When it comes to Ayesha Nurdjaja’s pantry, you might expect to find many gourmet, or as she says, “chef-y”, ingredients. So, it might surprise you that the five essentials the Shuka and Shukette executive chef have chosen are actually fairly simple.
“I don’t stock my pantry with chef-y ingredients,” she says. “I prefer to stick to the
basics because of their versatility. A good pantry should be a revolving door, not an exhibit. I want those items that I can reach for constantly, regardless of the season of the year, the meal I’m cooking or even which course I’m preparing. Maybe it’s because I’m a lifetime New Yorker. Most kitchens are small and require a bit of efficiency. There is no room for anything that can’t pull double, or triple, duty, so I choose items that I can use regardless of what I’m whipping up in the kitchen.”
On the list below, you’ll find plenty of staple ingredients, like honey and olive oil. And while Nurdjaja believes all ingredients have their place, she also believes not all ingredients are good at-home pantry staples.
“If you have an item that you don’t really know how to use, it shouldn’t be in your pantry,” she says. “Don’t follow trends. For example, I am a huge fan of za’atar, and use it daily in my restaurants, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a pantry item for everyone. Similarly, everything spice is fantastic, but you can’t toss it
with olive oil and vegetables then roast at a high heat because the seeds will burn and taste bitter. So you have to appreciate where ingredients like these will shine and where they don’t belong.”
Earlier this year, Nurdjaja was named a finalist for a James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York State. And while Shuka and Shukette have become much-loved restaurants in NYC (good luck getting a reservation before 9:45 p.m. at Shukette), Nurdjaja has some new things in the works, including the launch of her dips at the new provisions shop Pine & Polk and exploring the idea of writing her very first cookbook.
And with that, here are Ayesha Nurdjaja’s five pantry essentials.
“Use it as a dip for pretzels, if you need a quick snack. Emulsify it into oil and
vinegar for a creamy dressing for salad greens. Or slather it on salmon for a quick and deeply flavored weeknight meal.”
“This heavyweight can give a whole new life to leftover rice. Or I add a few dashes
to a beef braise to elevate it from the ordinary. The soy lends a salty umami that enhances the flavor of slow-cooked meats.”
Olive Oil-Packed Anchovies
“I love anchovies. They are great for eating out of the jar, or for a quick snack for guests with a few crackers and a crisp glass of wine. And most people know that
anchovies can heighten a salad dressing, as in a classic Caesar salad. I keep them on hand because they are my favorite topping for pizza.”
“No offense to the supermarket bear, but you won’t find that in my pantry. Rather, I am talking about good, locally sourced honey. The flavor will change subtly based on where the honey comes from, but any local honey is great. I love to drizzle it over soft cheese like feta, and it is great in cocktails. Who can argue with the power of a hot toddy on a cold night? In the warm months, I like to drizzle a little honey over ice cream for a quick dessert.”
“Olive oil is the queen of the pantry. She can go almost anywhere. Combine with
herbs and spices to make a marinade. Use as a cooking oil when preparing meat, fish and vegetables. Drizzle it over at the end to brighten the flavors of the finished dish. You can use olive oil to make dressings for fresh greens and vegetables, and of course, it is a key ingredient in all manner of condiments, from mayonnaise to zhoug. The possibilities are endless!”
Feature photo by Clay Williams.