I’m always looking into my cupboard for inspiration when cooking with beef or working on a new recipe. But I also know that certain ingredients are simply beef staples ... things I always have on hand. And so, in no particular order, here are five pantry staples for beef:
1. Beef stock. From soups to gravies to stews to even using a splash of stock in place of adding more oil to a sauté, beef stock only enhances flavors. I favor Pacific Beef Broth (yes, broth and stock are one and the same), but find one you like. There are a lot of good choices out there.
2. Worcestershire Sauce. The complexity of flavor in this sauce lends a distinctive taste and always complements beef—plus a little goes a very long way (nice, especially if you are watching sodium intake.) Worcestershire is salty but flavorful, so most food only requires a dash. Lea and Perrins is the brand of choice and ubiquitous. The ingredient list is long—this is one sauce you’ll never find me trying to make at home.
3. Salt and Pepper. Good meat needs so little; if you are cooking a steak on the grill, all you need is a bit of salt and pepper to enhance the flavor. No kitchen should be without these. I have taken to using sea salt and adding a touch to my steaks at the last minute—the flakes, aside from adding some visual interest, also add a hint of texture. I love that.
4. Red Wine and Sherry. A lot of my recipes call for deglazing a pan with red wine or sherry. If you avoid alcohol, there is no reason you can’t substitute beef stock whenever I call for wine/sherry. I love how deglazing gets the “fond” (the caramelized juices that come from the browning beef) up and into the dish at hand. The wine also adds a hint of acidity that can lighten and brighten the flavors of a dish. If you don’t use wine, consider adding a dash—and I mean just a dash—of vinegar to a finished dish for that same brightness.
5. Herbs. I’m cheating here and listing a few herbs I think always suit beef. I make sure I always have sage, thyme, rosemary (I have thyme and rosemary growing fresh at hand), bay leaves and juniper berries in my cupboard. These flavors often are simply background flavors to a dish, but they always take a dish from boring to interesting. Herbs make beef taste great. Hint: buy dried herbs in small batches so you always have something relatively fresh. I love Penzeys Spices for this. (http://www.penzeys.com/)
I’ll blog more on this theme in the future. I love a well-stocked pantry, and of course I have an opinion on what should be in there!