“Out of it” may mean one thing in politics or parenting. But the phrase has a truly different — and at times unhappy — meaning in the pantry.
There you are, frittering away at preparing dinner, and you run dry on the bottle of vegetable oil or hit the bottom of the salt cellar or need butter, and all you have is a half-moon of brie.
Aaargh. Who wants just to pop off to the grocery at a time like that? Who can?
Chances are that what you’re out of, you’re truly not. Kitchen basics come in many garbs; you merely need to know how to assess the dresses.
The recipe here, for example, adds the abundant oil and salt in crushed potato chips to coat chicken pieces as they bake into golden awesomeness in the oven. No need to pan-fry the chicken in a film of oil; no need to salt them as they cook.
You can make fruitful substitutions from your pantry by attending to the element or ingredient that you seek in whatever it is that you’re lacking or missing. Saltiness or sweetness, for example, don’t arrive merely via white crystals. Or a smooth, creamy texture isn’t to be found only in cream.
Places to look in your pantry: substitutes for ingredients in case you don’t have what you need on hand
Substitutes for salt: Ubiquitous in the everyday pantry, salt comes abundantly in soy sauce and miso pastes of any color and in foodstuffs that are preserved in or prepared with it, such as capers, anchovies, many mustards, Worcestershire sauce and bacon. Of course, you will introduce other flavors in addition to salt when you use any of these, but (yes, bacon!) that may be desired.
Substitutes for sweetness: Like salt, the many sugars (fructose, glucose, sucrose, and so on) are in or constituent of many pantry foods. The obvious substitutes are honey, molasses, agave or corn syrup, and the many granulated sugar substitutes so-named, such as aspartame, stevia or monk fruit crystals. All of this is common knowledge.
But if you’re really pressed to add something sweet to a cooking preparation, and you don’t have at hand any true sugar (or its synthesized equivalent), remember that using dried fruit, heavy cream, fruit juice, maple syrup or applesauce adds significant sweetness. It also adds other flavors that, again, may or may not be appropriate.
Substitutes for cream or milk: I consider myself a lucky cook because I almost always have on hand some homemade whole-milk yogurt. I make it a gallon at a time, and it stores well and lengthily. I use it as-is for many a meal (smoothies, say, or bircher muesli), but I also use it when I need a small amount of milk or cream and I have neither on hand. I simply water the yogurt down to the consistency I desire. I need to watch merely for its tendency to curdle if the (now) “cream” is added in volume. I am guessing that well-made commercial whole-milk Greek yogurt would act similarly.
I also always have homemade ghee on hand. This form of clarified butter keeps in the refrigerator for months and tastes and acts nearly 100 percent just like regular, unclarified butter, but with no burning in the sauté pan or skillet to boot.
If you’re looking to add a diary for its creaminess, richness or just plain milky flavors, those characteristics do not appear merely in milk or cream. The fresh cheeses mascarpone, Neufchâtel, farmer’s cheese, crème fraîche, queso fresco, quark, sour cream and Greek yogurt all substitute for cream (again, sometimes with added flavors or tartness), as do many an unaged bloomy rind cheese such as, for but one example, French or American-made brie.
Substitutes for fats: Many of the vegetable or fruit oils (olive, canola, corn, avocado, coconut, and so on) are interchangeable, but for attention to their individual flavors and smoke points when heated. Solid, animal-based fats such as butter, lard or schmaltz (chicken fat) are a whole other book and are largely not substitutes for each other.
But fats or oils also are found around the kitchen and pantry, perhaps just labeled in the list of ingredients or nutritional “fine print.” Fats and oils are in snack chips from potato and some grains, as the preserving element in many a jar of artichoke hearts or sun-dried tomatoes or mushrooms, or in any confit (of duck leg, for example). I’ve used the olive oil from a couple of rounds of preserved goat’s cheese for the base of a delicious salad dressing.
Obviously, chips made of potato, nut or grain don’t carry along any fat or oil if they are prepared or cooked that way to begin with and say so, for example, air-fried chips or any chip labeled “fat-free.”
Recipe: Chicken baked in potato chips
Choose the potato chips for this recipe for whatever flavorings you want that they advertise about themselves: “barbecue” adds BBQ flavor, “sour cream and onion,” those flavors, and so on. Of course, “plain” works just fine too. Makes 4-6 servings.
6-8 pieces skin-on chicken (breasts, thighs, drumsticks)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2-3 large eggs, whisked
2 cups crushed kettle-style (not air-baked or fat-free) potato chips
2 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
2 tablespoons flavorful extra-virgin olive oil
In a large bowl or inside a zipped plastic bag, crush the potato chips well and add the black pepper, stirring it in. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Arrange three plates side by side, with the flour in the first, the eggs in the second, and the crushed chips and pepper in the third. In turn, dredge each piece of chicken in the flour (shaking off any excess), then in the eggs and then the chips, pressing down on the chips so that they adhere.
Place the chicken pieces in a baking dish or sheet large enough to fit them all but ensuring that they do not touch each other. Melt the ghee or butter with the olive oil and drizzle it over the pieces and bake the chicken for 40-45 minutes or until the juices run clear.
You may turn over the pieces halfway through; you also may remove the breast pieces 5-10 minutes before any dark meat pieces. Serve topped with chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or lemon wedges or zests or other favorite condiments.
Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]