Pantry staples

A handly list of essential pantry staples used in our recipes

BAY LEAVES. We mean the commonly available Mediterranean bay leaves, which are small and roundish. California bay leaves are long and tapered and have a much stronger taste.

BUTTER. We mean salted, because that’s what most people have in their refrigerators. That said, for baking—when a precise amount of salt is critical for the best flavor—we often call for unsalted butter plus an exact amount of salt. When a recipe calls for softened butter, take it out of the fridge at least 40 minutes before using, or microwave in 10-second increments for a whole stick, less for a smaller piece, until it’s softened. If you don’t use butter often, wrap it airtight and keep it in the freezer; it keeps for up to 4 months.

CHEESE. Full-fat. We do use cheeses that are naturally lower in fat (like goat cheese, for instance), but we prefer not to use naturally high-fat cheeses, like cheddar, that are processed to reduce their fat content. Their flavor and texture suffers, and they behave differently in cooking. As for cream cheese, Apart from neufchatel, we don’t recommend low-fat or nonfat cream cheeses. They are unlike full-fat in taste and texture, and they don’t behave the same way in cooking, so using them can ruin your dish.

CREAM. When we call for whipping cream, we mean either regular whipping cream, which is 30% to 36% milkfat, or heavy whipping cream, which is 36% milkfat or more. Both produce a thick, stable whipped cream, but heavy cream has a richer flavor and a more silken texture. If it matters which you use, we tell you in the recipe. Look for pasteurized cream, not ultra-pasteurized, which tastes cooked instead of fresh and also doesn’t whip quite as well. Half-and-half, a homogenized mixture of milk and cream, is 10% to 12% milkfat. Sour cream is a tangy, thick, cultured light cream with a milkfat of at least 18%. Mexican cultured cream, called crema, is also a cultured product, with a gentler flavor and a pourable consistency. Crème fraîche, a French-style cultured cream, is silky and thick, with a delicately nutty flavor.

EGGS. Large (about 2 oz. each in the shell), unless otherwise noted. We firmly support buying cage-free eggs, because it indicates that the laying chickens were more humanely treated.

FLOUR. Unbleached all-purpose, unless otherwise indicated. Buy fresh flour at least once a year, because it does get stale (you’ll notice a big difference in your baked goods if you use fresh). If you’ll use up a package of flour within a few months, it will be fine at room temperature in an airtight container. Otherwise, put the package in a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag and keep it in the fridge for up to six months or in the freezer for up to a year. The same principle applies to other flours too—like cake, pastry, whole wheat, and bread flours.

FISH SAUCE. An essential seasoning in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, drawn from vats of whole small fish fermented in brine (ancient Romans had a similar sauce, called garum). There are many different styles of fish sauce, some saltier and funkier than others. We prefer the lighter, less pungent Thai fish sauce (nam pla) and Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam).

MILK. Whole, unless otherwise indicated.