9 Chefs Share Their Favorite Canned and Frozen Foods—and We’ve Never Felt so Inspired to Cook
Apparently frozen veggies are *the coolest.*
When it comes to cooking, it seems like all anyone can think about right now—and for good reason—is shelf-stability. During a pandemic, bopping over to the grocery store for a carton of Brussels sprouts or berries, freshly fileted salmon, and a wheel of brie isn’t an option. Social distancing, folks: live it, learn it, abide by it.
That being said, cooking can be the most glorious and essential escape. And we’ve got plenty of time on our hands to work on our skills. That’s why we asked the pros—nine expert chefs from restaurants around the country—to share their own personal favorite canned and frozen foods for cooking. We hope you’ll find them as helpful, surprising (Spam!), and inspiring as we do.
Chef Hunter Evans of Elvie's in Jackson, Miss.
Canned: Chicken Stock
I always have chicken stockin my pantry. It’s so versatile and adds a ton of flavor. You can drop in any frozen vegetable for a quick and easy soup. My favorite thing to make is homemade egg drop soup when I’m feeling under the weather. It’s super simple: all you need is chicken stock, an egg, soy sauce and sesame oil.
It's a staple in my freezer. I always have one or two frozen plain cheese pizzas on hand. I like to add my own toppings. One of my favorite thrown-together meals is a brunch pizza: I bake it halfway then add sautéed mushrooms, crack a few eggs on top and pop back in the oven for a few minutes. It’s quick and so delicious!
Yunnie Kim Morena of Kim.Chi.Avocado in Los Angeles, Calif.
Canned: Coconut Milk, Tuna, Tomatoes, and Beans
A few of the staple canned ingredients I keep in my pantry include coconut milk, tuna, tomatoes and beans—each of these ingredients are so versatile and affordable. I like to make Thai coconut curry, Mediterranean salads, and cranberry dill tuna salad, which work well with these different ingredients.
I love to keep frozen fruits on hand like bananas, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, as well as frozen vegetables like spinach and broccoli. These are perfect for whipping up a nutrient-dense fruit and veggie smoothie for a healthy snack or dessert.
Executive Chef Ian Rynecki of Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyard in Charlottesville, Va.
Canned: Curry Paste and Canned Salmon
My first step is always to try and treat canned or frozen food as an ingredient instead of a complete item. For example, canned tomatoes either diced or crushed will make a great sauce base once you add the rest of the ingredients to turn an otherwise boring can of tomatoes into something special. Some of my favorites, and what I currently have stocked in my pantry, are canned curry paste and canned salmon. Tuna or sardines are additional tasty alternatives to salmon that are high in protein and can easily be added to different types of cuisine.
Frozen: Chicken or Vegetable Stock
As for frozen, I always have frozen chicken or vegetable stock on hand. Making your own stock versus buying stock in dry foods section of the grocery store will pay dividends quickly in terms of food quality. The dry packaged boxes are high in preservatives and lack flavor. If you can't make it yourself, buying stock from the frozen section is an appropriate alternative.
Executive Chef/Partner Jeff Chanchaleune of Gun Izakaya in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Canned: Spam and SpaghettiOs
Spam is a favorite—I like to sear a thick slice and enjoy eating it with a fried rice, or to be more basic, with a fried egg over steamed rice. I also love SpaghettiOs—it’s another nostalgic favorite that brings me joy. (It’s the little things in life, right?)
Frozen: Stouffer’s Frozen Lasagna and El Monterey Burritos
I’m a firm believer that Stouffer’s Frozen Lasagna is pretty tasty (for what it is) and convenient for feeding a large family. El Monterey Burritos are also a frozen necessity—you can fry it or microwave it, then smother it with cheese and salsa.
Co-owner and Executive Chef Maneet Chauhan of Chauhan Ale & Masala House and Chaatable in Nashville, Tenn.
Canned: Garbanzo Beans
They’re so versatile! I use garbanzo beans to make curries, soups, salad, hummus…the list goes on and on. For a snack, I drain the beans, dry them, add spices, and bake them. I also use the garbanzo beans to make Chaat and can use the liquid to make a meringue.
Frozen: Riced Cauliflower and Broccoli Mix
I love it because I can serve a delicious meal to my kids and sneak in a few veggies. You can also use it as a pizza base or make cauliflower balls out of it. I also make veggie chili out of it too. The sky is the limit!
Executive Chef Kraig Hansen of Fable Lounge in Nashville, Tenn.
Canned: Pinto Beans
I always have canned beans in the pantry. They’re so versatile and can add to fill any casserole or to complete any oven-baked dish. They also provide protein and carbs to keep the body loaded with fuel to burn. My personal favorite is pinto beans: they can be smashed into a refried bean for a layer dip or for the base for a taco bake. Pinto beans are also great added to ham hocks or turkey legs and slow cooked for a hearty meal that will reheat very easily for leftovers
Frozen: Ice Cream
I’m only really a fan of having ice cream in my freezer.
Chef/Owners Bryan Kidwell and Macks Collins of Piccalilli in Los Angeles, Calif.
There are so many different ways you can use good quality canned tomatoes. Our go-tos at home are chili, spaghetti sauce, and curry.
I like frozen fruit, like berries. They’re great for smoothies or quick, healthy desserts. You don’t have to worry about them going moldy or bad in the fridge.
Executive Chef Laetitia Rouabah of Benoit in New York, N.Y.
Canned: Whole peeled tomatoes.
I always make sure I have a can of whole peeled tomatoes on hand so I can make a red sauce “almost” from scratch. They’re a very versatile ingredient, as is the sauce I make with them. For a quick sauce, I dice the tomatoes and season them with herbs and spices, and you’re done! If you have frozen ground beef on hand, you can make a Bolognese for some pasta. I also always have canned chickpeas. I really enjoy making a hummus for a simple snack. All you have to do is purée them with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and tahini (if you have it). Salt and pepper to taste.
I always have the basics on hand: frozen fresh-cut vegetables, chicken, and fish. But my favorite of them all would have to be the vegetables. I chop them when they are fresh and freeze immediately, so they retain their optimal freshness. When I run out of fresh ingredients and am in a pinch, I can always unfreeze the vegetables and roast in the oven with herbs, spices, olive oil, salt, and pepper for a quick and delicious side.
Chef Garret Meyer of Sarto’s in Denver, Colo.
Canned: Cannellini Beans
I always have cannellini beans on hand, because they are so easy to use for many different dishes. You can puree the beans to thicken a soup or sauce, rinse and drain them straight from the can to add protein to a salad, or combine the beans with some other pantry essentials (including garlic, bay leaves, canola oil, vegetable stock, butter, salt, and pepper) to make a delicious, healthy and hearty cannellini bean soup.
Frozen vegetables, such as corn, peas, broccoli, and carrots, are great to have on hand to make an easy fried rice, soup, or if cooked properly, an excellent side to protein.