to break down, we make a compote to boost their breakfast cereal or serve with icecream. Foraging wild blackberries in the late summer is also a great family affair, with as many hitting the basket as our belly’s. You must work for them, but we all agree that they’re worth it!”

“Fresh tomatoes – tomato season is the gift that just keeps on giving. Eaten fresh when at their peak with a sprinkle of salt is a highlight of summer in itself. Rather than preserving the perfectly balanced pulp in sugo form, we like to cook it down to intensify the flavour and help save time when a quick dinner is required.”

“Anchovies – I love how much you can draw from a jar or tin of anchovies. Served on fingers of garlic rubbed French stick soldiers as a Summer snack with a glass of Tempranillo, or minced down with garlic, chilli, capers and parsley stem to form the perfect base for any pasta dish are two of my favourite ways to enjoy. The left-over marinating oil can also be used to add umami to braises, sauces and dressings. It’s the secret ingredient that leads to the question – how can you make something so simple taste so good.”

Emma McCaskill

Food Curator, Tasting Australia

“Greek Yoghurt – I use this as a marinade, thickener, substitute to cream, and even mix it with a bit of fruit and dehydrate it to make roll-ups for the kids lunch boxes.”

“Smoked Paprika – My favourite spice (at the moment) is smoked paprika. I add it to bolognese, scrambled eggs, chilli sauce, curries; it gives the most lovely smokey, sweet flavour to balance out spicy and acidic foods.”

Tom Tilbury

Executive Chef, Press* Food & Wine

“Olive Oil, Citrus and Herbs – A herb garden is a must have as part of my home kitchen ‘ingredients’ and it’s so easy to achieve, even with very little space.

Chillies, parsley, oregano, basil, mint, chives, garlic are all things that can be planted in a small area and are essential to good food. Using these three ingredients, simple food can be elevated to something super delicious. 

Dishes like fresh pasta with chilli, garlic, olive oil and heaps of fresh herbs – add lemon zest and juice and there’s a great meal. Eggs on toast can be made really interesting simply by adding flavour from parsley, fermented chilli, olive oil, garlic chives, basil, oregano, lemon zest, you can add all that I have mentioned or just a few and it will still make a huge difference”

For more Mandy Hall, find her here @_mandyhall

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