We’ve all spent a lot more time cooking at home this year. Many people would argue too much time!
Whilst some long for the days of casual dining out, others have gone home-cooking obsessive. I, like most people, am a mix of the two. I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with my cooking, but I definitely miss being able to grab something delicious without having to worry about the washing up.
This meant that when the first lockdown took away a lot of our dining options, one of my intensive lockdown hobbies became trying to make restaurant quality food. This was done with the finest supermarkets had to offer, and I wasn’t the only one.
So I have compiled this list of the pricier cupboard staples, which can take your at-home dining to the next level.
1. Balsamic Vinegar
Perhaps it is just me, but until five years ago, this was known to me as the condiment you dip your bread in at posh Italian restaurants. However, once I realised it was readily available in most supermarkets, (not just Carluccio’s) it has swiftly become an essential in my house.
You can use it for anything. From making caramelised onions (which you can use to recreate the iconic Fairfax sandwich from Eggslut) to frying veg and Quorn pieces in a delicious soy sauce and balsamic glaze. If you really want to zhuzh your salad up, I would even try a white balsamic (like Vellutato’s one here, courtesy of The Olive Oil Mill).
2. Crispy Onions
I didn’t know you could buy these in supermarkets until the beginning of this year. I’ve been dreaming of them after trying Kaese Spaetzle when I was in Berlin (in case you’re wondering, it’s basically cheesy German gnocchi). They had a crunch and great depth of flavour, which can bring a new side to what can be a comforting and slightly boring dish.
Crispy onions are a pretty versatile garnish, which is perfect on instant noodles. They have also started being sold in tubs in mainstream supermarkets like Marks and Spencer (if you’re looking for the cheapest version however, it’s apparently best found in the Eastern Europe part of the World Foods aisle of Morrisons or similar).
3. Deep-Roasted Sesame Dressing
This was introduced to me by my friend Serena last year, and I haven’t stop thinking about it since. I instantly went on the hunt. In an effort to avoid Amazon, I found it in my local Korean supermarket. At a pricy £4.39, it is possibly the steepest item on this list for its size. However, you’ll understand once you try how good it is.
It goes with pretty much anything, especially leafy salad. In fact, it’s the only time I’ve gone to the fridge to get MORE salad, so I could have more dressing.
4. Aioli/Garlic mayo
The concept of garlic mayo is pretty much everywhere now. An overly flirty man offered me a free aioli dip in Leon when I was 19, and my life changed. It’s excellent as a pizza dip, on the outside of a cheese toastie, or, my favourite, in a bagel with halloumi and/or mushrooms.
To be honest, it isn’t really that expensive, but it varies a lot in quality depending on brand. The best version, in my opinion, is the Chovi Allioli Dip, which you can get for £1.20 in Morrisons. This is literally the same version they sell in parts of Spain.
Otherwise, you can make it yourself. Either by flavouring plain mayo with garlic and lemon juice, or even making mayonnaise from scratch (although this is a lot more work!).
Plus, if you need pretentious points, annoy all your friends by telling everyone about how you had it at 100 Monteditos in Barcelona, just like I definitely did not do. They don’t need to know it’s a 1 euro sandwich chain.
5. Truffle Flavour Olive Oil
Truffle, with its sexy, earthy flavour, has become a real it-girl in the food world. Whilst for the longest time it has felt out of reach for us common folk, supermarkets have finally caught wind of this.
It’s excellent for elevating a creamy pasta sauce, blitz with hard cheese, basil, and pine nuts and you get a great truffle pesto (good with pasta or just on toast). You could even lightly drizzled on a chip butty (just trust me on this one).
While these are my personal top five, I understand, however, my experience is limited. So, we decided to ask some of you what some of your bougie-est must-haves were.
Korean Plum Syrup – Saskia
“It’s good for making home-made kimchi, and lots of Korean stews. But you can just have it mixed with water and ice as a drink too.”
Whole beans and a coffee grinder – Matt
“I think a lot of the flavour compounds in coffee become unstable once the beans have been ground up. These compounds will react with oxygen quickly, and cause the ground beans to lose flavour quickly. For this reason, freshly ground coffee tastes significantly better. Also, a lot of higher quality coffee isn’t offered as pre-ground for the same reason. I’ll still drink instant if I’m feeling lazy though.”
Pink Himayalan/Kosher Salt – Cherelle
“Himalayan salt is mined, it’s pretty, and I tend to use that on top of salads as a garnish. But I cook everything with kosher salt because it has bigger flakes so it’s easier to cook with, plus they’re also both non-iodised salt, but himalayan has a little iodine in it.”
Sesame Oil/Za’atar – Lucie
“Both are good for making delicious stir fries , and za’atar is good as well with couscous, pasta or any Mediterranean dish really!”