• Tommy Centola

Keeping pantry stocked with essentials

t’s been a busy day and time to start cooking dinner. You found a new recipe that you want to try. You go to your pantry to gather your ingredients, only to find that you are missing an important item. Keeping a well stocked pantry of ingredients is essential to making meals on the fly.

There are certain ingredients that everyone should always have available in their kitchen. Among the flour, sugar and olive oil, you may wonder what type of items you would find in a typical New Orleans kitchen pantry. Let’s explore the items you can always find in my pantry.

First, I want to define what I consider a pantry. To me, a pantry is not just where you keep dry goods. My pantry also includes my refrigerator and freezer. All of the food products you have available to cook with should be considered as part of your pantry.

Let’s start with dry goods. My favorite non-sugar sweetener is Cane Syrup. I used this often when making dipping sauces to add a little sweetness. The only brand you will find in my pantry is Steen’s, made in Abbeville, Louisiana. I have tried other brands only to return back to Steen’s.

Another pantry staple is Creole Mustard. My Remoulade sauce is made with Creole mustard, preferably Zataran’s. I developed my recipe after I could not find a key ingredient in my mother’s remoulade recipe, horseradish mustard. I like my mom’s for shrimp remoulade, while mine is great as a dipping sauce for crab cakes.

To add spice to a dish, Crab Boil is a great ingredient to have on hand. You can buy it in dry or liquid form. A couple of drops of the liquid gives your dish a New Orleans flair. The dry seasoning is better for boiling seafood or potatoes.

Filé powder is a perfect addition to gumbo. If you are not a fan of okra, you can use Filé as a thickener. Filé is made from dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree. Always use Filé after the end of the cooking process, even at the table.

Of course, you cannot make New Orleans dishes without the Holy Trinity: Onions, Bell Pepper and Celery. This is the Creole/Cajun version of the classic Mirepoix, which has carrots in place of the bell pepper. All gumbos and étouffées start with a roux and the Holy Trinity. My recipes are made with the Holy Trinity and the Pope, adding garlic to the mix.

Since celery is not an item that can be stored in a dry pantry, we have moved onto the subject of items that must be kept on refrigeration. My three most important refrigerated items are Andouille, Boudin and Tasso. If you don’t use them often, you can store them in your freezer. You just want to make sure you always have these on hand.

Andouille is my go to sausage. It has a spicier taste then regular smoked sausage. It is also the best sausage for cooking, since traditionally it is double smoked. The double smoking renders more fat out of the sausage. This will result in less oil in the final cooked product. There are many different brands of andouille available in Arkansas. Since they all have a different spice level, you will be able to find the right brand for you.

Since andouille is my number one sausage, Boudin is a close second place. This rice and pork sausage has multiple uses. I love to remove the casing and wrap it in egg roll wrappers. They are also great rolled into balls, coated with seasoned flour and deep-fried. With either of these appetizers, Creole Mustard is my dipping sauce of choice. Boudin also makes a great stuffing for Cornish Hens or thick-cut Pork Chops. When buying boudin, make sure the product is made in Louisiana. Locally you can find one made in Texas, which is not very well made.

Tasso is not often eaten on its own. It is a great ingredient to spice up a dish. I often use it in cream pasta sauces and jambalaya, as well as a spicy addition to Hollandaise sauce. This product is found at local meat markets, usually made by Savoie’s. When shopping, always look for Louisiana made products.

These are just a few of the basics in my pantry. I also have a large collection of Asian products which I have been playing with. I am trying to create my own fusion cuisine Creole/Cajun Asian. I’ll leave that for another time. Just remember to keep your pantry well stocked. Don't’ be caught looking for an ingredient at the last and most inopportune time.

Good Cooking, Good Eating and Good Living!!!

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