Here is a list of staples that we keep in our fridge at all times. Combined with dry-good staples, they make it easier to cook at home without always needing to plan ahead or make a special trip to the store.
Of course, the contents of your refrigerator might look a little different depending on what kinds of foods you normally cook. This is meant to be a general, multi-purpose list for an average cook, so take it with a grain of salt and let us know what else you would add!
• Eggs. Eggs keep for several weeks, making them a good food item to keep around for quick meals and baking. Even if you don't use them frequently, chances are you'll still use them up before they go bad. (Check out our post on testing eggs for freshness.)
•Butter. Aside from your morning toast, a pat of butter can be used to finish off a sauce or melt over steamed vegetables. We keep salted butter for everyday uses and unsalted butter to use in recipes where we'd prefer to control the salt ourselves. Extra sticks can be kept in the freezer for several months.
•Cheese. As a chef friend of ours once told us, butter and cheese can cure any cooking mishap. We usually keep a brick of cheddar, a brick of feta, and a wedge of parmesan on hand. All these cheeses keep well and one of them usually sounds right for any dish we dream up - pizza, salads, pasta dishes, gratins...you get the idea!
•Tomato Paste in a Tube. It's slightly more expensive than canned, but we prefer buying tomato paste in a tube because it's more convenient to use and will last indefinitely. A tablespoon added to tomato-based dishes can really amp up the tomato flavor - especially during the winter when we're relying on less-flavorful and canned tomatoes.
•Mustard. We keep a few varieties in our fridge: dijon, spicy brown, and classic yellow. Mustards are good for marinades and some sauces.
•Worcestershire Sauce. Like Tabasco sauce and soy sauce, a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce adds depth of flavor to meat dishes and braises. Look for brands containing vinegar, molasses, anchovies, and tamarind as their main ingredients and that don't have a lot of extra artificial ingredients.
•Hoisin Sauce. This soy-based sauce is a staple of Chinese cooking and is often used in stir fries and barbecued dishes. It has a sweet-sour flavor and is spiked with chili peppers and garlic.
•Fish Sauce. Called nam pla or nuoc mam, this is a staple flavoring agent for many Thai and Vietnamese dishes, including soups, noodle dishes, and dipping sauces. A little of this powerful sauce goes a long way and one bottle should last you quite a while!
•Ketchup. We don't use this frequently in cooking, but it's good to have around to add body to a braised dish or just to make a quick dipping sauce.
•Jellies and Jams. Besides the usual PB&J, we use jellies and jams for quick mini-tarts, filling pastries and sandwich cookies, and occasionally in sweet-savory sauces for meat dishes. Clear jams are also good for glazing fruit tarts.
•Maple Syrup. We keep a small bottle of real, Grade B maple syrup to use in baking and for adding a sweet maple flavor to frostings, whipped cream, and yes, our pancakes.
What else do you think is a must-have for a home cook's fridge?