Oils are another important culinary product to pay attention to. To start, I want to address one issue with oils– they will turn rancid. They don’t store a long long time before this happens; a few months is enough in the wrong conditions. That being said, rancid oil is still okay to use. It will just have a slightly off flavor that many Americans are already used to. (Google Americans Rancid Oil and see what comes up.) The risk of eating oil that has turned are cancer-causing free radicals, but that is a whole different issue.
Regardless, oil is important to our diets and to your EOTWAWKI preparation for two reasons. The first is that a post-apocalyptic America is likely to be lacking in the fats and oils we commonly consume today, many of which are essential to life. You need to have some on hand until you get a supply of bear fat or other natural oils. The second is that oil is needed to perform many of the more advanced, and delicious, culinary techniques. Boiled rice is fine but add a little sesame oil (Asian flavor profile) or olive oil (Mediterranean/European flavor profile) and it is much more palatable and nutritious. Taken to the next level, plain old rice is fine to survive on, but fried rice or hash is a meal.
An Old Chef’s Saying: “The fat is were the flavor is.” Most of the flavors we know are in fact some form of fat or lipid. Think of the difference in flavor between a lean piece of beef and a well marbled rib eye; it’s different, right? Using oils to cook will unlock food flavors; heat spices or herbs gently in a pan with a drizzle of oil before adding vegetables, and then use a drizzle of oil when sauteing meat or vegetables to get some of the “brown” on them. The brown bits in the bottom of the pan, known as fond, is loaded with flavor and should never be discarded and always encouraged. At culinary school, we were taught that we’re “fond” of it”, especially when making hearty stews and soups. It is by far the easiest and simplest way to flavor food.
Perhaps the best oil to stock up on in bulk is peanut oil, due to its clean flavor and high smoke point (it doesn’t burn as easily), although you will need to take into consideration any allergies that may exist in your group. Five gallons of this will cost about $30. My next choice would be a safflower, corn, sunflower, or other common vegetable oil, which will each cost about the same for a 5-gallon container. After this there are some other oils nice to have around. I’ve already mentioned sesame oil for Asian style meals. One liter will cost about $12, but be sure to get toasted sesame oil since the plain variety is just another vegetable oil. There are some other varieties such as grapeseed, flax, avocado, and various nut oils. They each have culinary purpose but are not overly important in terms of enhancing your ability to create great flavors.
Olive oil comes in a variety of qualities, ranging from blended oil to pomace oil to virgin and extra virgin. There is the difference. Blended oil is a blend of some type of olive oil and a regular vegetable oil. When buying, be sure to note what the blend is 80/20, 70/30, pomace, virgin, or other. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the highest quality; it is made by gently pressing the olives so that only the best oil is recovered. It is often a deep green color, due to vegetable impurities, which give it flavor and make it bad for cooking. (Extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoke point, actually the lowest.) Virgin olive oil take the process a little further, helping the oil to come out of the olives with extra pressure and perhaps a little processing. After the virgin pressing of the olives about 5%-10% of the oil remains. This is removed using industrial methods and is called Pomace Oil. Extra Virgin may cost $45 to $65, depending on where it is from, as the region and olives affect flavor. Virgin will be a little less, and Pomace is the least expensive at about $10 to $15. Yes, it is possible to buy Genco Olive Oil (from the Godfather, Genco Pura Olive Oil Company), but it’s not quite the same thing.
One Man’s Spam Is Another’s Paté
Canned and preserved products should not be overlooked. They can provide an intense range of flavors, fill nutritional gaps, are packaged to last, and can be handy trade items. An added bonus of canned/preserved items is the medium in which they are packed, usually oil or brine, and their salt content. These items not only enhance the flavor and nutritional value of foods you are preparing but they bring much needed oils and salts that may otherwise be missing from your diet.
Two things that immediately spring to mind are tahini and green peppercorns. Tahini is sesame seed paste or sesame seed butter. By itself it has a very strong, bitter flavor that when mixed with garlic, lemon, and chick peas becomes hummus. You may be thinking, “So what. I’m not gonna grow chick peas, and I don’t plan on laying up a store of canned chick peas.” The point is that hummus can be made from any type of beans. Black eyed peas hummus is very very good, and tahini is highly nutritious. Sesame seeds are one of the worlds great super foods. One tablespoon of sesame seeds contains 12% of the USDA of fats/oil, 5% of recommended protein, 5% of your calcium, 3% of your magnesium, and 7% of your iron requirements. Most importantly though is that tahini, like peanut butter and other nuts, makes a complete protein when eaten alongside beans and legumes and can fill the void when meat is not available. A 16 oz jar of tahini, found at most major grocery stores, will cost about $10 and will make 10# or more hummus.
