You don’t have to wait until the spring to do a kitchen cleanout. We’re kicking off the year by keeping less in the kitchen and making more delicious food. Getting rid of the clutter and paring down your pantry to just the essentials will help you streamline your cooking, get inspired by what you already have, and concoct creative dishes.
We rounded up some of our favorites that we reach for almost every day, including go-to dry goods, condiments, sauces, spices, instant dinner shortcuts, and other secret weapons. Check them out, and while you’re making your grocery list, be sure to shop for the ingredients for our new One-Pot Chicken, Squash & Garlic-Cheddar Biscuits to christen your newly cleaned-out kitchen with cheesy, comforting goodness.
Condiments & Sauces
Fish Sauce: Add a punch of saltiness, umami, and a kick of funk to more than just Pad Thai or Papaya Salad! A little goes a long way with this fermented fish condiment—usually small anchovies)—and pairs well with vinegar for marinades, dressings, and sauces. But try putting a little into your next batch of marinara sauce or roasted vegetables—and thank us later.
Sweet Chili Sauce: A little sweet, a little heat. Similar to a sweet and sour sauce with a little more kick, it's great for glazing, dipping, and making Sweet Chili Fajita Tacos!
Rao’s Marinara Sauce: Because sometimes you can’t make your own tomato sauce, this is our favorite store-bought sauce that tastes like homemade for spaghetti and meatballs nights, pizza, dipping mozzarella sticks…you know the drill.
Maggi Seasoning: Maggi is a flavor enhancer, like MSG, that can be bought in powder form, cube form (like bouillon), or a thin, concentrated dark brown liquid. It looks a bit like soy sauce but has a deeper, more complex, almost meaty flavor—without any meat! (It’s made of hydrolyzed wheat protein, not soybeans.) Just a few drops can add pronounced savoriness and umami to soups, stews, stir-fries, vegetables, proteins, and more.
Oyster Sauce: Fun fact: oyster sauce often doesn’t include oysters at all—just oyster extract (juice). It actually has a very mild fish flavor and is thick and syrupy, salty, a little sweet and caramel-y, and umami-rich. A little goes a long way, as it jam-packs flavors and color into stir-fries, noodles, and much more. It’s an essential in the sauce for both Pepper’s Pad Thai and Pad See Ew!
Bouillon Cubes: A tried-and-true easy way to make broth in a flash (and Pepper’s favorite gravy). We use chicken, but it also comes in vegetable, pork, beef, and other flavors.
Instant Dashi Powder: The base of many Japanese soups is dashi, a broth made of kombu (seaweed) and katsuobushi (dried, smoked bonito flakes, a type of tuna). Think of this instant powder as the bouillon of the sea, great for adding extra flavor to soups, stews, rice, eggs, and more.
MSG: Get to know MSG, aka monosodium glutamate. It is a food additive, not a seasoning, as it can enhance the umami (savoriness) of foods with ⅔ less sodium than salt. It is made from plants like corn and sugarcane, fermented, and is naturally occurring in foods like mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and cured meats. Use a sprinkle in anything that needs extra savory oomph and see the flavorful boost it gets—especially Pepper’s Thai favorites and other Asian dishes.
Potato Starch: If you are gluten intolerant or just looking for another way to make your food super crispy, try potato starch instead of flour. It is made from crushing potatoes to release their starch, which is then washed and dried into a fine powder that’s both tasteless and odorless. This is ideal for adding as a slurry with water to thicken a sauce or soup; making crispy, chewy, savory pancakes like Korean gamjajeon, a potato pancake that has a texture similar to mochi; gluten-free baked goods; and shatteringly crispy fried chicken.
Bisquick: Homemade is great, but sometimes you just want to make something FAST. This dry mix has flour, shortening, salt, sugar, and baking powder already inside! It's a shortcut for biscuits, pancakes, breading for cutlets, or other baked goods like cookies or cinnamon rolls. And it’s an essential for One-Pot Chicken, Squash & Garlic-Cheddar Biscuits.
