For a while now I’ve been putting up a lot of recipes, but they’re all mostly things that you’d have to plan for, you’d go out and buy ingredients for these specific dishes, and while a good repertoire of dishes is important, what I would consider to be much much more important is the ability to turn little into something great. So to that end I’d like to start a series wherein I highlight one item, preferably something quite shelf stable, that most guys can simply keep on hand and bust out when the need arises.
This week I’d like to talk about Bases, in culinary terms a base is similar to a bouillon cube, but instead of a dry stocked shelf stable cube, bases are thick, pasty, and require refrigeration after being opened. In the old days Chef’s would boil down stocks into a thick paste and use them in a very similar manner.
I fell the need to talk about Bases because of how prominent they are in the professional field, but seem to be non-existant on the civilian side. Now as a classically trained chef many old French men in tall hats would be very upset to hear me recommend bases, preferring me to rather tell you how to make stocks, but frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that.
Bases have become so widely used in the professional side of cooking because of how labor intensive they aren’t. They don’t require massively large pots and kettles and hours upon hours of cooking. You simply mix the appropriate amount into hot water until dissolved and what was once just water is now a flavorful liquid. Now I will say that a well made stock will ALWAYS have a greater depth of flavor then even the best Base, but this isn’t about making award winning food its about making good, quick, and simple food.
I tend to look at bases as more of a seasoning, rather than an ingredient. In essence it’s basically a beef or chicken flavored salt paste. Even when using stocks I’ll use bases to punch of up the flavor while adding the salinity required to get the proper level of flavor out of a dish.
Bases fit one of my major criteria for Pantry Raider item by having a very long shelf life. Unopened they last for months, meaning you can pick one up tomorrow and keep it around until the need arises. Some of the smaller grocery store variants even come in small little divided packs, each one being sealed individually so that you don’t have to ruin the shelf stability of the whole container if you just need a small amount.
Bases also fit the criteria of easily applied versatility. A basic gravy of base, water, and roux (or slurry) can be used as a start for a stew, or a pot pie, or a shepherd’s pie, or a chili. By adding meat and veggies to that basic sauce (or rather adding that sauce to meat and veggies) you can throw together a simply, easy, and complete meal in very little time.
I will close with this word of caution though. There are many cheaper Bases on the market that are packed with MSG. Shop around, you can find decent quality bases that are free of artificial enhancers like MSG if you look. You can find smaller packs at most grocery stores or large 1lbs tubs at warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club.
If you have any questions, potential recipe ideas, or just general want to know if your application of a Pantry Raider item is a good idea leave it in the comments, I’ll try to check at least once a week and get back to you with an answer.