While doing their part to maintain social distance, home cooks everywhere are honing their skills in the kitchen. Feast consulted with some of St. Louis' finest chefs and business owners for their best advice on how to make easy, wholesome meals using simple pantry staples. Find out how to make the most of your groceries in this Q&A series, which outlines some pro tips for creating nutritious and comforting from-scratch meals, snacks and more.
Josh Adams is the chef de cuisine of Cinder House, located at Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis. The two-time James Beard Award semifinalist works with executive chef Gerard Craft to create the concept’s South America-inspired, wood-fired menu. Cinder House is currently accepting reservations for indoor and outdoor dining, and curbside pickup is also available. Visit cinderhousestl.com for details and the menu.
What are some unique essential ingredients in your home kitchen that you always like to keep on hand? Do you have a secret weapon spice or ingredient? I can never have too much Red Boat fish sauce. I love this stuff. It’s very versatile and can be used in a vinaigrette or a marinara sauce. It doesn’t just have to be used for Southeast Asian cuisine. It’s only made from two ingredients – black anchovy and sea salt – and is a great flavor to add to just about anything.
Shio kombu, or salted sea kelp, is also a favorite. It’s great to add to rice or a flavorful addition to broth. One my favorite dishes to make with shio kombu is butter-braised cabbage. Add a bit of shio kombu to let the smokiness from the kelp and umami blend together to create a flavor that is reminiscent of bacon but without the meat.
What are some pantry staples commonly used in South American cooking that home cooks can use to take their cooking to the next level? I would definitely say manioc cassava flour. This is the flour that we use at Cinder House to make farofa, which is made by toasting the manioc flour in butter with shallots and garlic, creating a crunchy breadcrumb-like texture ideal for topping salads, roasted vegetables or feijoada (like we do at Cinder House). It can also be made into polenta or a porridge for a hearty side dish. It is a terrific pantry staple to have and is naturally gluten-free.
Another pantry staple that is great to stock is cachaca. Cachaca is Brazil's most popular spirit and is distilled throughout the country. It is made from fresh cane juice, which is fermented and single distilled. Unlike rum, it is not distilled from molasses and tends to have a much fruitier, livelier nose instead of more spice and notes of caramel typically found in rum. Not only is it terrific to have on hand for cocktails but is also great to cook and bake with. Speaking of baking, Tiffany Gilmore, who is overseeing pastry at Cinder House, has just added a cachaca cake to the Cinder House dessert menu. The cake is served with guava-passionfruit curd, pineapple and coconut-lime sorbet; it's fantastic and absolutely crave-worthy!
When you're seeking something comforting, what are your go-to dishes to make? When I'm not getting my South American fix at Cinder House, I definitely enjoy bolognese served with any handmade pasta. The meal is very time-consuming, but the end result is worth it. I also love to make Taiwanese pepper buns – I got turned on to these a couple years ago and have become completely obsessed with perfecting them; they are like a giant crispy dumpling. Three cup chicken (a popular chicken dish in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine) is also another favorite. It’s really simple to make and to me is everything that great comfort food should be. Despite being very different, all of these dishes remind me of many of the places I have traveled to and chefs that I have been fortunate to work with.
How can home cooks utilize modern American cooking techniques to add some flair to their dishes? I recommend learning to use a pressure cooker. Terrific braises can be made in under an hour and beans can be cooked perfectly in half the time of other methods. It’s also easy to caramelize onions, cook rice, make intense broths in 30 minutes and cook pine nuts until they become almost bean-like in texture. There aren't many tools that are better for extracting flavor out of ingredients than a pressure cooker.
Can you share a recipe that incorporates one of the ideas you've discussed? Absolutely, happy to share a recipe for farofa. It is so versatile and terrific to top dishes year-round with.