Rolled Oats: Also known as old-fashioned oats, this type is the most versatile for everything from satisfying breakfasts (like Oatmeal Cacio e Pepe, overnight oats, smoothies, and granola) to baked goods (like Jammy Raspberry Oat Squares, Apple Crumble, and cookies). You can even make your own oat flour or oat milk in a food processor or blender!
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt: There are different variances of how salty salt can be, and it’s not just based on coarseness. Diamond Crystal is our go-to kosher salt because it tastes less salty and is easier to control seasoning with. It’s simple to pinch between your fingers for sprinkling, and more forgiving with a clean salt flavor.
Whole Peppercorns: Grind your own pepper for fresh spiciness that adds a pop to dishes rather than a dull, stale flavor like pre-ground pepper. Buy a pepper grinder and fill it yourself to save money! Whole peppercorns will last up to a year in your pantry, so you can buy in bulk.
Shortcut Spice Sampler: When you want a flavorful dinner but don’t want to think about it, reach for Jamaican Jerk seasoning for chicken and shrimp, Shawarma-Style for beef and lamb, Chili-Garlic for eggs and veggies, and Cracked Black Pepper & Citrus for fish and soups. Rather than buying a whole pantry’s worth of spices—that’s what we’re trying to help you clean out here—a pinch of these blends will pack a punch for anything you’re making.
Silk Chili Flakes: These silk chili flakes from Burlap & Barrel come from Kahramanmaras, Turkey and have a slightly sweet, earthy, sun-dried tomato flavor with a medium level of heat. (If you’ve had Aleppo pepper, it tastes very similar.) Use them to brighten up eggs, finish steak or burgers, or sprinkle on anything that needs a little bit of heat.
Garlic and Onion Powders: When you don’t want little bits of garlic or onion in a dish or are worried about the ingredients burning, reach for garlic and onion powders. Individually or together, they are great in rubs, dips, savory baked goods, and smooth sauces.
Shirataki Noodles: These low-carb, high-fiber, vegan, gluten-free “miracle noodles” are one of Chrissy’s latest food obsessions. Instead of flour, they’re made out of glucomannan, a type of fiber that comes from the root of the konjac plant. They are translucent in color and pick up any kind of sauce well, for satisfying-but-healthier stir-fried noodles, soups, and even Italian pasta dishes.
Pepper’s Omsom Krapow Starter: The closest thing to having Pepper in your home kitchen is using her Krapow starter, a chili basil stir-fry sauce. All you need to do is cook your choice of ground meat, mushrooms, or tofu, then add the starter and serve with rice (or even shirataki “rice”). It’s a dinner shortcut worth taking many days of the week.
Palm Sugar: You know maple syrup, but do you know palm sugar? This natural sweetener is made with the same process: boiling sap (from palm flowers) until it reduces into sugar crystals. The flavor can vary, but it often has a caramelized or butterscotch undertone and a hint of smokiness, and is overall more complex and significantly less sweet than refined sugars like white or brown sugar. It’s an important ingredient in many Thai and Indian dishes, such as pad thai and curries, and many types of desserts and drinks around the world. If substituting for white or brown sugar, do so to taste in order to figure out how much palm sugar should be used. It adds just the right amount of sweetness to Thai-Inspired Watermelon Salad and balances out the spice and tang in the nuoc cham sauce for Sriracha Salmon Lettuce Wraps with Rice Crisps!
Harissa Paste: If you haven’t tried this smoky, spicy red chili paste originally from Tunisia, you’re in for a treat. It’s typically made with a mix of chiles, peppers, garlic, and a little citrus, and is common in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. Marinated, grilled, and braised foods are best with harissa, where the spice can mellow and become one with the protein or veggies you’re making, creating a smoky, spicy undertone. Mix some into yogurt for an easy dip or add some to your morning eggs—the possibilities are endless.