Why You Really Should Keep a Well Stocked Storecupboard

First a bit of backstory …

About 3 years ago my book, The Leftovers Handbook, was published. It is now undergoing a makeover and the new addition, which will be called Creative Ways to Use Up Leftovers will be published next March.  It seems ages to wait but, on the other hand, time seems to pass so quickly it probably won’t take long!!

Whilst discussing this new edition the possibility of a follow up book, on Storecupboards, was mooted but now seems to have fallen by the wayside, maybe it will be taken up again later.  However, as I’ve started thinking about the matter I’ve decided to do some blog posts on the things I personally like to keep in stock and how I use them to spontaneously create all sorts of meals. 


Why Should You Keep a Well-Stocked Storecupboard?

A properly stocked pantry is very important if you want to cook spontaneously and make the most of lucky finds and leftovers.

It’s no good picking up a bargain or a wonderful food discovery, being inspired and then not having the wherewithal! A well-stocked storecupboard (and fridge) allows you to be both spontaneous and creative.

Say, for instance, you are lucky enough to find some lovely fish. A very simple preparation that might please the whole family is ...

Roasted Fish

This is fine for one or several pieces of fish so long as they are all similar sizes, otherwise some will cook faster than others.

~   Preheat oven to 180ºC/350°F/160ºC fan/gas 4.
~   Season the fish with salt and pepper and rub with a little oil or butter.
~   Place, not touching, on a baking tray and roast for 10-15 minutes till the fish flakes easily if you poke it – the timing will depend on the thickness of the fish so keep an eye on it.


Now then, according to your storecupboard you could vary this wildly simply by adding ginger, garlic, chilli or Thai green curry paste, sumac, chipotle, blackening spice, herbs, lemon zest, chopped capers etc. to the butter before rubbing it on the fish.  See more about flavoured and compound butters here.  (I accidentally typed compound buggers at first, there, but I think you need a different type of blog for information on those!)

Once you have coated the fish in oil or butter, seasoned just how you like it, you could, if you wished, roll it in a little flour before roasting to give a fragile crust.


Panko Crusted Fish

Fish is often served with a crisp coating such as breadcrumbs or a batter (lots of coatings for fried food here) but the best coating to use at home (in my opinion), is lovely crunchy Japanese panko crumbs, which I always have in stock.  Just roll the buttered fish in the crumbs and bake till crisp. 


Incidentally panko crumbs are a storecupboard staple for me and I have already written about them in this appropriately titled post ~ Panko! 

I often serve this with sautéed potatoes and Green Chilli Mayonnaise – simply made by stirring together a very little Patak’s Green Chilli Pickle (storecupboard), Mayonnaise (fridge) and a squeeze of lemon (fridge or fruit bowl) but you might have Tartare Sauce in your cupboard, or you could mix something else into the mayonnaise such tomato ketchup to make a simple Marie Rose sauce (if you happen to have a little brandy in your storecupboard it is a great addition to this), or how about Sweet Chilli Sauce or go all exotic and add chopped preserved lemons or tapenade – the list is endless and it’s up to you! 

Another quickly impressive way to cook your fish in the oven is in a parcel as with this ...

Baked Fish with Tomato & Coconut

For this I use creamed coconut, another of my storecupboard staples.

1 can chopped tomatoes – perhaps with chilli
100g creamed coconut
½ tsp green chilli pickle (mentioned above) or curry paste or chilli powder or whatever you fancy to make the mixture taste gorgeous to you
grated zest and juice of ½ a lime or lemon, maybe

~   Gently heat together the tomatoes and creamed coconut and stir together till melted.
~   Add the chilli pickle/curry paste/seasoning plus maybe lime or lemon zest and juice to taste.
~   Cool. (That is an instruction, not a comment).
~   Season a nice piece of fish per person and sear in a little oil till browning on both sides – this is because, being wrapped in a parcel, it won’t brown in the oven.
~   Place on a piece of buttered foil.
~   Spread a tablespoon or a little more of the coconut stuff over each piece of fish.
~   Fold the foil loosely round the fish and filling.
~   Bake as above, maybe for slightly less time as it has already been seared.

When I worked as a chef in the Caribbean I used to bake this in a banana leaf but a piece of foil works just as well, it just doesn’t look so impressive!


Now for me I would have all these options (and then some) without having to give it another thought or buy anything else, because I am always prepared. You can build up your storecupboard over time, it doesn’t have to be a one off big expense and, with many of these things, not only do they have a long shelf life but also a little goes a long way.

So, the above was by way of an introduction to this occasional series which I shall be writing quite randomly, i.e. in no particular order. I have no intention of writing about such storecupboard basics as flour, sugar etc. but rather the things that I always keep in and the many ways I use them. Think I’ll start with mayonnaise – coming soon!

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