Tuesday, 27 May 2008


Now then, first things first. I seem to be having all sorts of problems with the formatting of text on my blog so please accept my apologies for the haphazard and general 'scrunched' appearance of my posts. Rest assured this is causing me no end of frustration and I am trying to find a solution.

Back to the task in hand...

A couple of weeks ago, inspired by that brilliant book High Fidelity by Nick Hornby in which the central character Rob Fleming constructs 'top-five lists' of pretty much anything and everything, I asked my friend Rowan (a fellow food lover and cook) what her top-ten (five just isn't enough) all-time must-have ingredients are. What followed was a lengthy and lively debate on what we simply have to have in our cupboards / fridge at all times or we're kept awake at night in a state of near panic.

I decided I'd blog about my top-ten list, and maybe even create a meme (and if I ever work out how to do this, I will...), and off I went to do exactly that. Who knew it'd take so long to decide on my definitive list??! I tweaked, re-wrote and scored out more times than I care to recount, and I still couldn't be 100% sure of my list's hierarchy other than that which sits at the number one spot (and no prizes for guessing what that is).

Then, on opening the Sunday's Observer Food Monthly I came face to face with their cover story, a feature called Kitchen Confidential: Inside the chef's larders which details those all-essential ingredients Britain's best chefs can't live without. After immediately kicking myself for not having posted my list sooner, I decided on better late than never and finalised said list once and for all. Number One is there in every sense of the words, the rest are in no particular order. I think.

Well of course it is. What else could be at the number one spot but garlic? How dull would life be without it? This deeply savoury, fragrant and alluring little bulb is an absolute must have in my kitchen. It makes everything taste like a little bite of heaven.

Preferably unwaxed and organic, lemons are such versatile creatures. I love them in both savoury and sweet food - they way they perk up that infamous roast chicken (oh! their natural affinity with garlic...); the way their cirtus fragrance enlivens everything from a vinaigrette to a deeply savoury baba ganoush; the tart sweetness of a zingy tarte au citron; and where would a thin hot crepe be without a squeeze of this heavenly fruit and a good sprinkle of sugar?

The Mother of all sea salts. This small family run Essex company produces salt made in the traditional way and is prized by food lovers and chefs alike. It has a lovely clean flavour and a satisfying crunch. Whilst the current obsession with sodium intake dictates that we decrease our salt consumption, I continue to use this precious condiment with glee. Can you pass the salt please?

The biggest problem is choosing which one. Coriander lends a fresh and exotic note to many a dish. Add it to guacamole for a fragrant finish. Parsley with - well just about everything as far as I'm concerned. With tomatoes? Lovely. But then so is thyme come to think of it. Bite down on a bundle of flat leaf parsley with red onion and capers and I defy you to say you don't like it. Fresh mint in a summer salad or with cucumber; rosemary with lamb; oregano in a freshly simmered ragu; tarragon with chicken; chervil or dill with seafood; a fresh basil pesto. Herbal tea - I drink this by the gallon - chamomile and lavendar, dandelion, peppermint, lemon verbena, nettle... how dull our culinary lives would be without these delicate and oh so essential plants.

For much the same reason as herbs. Spices are the backbone of some the world's most exciting cuisines. Without a little spice some of the most delicious dishes would taste bland and hollow. A curry without fenugreek, mustard seeds, turmeric, garam masala? Christmas pudding without cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice? Or a chilli without cumin? Good Lord No.

English mustard is too strong and gives you that horrible itchy hot feeling in the front of your head. American mustard is too sweet. Wholegrain mustard is annoying for annoying people. Ok, they all have their place (cooking, as a relish, and cooking respectively), but Dijon is just right. And Maille because it's what my Mum used to buy.

A veritable taste sensation. I used to know someone who described the taste of capers as being like 'biting into a bud of petrol' but this didn't stop me and an old flatmate popping some into a shot glass and eating them with our fingers whilst settling down to a movie (nor did his girlfriend's squeals of horror). Whether salted or in vinegar I adore these tasty little creatures. When I was little I used to get up at ohmygod o'clock on a Saturday morning, creep through to the kitchen, and while other children all over the country were spilling Coco Pops on their kitchen floors I was sitting crossed legged on the floor in front of the open fridge eating capers out of the jar by the handful. Oh yes.

When a hot fragrant kick is required I reach for the harissa. What a gorgeous flavour this adds to so many things. Makes chicken even sexier, let down with a touch of water and stirred into cous cous it turns this wee grain into something unbelievably moreish. Hell it even does it for me on a cheese sandwich.

Love it love it love it. Never in a squeezy bottle but always in the glass jar, so that you have to angle the tip of your knife under the rim to get at the last of it. Marvellous on toast, or used to add depth and flavour to everything from stews to soups. The Guinness limited edition was a mark of genius.

Simply because it is the very best vegetable stock around. Made only from vegetables, it has a lovely pure and rich legume flavour, with no synthetic after taste. And even though Delia swears by it I still love it and use it religiously.

A must-have for vinaigrettes, pickling, deglazing, marinating, I have this in the cupboard at all times.

Oops, that was 11. And I still have another five I could have added.


Gemma said...

Your list is very similar to how mine would look with the addition of honey for sweet and savoury and without marmite as I am firmly in the loathe camp on that one!

Gemma x

carine said...

Trust me there are plenty more where they came from! Banania, avocados, De Cecco pasta, anchovies.... x

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

What a great list! I love it and I totally agree with the majority (love lemons, garlic and harissa). I would switch out the marmite and bouillon for extra virgin olive oil and Greek yogurt. I would also choose balsamic over red wine vinegar. But yum!

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Ruth Elkin said...

Great top 10.... now you have me thinking what mine might be!

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