Looking to up your home cooking game? Turning simple foods into delicious, flavorful meals isn’t hard — if you have stock the right ingredients. Here, experts suggest the pantry (and refrigerator) staples they always keep on hand to elevate everyday dishes.
Slather this fermented soybean paste onto rich meats such as duck breast or salmon before roasting, or mix it into sauces for an umami kick — that indescribably savory fifth flavor. It’s especially good in salad dressings. Just combine equal parts miso, oil and vinegar. “Miso is a great way to add a layer of savory to a dish,” says “Top Chef” Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard, a Chicago restaurateur and author of new cookbook “Gather and Graze” (Potter). Hikari miso, $7.99 at Sunrise Mart, 12 E. 41st St.
Use a dash of fish sauce in place of salt when cooking anything from grilled vegetables to barbecued chicken wings. You can also mix it into common condiments such as ketchup to give it a punch of umami. “It’ll actually bring out the meatiness of your food,” says Adam Fleischman, founder of Umami Burger and co-author of “Flavor Bombs” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Roland fish sauce, $2.09 at Sunrise Mart, 12 E. 41st St.
Izard loves this Middle Eastern chile paste — which is just mildly hot with a complex, slightly smoky profile — when making stews or braising meats. It’s also great used as a condiment, on everything from eggs to potatoes. “For someone who likes spice, harissa could replace ketchup,” says Melissa O’Donnell, head chef at Lower East Side Lebanese restaurant, Lil’ Gem. “It’s a great condiment with deep flavor.” Mina Harissa, $6.99 at Whole Foods, various locations and WholeFoods.com
Rub this sesame-seed paste on to meats before cooking to add a nutty flavor or stir a dollop into salad dressing to create a creamy texture without dairy. “Tahini is healthy, shelf-stable and versatile,” says Adeena Sussman, author of “Tahini” (Short Stack) and co-author, along with Chrissy Teigen, of “Cravings” (Clarkson Potter). You can also use it for baking. Replace peanut butter in cookies with tahini, or swirl it into brownies — tahini and chocolate is a surprisingly delicious combination. New York Seed + Mill pure tahini, $9.99 at Whole Foods
This aromatic oil isn’t ideal for cooking, due to its high smoke point, but it’s great for adding a flavorful boost just before serving. Drizzle it atop meats or sauteed greens, or use it instead of olive oil when making salad dressing. “Just a drop permeates an entire dish,” Sussman says. Eden Selected toasted sesame oil, $3.49 at Whole Foods
The fish are great for elevating everyday. Chop up a few of them and cook them in olive oil or butter until dissolved. Then, use the mixture to sautee veggies, along with a splash of lemon juice, or stir it into red sauce for pasta. “It doesn’t add fishiness, [it] just boosts the flavor,” Fleischman says. Roland flat fillets of anchovies in olive oil, $11.99 at Whole Foods, various locations and WholeFoods.com
Slice or dice these salty, pickled lemons — peels, fruit and all — and mix them into meat stews or sprinkle them across cooked fish. “It’s such a puckery, sunny condiment that can cut through the richness of a dish,” Sussman says. Les Moulins Mahjoub natural preserved lemons, $12.99 at Whole Foods, various locations at WholeFoods.com.
Dress salads or quickly pickle vegetables with this mild vinegar, common to Asian cuisine and less acidic than many other varieties. “I tend to use it [in simple dishes] where I can taste it, like a citrus salad with some mint” or in a mignonette [sauce] for oysters, for a “subtle balance,” says Celine Beitchman, director of nutrition education and instructor at the National Gourmet Institute in the Flatiron District. “It’s an incredible flavor, earthy and slightly acidic, fatty in the way an almond is but without the fat.” Marukan organic rice vinegar, $9.99 at Whole Foods, various locations and WholeFoods.com
Stir this tangy sweet syrup, commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine, into iced teas or yogurt for use it balance out savory dishes such as lamb or chicken. Brush it on to a roasted bird two minutes before it’s finished, and it “seems like you’ve done something fancy,” O’Donnell says. Cortas pomegranate molasses, $5.99 at Kalustyan’s, 123 Lexington Ave.
This stock, made from fish and kelp, is common to Japanese cooking but works with all sorts of cuisines. “It’s a revelation,” says Beitchman, who recommends buying it in powder form and mixing it into sauces and marinades for a salty, briny boost. You can also use it in liquid form to poach delicate white fish. Ajinomoto Hondashi, $3.75 at Sunrise Mart, 12 E. 41st St.
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