8 Groceries I Started Buying After Graduating from Culinary School

published Sep 3, 2021
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After high school, I was lucky enough to attend culinary school. Every day I got to learn new cooking techniques and traditions from talented teachers that helped me become comfortable in the kitchen. Now, I work full-time at Kitchn and love sharing the tips and tricks I learned, so that readers (that’s you!) can use them in their own kitchens.

One of the biggest takeaways I learned in culinary school is that you can’t make a great dish without great ingredients — and that’s something I have always kept top of mind when grocery shopping. After graduating, my grocery list evolved to reflect everything I learned. Some of my go-tos changed and a few new things were added. Want to know what I buy now? Here are eight grocery items that I started buying after graduating culinary school.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt

One of the most fundamental lessons I learned in culinary school was how to properly salt food — and using the right kind of salt is key! Ever since graduating, I only use Diamond Crystal kosher salt to season with. It has soft, light crystals and doesn’t clump together (this helps to prevent accidentally over-salting your food!). It also doesn’t have that too-sharp flavor that table salts often do, which helps keep your food tasting great.

Buy: Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, $10.64 for three pounds

2. Champagne Vinegar

Just like salt, a splash of vinegar has the power to completely transform a dish. It can brighten heavy foods, help cut through fat, and make hearty foods taste lighter and fresher. It’s actually become my go-to vinegar to cook with, replacing the harsher red and white wine vinegars I used to reach for.

Related: How to Make DIY Champagne Vinegar

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

3. European Butter

Not all butter is created equal — a lesson I learned early on in culinary school. American butter is uncultured with at least 80% butterfat, whereas European butter is cultured and at least 82% butterfat. Culturing the butter gives it a complex savory, slightly sour flavor. And increasing the amount of fat, even by just two percent, means it has a more luscious texture. Kerrygold is a great European-style butter that won’t break the bank. Using it in sauces, baked goods, and frostings will take your cooking from good to great.

Buy: Kerrygold Grass-Fed Unsalted Pure Irish Butter Foil, $3.48 for eight ounces at Walmart

4. Dried Bay Leaves

Before attending culinary school, I didn’t fully believe in the power of bay leaves, but I have learned the error of my ways! During class, we would add them to a plethora of dishes, including all sorts of stews and sauces. Now at home I do just the same. I always have a jar on hand, and I try to use up the contents every few months, so that I’m always using fresh and flavorful leaves. (Turns out, it’s very easy to get through a jar quickly!)

Credit: Joe Lingeman

5. High-Quality Dijon and Whole-Grain Mustards

Throughout school, I would use both Dijon mustard and whole-grain mustard almost constantly, but for different things. Dijon mustard is great for emulsifying vinaigrettes or adding a spicy, hot pop of flavor to sauces. Whole-grain mustard is a bit more mild and has a chunky, seedy texture great for adding to spreads. I always keep both in my fridge and use them constantly.

Read more: I Tried 38 Different Bottles of Mustard — These Are the Ones I’ll Buy Again

6. Fish Sauce

Some ingredients (like soy sauce, Worcestershire, and tamari) can add a pop of salt along with an intense savory flavor that salt alone can’t provide. In culinary school, we would often use a dash of fish sauce to add a rich savoriness and depth along with a dose of salt. Now I always keep some on hand to add to sauces, vinaigrettes, and anything else that would benefit from a pop of salty savoriness.

Read more: Ingredient Spotlight: Fish Sauce

7. Tomato Paste

Whenever we made a rich, deep, dark brown sauce or braise, we would almost always cook down tomato paste with our mirepoix. Cooking it until it turns a dark brown color adds a depth of flavor I had never experienced before culinary school. Now, I always keep a tube or can on hand to add to the base of any rich dish I’m making — especially braised short ribs and stews.

Read more: We Tried 16 Brands of Tomato Paste and Found Some Surprising Results

8. Anchovy Paste

By now you probably know that anchovies can add a rich savoriness to many dishes without actually making them taste fishy. But one ingredient I learned about in culinary school is anchovy paste. Using the paste versus whole anchovy fillets means you can add it to just about any dish without having to worry about small pieces of anchovies adding an unwanted texture. I keep a small tube in my fridge and add it to pastas whenever they need an extra boost of flavor.

Read more: This $2 Ingredient Is About to Totally Upgrade Your Next Pasta Recipe

What are the groceries you can’t live without? Let us know in the comments!