Everyone’s got their go-tos in the kitchen—those staples we’ve come to rely upon to pull together a quick meal, or round out a simple dish.
With the holidays fast approaching, we thought we’d try to spice up our routines by comparing notes with some of Chicago’s most acclaimed chefs about their own home cooking.
Chicken—the humble but super versatile bird—made almost everyone’s list. “Roast it, grill it, fry it—I always have some in the fridge or freezer,” saysJason Vincent, a 2013 Food & Wine Best New Chef winner.
Spiking a dish with fish sauce for added depth and complexity is another preferred strategy among the pros, and a new favorite of ours! “The key,” advises John Manion of La Sirena Clandestina, “is to add enough to enhance the whole without ever really tasting it.”
Food & Wine’s Best New Chef of 2013, formerly of the Pilsen neighborhood darling, Nightwood
Vincent keeps his fridge stocked with fresh, aromatic herbs. “Once they lose their freshness, you can muddle them with a little sea salt and create several ‘herb salts’ that will keep for weeks,” he says. “Lemons and limes are also staples. I love finishing pastas with lemon juice, and limes can be used to dress anything, including a gin and tonic.”
James Beard Award-winning chef of too many restaurants to name, including Blackbird, avec and The Publican
Kahan had me hunting all over town for his number one: Neonata—essentially a kind of Italian fish sauce. I finally found it at West Loop Salumi. Kahan says to use it to “finish a pasta, jack up a mayo or really for just about anything that needs depth.” Other ingredients with the Midas touch include hazelnut oil to accent roasted veggies, and harissa, which Kahan likes to thin with a little extra-virgin olive oil and use as a marinade.
Chef of innovative Asian triple threat: Urbanbelly, BellyQ and Belly Shack
Kim relies heavily on the aforementioned fish sauce. “I use it to season everything, Fish sauce is my salt.” Quinoa is another family fave, and a tasty way to shake up your rice routine. Kim’s wife and restaurant partner, Yvonne, loves a simple dish of quinoa with ground chicken, basil and broccoli with a lemon fish sauce (of course!) dressing.
Chef of the sexy, South American-inspired La Sirena Clandestina
Manion is serious about Dijon mustard, “because I’m not interested in living in a world without mustard.” His go-to meal at home is roasted chicken thighs (again with the chicken thighs!) with a sauce of garlic, white wine and chicken stock, finished with Dijon mustard and good butter. Butter is another kitchen necessity— Manion prefers WW Homestead’s fresh-churned butter from Iowa. “Good butter, in moderation,“ he says, “is the key to [a] happier life.”
Chef of Bucktown mainstay, The Bristol, and rustic Italian luxury mecca, Balena
When it comes to chicken, Pandel and his family favor the thighs. “We find them the most flavorful part of the chicken,” he says, “and chicken thighs make for a great one-pot meal.” Pandel also likes to keep apples around for a salad or dessert—or they can be roasted and served with a savory meat dish.
Chef of The Radler, a new modern beer hall in Logan Square; formerly chef de cuisine at Vie
With two young kids and a new baby restaurant, convenience is a precious commodity for Sears. Sears recommends things like frozen peas, corn, and fava beans, “so I’m not cooking all day on my day off.” He likes to keep turmeric on hand as well for its touted health benefits, and recommends using it any place you would normally use garlic.
Chef of long-standing destination, Vie, and Lincoln Park gem,Perennial Virant
At home, it’s all about simplicity. He keeps jasmine rice on hand for curries. Thrown in the rice cooker; it’s a quick starch accompaniment. Virant also likes good farm eggs (as versatile as the chickens from which they came) “for hard cooking and ‘over easies’ for my kids.”