Essentials

I don’t want to preach to the converted. But I’m going to

Things you absolutely need in your store cupboard

This is what it says on the tin. Essentials. Much of the art of cooking lies in cheating; making things that taste bland and indifferent taste exciting and interesting. This is true for the meat eaters among us (I need to confess here and admit to being an occasioanl carnivore) and true for veggies, too. Don’t get snotty with me. Be honest. Nobody but nobody can eat a plain boiled marrow and go ‘Yum yum!’ You can’t, and if you say you can I’ll call you a fibber to your face. Pistols at dawn, sir.

So here are some of the best cheats you can get. If you run out you can always extemporise, but you really need these items.

A jar of caviar

That was a joke to make sure you’re awake.

Light and dark soy sauce

Try to avoid  those poncey overpriced little bottles you get in Tesco. Get down the Chinese supermarket where you bought your wok, say ‘Hi’ to Mr Hong, and get the industrial size bottles he sells. You do need light and dark variants. They taste very different and are used differently.

Katsup manis

This is an Indonesian sweetened dark soy, is a great marinade for fish, and can spike up a simple cheese sarnie a treat

Lemon juice

The great standby for when you make something and it’s a bit insipid. Of course, that won’t happen if you follow my recipes….

Chilli sauce

Another great way of cheating. I won’t recommend any, since individual tastes vary, but again the best place to buy this is down your local Chinese emporium. Be warned! Some of them will strip the laminate off your worktops.

Hoisin sauce

The best cheat of all time. Cock things up, stir in a tablespoon of this, and you can instantly call any veggie dish ‘People’s vegetables.’ Do not run out of hoisin sauce.

Dried red chillies

Just get them OK?

Olive oil

Get the most expensive you can afford. You won’t be using it for cooking, but for last minute addition or dressing.

Groundnut oil

Say hello to the Mr Hong in the Chinese supermarket again. It’s a lot cheaper there than in Asda. For the technogeek foodies amongst you, groundnut oil has a very high smokepoint, which means you can get it really hot before it burns and you have to dial 999 . Having a load of guys in fireproofs and big hats and wellies stomping around your house can really put a damper on a dinner party, though some female guests may find the experience inexplicably exciting.

Sesame oil

Never, ever, ever, ever use this for frying. Just don’t. OK? Learn at the feet of the Master, Grasshopper. It’s for late minute addition.

Red and white wine vinegar (and some rice wine vinegar if your budget will run to it)

Vegetable stock cubes

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to shell out a small fortune and buy Knorr. Own brand will do just fine. You can get loads of them for a quid in most Poundstretchers.

Dry sherry

Get the cheapest nastiest you can get. You won’t be drinking it. Well unless you get desperate you won’t.If you do find yourself drinking it, you may need to check into The Priory.

Cream sherry

Cheaper the better. It seems a funny one to have, but my recipe for marrow and green beans (see later) is much enhanced by it. And you can use it in puddings. I don’t do                                                                                                                                                                                                         puddings, or indeed sweet things in general, but it works as a stqple.

Worcester sauce

Another great cheat. You won’t use it very oten, but it’s a godsend to the slacker cook. Don’t cut corners. Lea & Perrins is the only way to go. It doesn’t go off, ever, so it’s a sound investment.

Chilli oil

You can make this yourself, with groundnut oil and some dried chillies,

or simply say hello again to Mr Hong

A jar of caviar

 Just checking you’re still awake.

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