As a guy who makes at least part of living by cooking wild game and fish, I have a pretty eclectic pantry. I’m always trying new flavor profiles and experimenting with techniques. Some of them work, a few don’t. Of everything I keep on hand, there are five essentials ingredients that I find myself reaching for time and again. Part of that is because they’re familiar and easy, but they’re also my go-to flavors because they work so well with wild game. So, here are my five pantry essentials. I’d also love to hear what you keep close at hand.
1. Tomato Paste
A dollop, or more, of this stuff goes into every braised dish I make. After adding it, I let the sugars in the tomato caramelize until the red paste turns almost brown, creating a rich layer of flavor in braised shanks, chili, stew, or whatever my final creation may be.
I discovered this tart spice on a trip to Turkey, where it is a staple used in kofte or adana kebaps. I’ve since found the lemony flavor is a great way to elevate fish and upland game birds as well, or make a yogurt-based dipping sauce for wings and other appetizers.
3. Chattelier’s Rare Game Sauce
For years, I have seen the small ads for Chattelier’s in the back of outdoor magazines, but I’ve only recently discovered how versatile the sweet, currant-based sauce is. Last night, I added just a bit to a venison stew, and I’ve used it as the base for a pan sauce to go over steaks. I look forward to experimenting with it more.
4. Hot Sauce
I keep several kinds close to the stove, and use them to amp things up: Sriracha for Asian dishes, Nando’s peri-peri as part of spicy glaze, Tabasco for jambalaya and dirty rice, or any of the above on breakfast burritos, frittatas, and other egg-based creations.
5. Coffee Rub This is a blatant rip-off from my friend Scott Leysath, a.k.a. The Sporting Chef, and I make no apologies for it. Probably 50 percent or more of the ducks I shoot every year get covered in Leysath Coffee Rub and grilled. Done right—that is, grilled medium-rare—this rub will make a duck lover out of any one.