The refrigerator and freezer are where we keep perishable ingredients. But there’s different degrees of “perishable” so it helps to break that up into different categories:
- Ingredients with a relatively long shelf-life if kept cold (weeks or months);
- Ingredients with a short shelf-life that are used frequently, and are likely to be used up before they go off;
- Ingredients with a short shelf-life that are used infrequently.
The third category consists of things that you will want to buy only when you know you will be cooking a specific dish that requires them. The first two categories, on the other hand, are worth keeping stocked on an ongoing basis.
Some are best stored in the refrigerator, and some are destined for the freezer.
Ingredients to keep stocked in your refrigerator:
- Milk (whole, 2%, half-and-half, and cream). Over time you will learn which ones you tend to use most often and how quickly you get through each of these so you can buy the right quantities.
- Unsalted butter. Don’t buy salted butter; almost all recipes call for unsalted, and while you can always add salt, you can’t remove it.
- Lemon juice.
- Mustard and ketchup. These are used as ingredients more often than you’d think. Mustard comes in various types: yellow, brown, stone-ground. Check your recipes to see which they require.
- Worcestershire sauce.
- Soy sauce. Soy sauce is an easy, go-to source of savory (or “umami”) flavor, and is used far beyond just Asian recipes.
- Fish sauce. Get a small bottle; it is used in very small quantities.
- Cheeses. Keep a block of your favorite handy (a block lasts longer than pre-shredded); if tightly wrapped in plastic, it can last for weeks.
- Eggs. Buy large eggs, not extra-large or jumbo. Large eggs are the standard for recipes; using the wrong size can throw off proportions to other ingredients.
- Pre-cooked sausage links (beef, pork, sausage). These are easy adds to a variety of recipes (pasta, omelets, etc.) to get some extra protein.
- Aromatic vegetables: onion, carrots, celery, bell pepper, garlic. They won’t last longer than a week, but they are so ubiquitous in recipes that if you’re cooking every day, you’ll use them up while they are still fresh.
Ingredients to keep stocked in your freezer:
- Ginger root. You can store it in your refrigerator instead, but it’s ridiculously easy to grate when it’s frozen (and very difficult and messy when it’s thawed). Keep it in a ziploc bag and it will last for weeks or months in the freezer.
- Peas. Buy a bag of frozen peas at the grocery store and throw it in the freezer. It can be your emergency veggie side, and it will also show up in as an ingredient in recipes from time to time.
- French fries. You can make french fries from scratch, but doing so requires more work that you might imagine: there are multiple time-consuming steps to get them to turn out just right, and honestly it’s easier to just buy a bag of frozen fries.
- Ground meat (chicken, turkey, pork and/or beef). You can thaw it in the refrigerator in a day, or in the microwave in much less time. Or if you’re really pinched for time, you can just throw frozen ground meat in a frying pan with some oil and cook it directly: it will take longer than cooking thawed meat and you will want to do it over low heat, but it’s much easier than cooking intact cuts of meat since it’s already broken up into small pieces and has much more surface area for the heat to reach. Meat won’t last indefinitely in the freezer so make sure you use it up and replace it every couple of months.