Shelf life: The grocery items we can't live without (and what to do with them)

The Good Food team's go-to groceries.
The Good Food team's go-to groceries. Photo: Simon Schluter

We love our groceries here at Good Food. Not so much the supermarket-shopping part – marred by lines for the self-service checkout and (still) forgetting to bring reusable bags – but the discovery of a cracking new sauce range, cheese or tea. Stumbling upon, say, a delicious rice brand for the first time is the food-fan's equivalent of finding a new book from your favourite author. We can't get enough of the classic brands either – the comfort of a tried-and-true mustard, chocolate or tinned tuna is for all time (although certainly not all three at once). Here are the grocery items you'll find in the Good Food team's shopping baskets and pantries.

Pantry

Calasparra rice
$12 for a 1kg bag

A verdant paddy of rice lives in my pantry. Virtuous, biodynamic brown rice (which the kids hate), excellently fluffy brown basmati rice (which the kids tolerate), Ferron brand Vialone Nano rice for risottos, and this. It's been grown in the Murcia region of Spain since the 14th century, it's dense and nutty and, most vitally, absorbs all the flavour of the stocks and meats that grace your show-stopping rice-based dishes like paella. OK, I love the packaging too.
Ardyn Bernoth

Calasparra rice
Calasparra rice  Photo: Simon Schluter

Chimbote dulce de leche tradicional
$7.95 for 250g

Slather this dark, thick South American caramel spread atop baked cheesecake and scatter with caramelised macadamia nuts (thanks Ottolenghi!), dollop straight into a brownie batter slab, serve with ice-cream or sandwich thin shortbread biscuits. The dinky little jar stops any sneaky spooning sessions getting out of hand.
Annabel Smith

Cobram Estate extra virgin olive oil
$15 for 750ml

Chimbote dulce de leche (caramel spread).
Chimbote dulce de leche (caramel spread). Photo: Simon Schluter

What I love about extra virgin olive oil is its tradition, the taste of the terroir in which the olives are grown, and the distinct differences between aroma, intensity, bitterness, sweetness and astringency. I've spent a small fortune on the most beautiful and artisanal olive oils in the world, and I treasure them all. But what I also love is that here in Australia we now have olive oils like Cobram Estate that taste fresh and ripe and fruity and sunny – our own terroir – and that we can use them every single day without having to save them for "special".
Jill Dupleix

Currong Comestibles Riberry Shrub
$19 for 250ml

"Riberry shrub." Say what? Sounds exotic. But before you go Googling, this is basically a vinegar-based cordial made from the fruit of the lilly pilly tree. It's amazing stuff: sweet, slightly tart, softly spicy, and very, very smooth. Pour a slug in a tall glass of soda with ice and you're set for a delicious booze-free summer.
Megan Johnston

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Droste cocoa powder
$10.95 for 250g

Once you've baked chocolate cakes or brownies with unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder, you'll never go back. The cocoa beans are washed with an alkaline potassium carbonate solution, which neutralises their acidity. The resulting powder has a mellower flavour and a darker colour than the regular kind. Droste can be hard to find but the more widely available Van Houten is a good substitute. Guiding rule here: if it ain't Dutch, it ain't much.
Roslyn Grundy

Fish4Ever yellowfin tuna in organic olive oil
$8.99 for 120g

Currong Comestibles Riberry Shrub (cordial).
Currong Comestibles Riberry Shrub (cordial). Photo: Supplied

I feel a bit weird when I don't have a can of tuna in the cupboard. I love a good old-fashioned nicoise salad with canned tuna and loads of red onion, green beans, tomato, anchovies, olives, potatoes and soft-boiled egg. You need canned tuna for a creamy tonnato sauce with capers, anchovies and mayo, to spoon over steamed fish, poached chicken, or roasted red peppers and eggplant; or for tuna and white beans on toast, or spaghetti with chilli, tuna, and fresh tomato, and for tuna and egg empanadas. You just need canned tuna, OK?
Terry Durack

Gewurzhaus spaghetti alla bolognese
$9 for 40g

These dried flecks of garlic, capsicum, chilli flakes and oregano are like Italian flag confetti. I chuck two tablespoons into a big vat of spag bol and *kisses fingers*. Can also be used to perk up a pantry puttanesca sauce. AS

Gewurzhaus spaghetti alla bolognese spice mix.
Gewurzhaus spaghetti alla bolognese spice mix. Photo: Supplied

Herbie's Spices red curry mix
$4.90 for 35g

Fragrant Friday night curry in 15 minutes? It can be done. Simmer with chicken, capsicum, shrimp paste and coconut milk, then serve with rice and coriander. I always order a few packs at a time, and throw in some togarashi and butter curry while I'm at it. All three are garlic- and onion-free, which makes them a rare FODMAP-friendly find. MJ

