What are your favorite culinary traditions? What are your go-to flavors in any wild-caught seafood meal? Thinking about these considerations will help you stock your pantry so that you’ll never have to wonder what you’re making next.
While certainly not an exhaustive list of suggestions, these basics will have you well-equipped to make an unforgettable seafood meal any day of the week.
Pick a Go-To Flavor Base
Having a flavor base on which to build your recipe will put you on the fast track to becoming a pantry pro.
Do you like South Asian or Caribbean flavors? Coconut milk should be a staple in your pantry, as it is an integral foundation for curries, and can also be used as a liquid when you’re preparing seafood en papillote. All you really need to add, in either case, are herbs, some aromatics, maybe something sweet or sour, and a bit of curry paste or powder — one or both of which you should also have in your pantry. With little to no effort, you’ll have a ridiculously rich, healthy and easy meal.
Do you like East Asian flavors? Keep flavor bombs like miso paste, gochujang, oyster sauce, and soy sauce in your fridge. Practically tasty enough to use on their own in seafood meals, you could easily build them into something more balanced by combining a couple together. And even better if you have something fresh to add in too, like ginger, scallions or garlic.
Do you like Mediterranean flavors? While your dish is going to be defined by the fresh produce you use in the recipe — tomatoes, herbs, and citrus, usually — you will want a good olive oil or two in the pantry to anchor these components. A mid-range olive oil is a jack-of-all-trades, a tasty oil in which to cook or marinate your seafood; if you have the urge to splurge, you may also decide to have a high-end olive oil on hand to use in raw sauces or to simply finish the dish with a drizzle of extra fine flavor.
The Two Most Versatile Spices
You probably already have a handful of spices in your pantry, but there are two that we think you’ll be coming back to time and again for a variety of recipes.
Cumin and coriander are integral to so many traditions of cuisine, including recipes inspired by Mexican or Middle Eastern flavors. If you’re so inclined, we suggest that you invest in a spice grinder and ditch the pre-ground spices in this case, opting for whole coriander and cumin seeds. You’ll get the most bang for your buck, and the spices will retain their potency for much longer. Spices, generally speaking, don’t “go bad,” but they do become stale over time and certain flavors in them dissipate.
If you have cumin and coriander in tow, you can branch out in completely different directions with the addition of another spice or two. You can add some Moroccan flair with warm spices like paprika, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add in a sprinkle of your favorite ground chili powder for tacos. Combined with turmeric, cumin and coriander will give your seafood Indian flair.
The Crunch Factor
You probably already have flour in your pantry, which will come in especially handy when you’re making a batter for crispy seafood. But do you have ingredients to give seafood crunch? Panko, aka Japanese-style breadcrumbs, are especially crisp, and no home pantry should be without them. Used as a coating, as a topping for seafood casseroles, or as an ingredient to integrate into seafood burgers and fish cakes as a binder, they add substance while keeping your seafood light in texture.
Regular breadcrumbs are fine, too, though they won’t be quite as crunchy. For a DIY gluten-free alternative, crushed Rice Chex is a decent alternative. Or you could use something like almond meal for something nutty, though it won’t give you quite the same lightness in texture.
Everything Else Can Be Somewhat Optional
With these basics in your kitchen, you will have the essentials that you need to put together a wild-caught seafood meal, even when the cupboard is looking a bit bare.
Ideally though, you’ll also have something fresh on hand to pull things together. Perishable herbs, vegetables, and fruits are what will ensure that your meals are unforgettable, and are interchangeable depending on the season, your personal tastes, and if there’s a specific recipe you’re looking to make.
Citrus like lemons and limes are indispensable; even a pan-fried, plainly seasoned fillet of fish will feel a lot less plain when served with a wedge of one of these fruits.
If you have the space and light in your kitchen, you might consider growing a few year-round, easy-to-grow herbs like parsley or chives so that you’re not constantly paying for more than you can use before the herbs wilt. Otherwise, you can of course buy herbs year-round at your local grocery store, too.
As for vegetables, anything in the allium family will be a great addition to any seafood meal — garlic, onions, shallots. Beyond those, pick whatever is ripe and accessible to you!