Green peppercorns are the unripe berries of the peppercorn tree. They have a sharp, spicy but not hot flavor that is excellent with meat. They can be found both dried and canned. I prefer the canned variety for flavor, but dried is fine too. Considering that during the end times it’s likely you will be eating a lot of game and free-range meats, I highly recommend getting some. I like to use them in sauce and gravy, but they are also good in stuffings for fowl, rubs, and marinades for meats and in salad dressings. I usually see them in 3 or 4 oz cans. You’ll use a ½ oz or less to make a pint of sauce, and they cost a few dollars. A case of cans, 24, will cost $50 to $60 dollars and will last a very long time and come in an easy to trade container.
Olives are an important addition and bring both salt and oil to the equation. Olives come from around the world, range in flavor from creamy mild to robust and pungent. They are preserved in just about every manner imaginable. The most common are brined, oil cured, and air dried. California olives in the can are okay as a source of fats and oils, but they have the worst flavor. A one-gallon jar of pitted black kalamata olives (the kind you get with your Gyro sandwiches) costs about $40, a one-gallon jar of green Manzanilla olives (Spanish, small, mild salty flavor) about $10.
Recipe Tip – The Muffaletta is a classic American sandwich hailing from New Orleans. It is basically a toasted grinder or combination cold cut sandwich on a large round loaf. Aside from the loaf, the number one distinguishing characteristic of this sandwich is the condiment– a vinegarry olive and herb spread comparable to a French tapenade. To make, combine ½ cup green olives with ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 1 Tbls dijon mustard, 1 Tbls chopped red onion, 2 Tablespoons herbs (oregano, thyme, basil, marjoram, parsley as you have them), 4 cloves garlic, and 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Place all in a blender or food processor and process until finely chopped and spreadable. Serve on sandwiches or as a dip for crudités, on salads, or with grilled meats and fish.
Canned seafood, and I don’t mean tuna, is yet another great canned product that should be included in this category. For general prepping purposes of course include canned tuna and salmon, and include both water and oil packed varieties. For flavoring, morale, and health enhancing purposes, add things like diced clams, sardines, cockels (from Spain and Portugal), Abalone, and caviar. Again, don’t worry too much about the cost. Most of these items can be purchased for only a few dollars per can and are intended to be used as an ingredient in food rather than as a main dish, so they will use up only a small portion of the total food prep budget. Think about it like this; it may take 32 oz of chopped claims to make clam chowder for a family of four, but a simple 2 oz can is enough to add flavor, salt, protein, and fats to any meal.
Most of these items can be found at the local grocery store. More exotic items are easily purchased online. The one item that may be expensive is the caviar but only if you insist on buying the highest quality black beluga. Many varieties of caviar including trout, salmon, lumpfish, and paddlefish are readily available for a few dollars per ounce.
The final ingredient group that needs special attention is the spirits and liquors. I’ll be honest; most of these have very little in the way of nutritional value, but they all can take a simple meal and turn it into gourmet cuisine. The obvious choices are of course red and white wine. Avoid the cheap cooking brands and go for the least expensive of the table varieties. Box wine is fine for cooking and imbibing.
Cooking tip: Use wine to deglaze a pan after sauteeing or pan frying. Remember before, when I was talking about the fond? A shot of wine tossed into a hot pan will help lift the fond off the bottom of the pan so that it can be fully incorporated into your gravy, sauce, stew, or soup, and it will impart its own flavor as well.
After the wine, there are four spirits a well-stocked pantry should have– marsala, sherry, port, and whiskey. Each can be used to deglaze for sauces and the like, each comes with a unique flavor, and all go well with meat and fowl. Inexpensive varieties used for cooking may cost $5 to $10 per liter, and a liter will last long enough to flavor gallons of sauces and soups.
My Simple Approach To Pantry Prepping
My recommendation is to devote 5% of the monthly food prep budget to buying these types of items. Don’t worry about trying to buy them all at once; it will cost hundreds of dollars, at least, and may take days or weeks to complete. Simply buy one or two each week, when you go to the grocery store, and by the end of the year you will have a nice collection of pantry items to rival even the highest quality 5 star restaurants. When it comes to cooking, try to stay out of a rut. I try and use a different ingredient each week and make a challenge of learning new dishes. To wrap this up, my final suggestion is to include a few cook books in your pantry preparations. Try to choose ones that are rich in recipes and less on the pictures, those that teach an actual cuisine such as Mexican, Thai, Basque, or Greek, and get a variety of them.