Hikari shiro miso
$4.20 for 400g

Indo Mie Mi goreng instant noodles in barbeque chicken flavour.
Indo Mie Mi goreng instant noodles in barbeque chicken flavour. Photo: James Brickwood

Miso, or fermented soybean paste, is your gateway to the world of umami, that rich, mouth-filling savouriness that makes everything taste better. Best is the lighter, sweeter, milder shiro miso. It means you can make a warming miso soup in an instant, or make a simplified miso cod by coating fresh fish in miso paste before grilling. But don't just keep it stereotyped for Asian cooking. Slip a spoonful into a slow-cooked beef cheek or lamb shank stew or your usual bolognese sauce, for extra richness and depth of flavour. TD

Indomie Mi Goreng Rasa Ayam Panggang instant noodles
65 cents for 85g

I discovered these deeply savoury noodles, also known as the barbecue chicken or "blue flavour", in first-year university and they've never left my cupboard since. Hungover? Studying? Spent all your cash at the pub and it's a fortnight until payday? Indonesia's No. 1 noodle brand is your friend. The sachet trifecta of seasoned oil, kecap manis and chilli sauce is key to Indomie's success. However, I also like to enhance the serving suggestion with kimchi, miso paste and fistful of fried shallots. Fresh truffle works a treat in winter for peak high-low deliciousness.
Callan Boys

John West smoked oysters in oil.
John West smoked oysters in oil. Photo: Simon Schluter

John West smoked oysters
$2.75 for 85g

Come pay day, Saturday, or simply "I made it through another day", some people might slip a sneaky choccy bar into their grocery shopping. My choccy bar is tinned oysters. Affordable, perfectly portioned and so daggy they're cool (or so I tell myself), I peel back the lid, drain, splash with lemon juice and maybe a dash of Tabasco, a grind of pepper and savour each smoky, soft little nugget straight from the tin. Usually before I've unpacked the shopping. I've even considered carrying a small fork in my glovebox in case of emergency.
Andrea McGinniss

La Morena chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
$4.59 for 198g

La Morena chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
La Morena chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Photo: Simon Schluter

It's two products in one: smoked and rehydrated jalapeno chillies, and a hot, tangy and smoky sauce made from tomato, chillies, garlic, vinegar and spices. Chop the chillies and add them to Mexican dishes involving beef, beans or both, tumble through a cornbread batter, or spice up baked egg dishes. Mix the sauce into yoghurt or mayo for a dip or sandwich spread or into a hangover-busting bloody mary. Best of all, make Neil Perry's meatballs in chipotle sauce. You can thank me later. RG

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
$3.40 for 290ml

There's debate among fans of Lea & Perrins finest regarding whether the brown sauce is an ingredient or condiment. Personally, I'm on board with Team Ingredient, but admit there's strong arguments on both sides of the fermented fence. Worcestershire's salty-sour tang of vinegar, tamarind and anchovy is brilliant for cutting through rich soups and stews, marinating steak, adding kick to gravy and super-charging shepherd's pie. Team Condiment may hold the trump card, however, that is cheese on toast. Thick-sliced sourdough covered by gooey cheddar without a dash Worcestershire sauce is unfathomable, especially at home on the couch with a Roger Moore film or three. CB

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Lee Kum Kee spicy black bean sauce
$4.49 for 226g

This is the sort of lifesaving condiment that keeps forever in the fridge and makes everything it touches taste better – assuming you enjoy chilli heat. It adds a umami-riffic flavour to chicken or tofu stir-fries or steamed greens, and it's flavoursome enough to make a bowl of plain rice interesting. Mix with soy sauce as a dip for dumplings or stir a spoonful into mayonnaise to serve with pan-fried salmon. RG

Lindt 70 per cent chocolate
$4.25 for 100g

Lindt 70 per cent dark chocolate.
Lindt 70 per cent dark chocolate.  Photo: Janie Barrett

Because, Netflix. And because, flourless chocolate cake. But mainly, Netflix. JD

Los Novios smoked paprika
$19.99 for 1kg

Yes, I admit I sprung for the larger size for its decorative primary-coloured tin emblazoned with a cartoon bride and groom, but this Spanish paprika and paella are a happy marriage – the ahumado (smoked) variety adds oomph to a sofrito flavour base. Also great in a tomato, chorizo and caramelised onion tart (¡hola picnic season!), or sprinkle the deep red velvet powder on cold leftover boiled potatoes and shallow fry in a glug of olive oil. AS

Los Novios smoked paprika
Los Novios smoked paprika  Photo: Simon Schluter

Maille Dijon Originale mustard
$4 for 215g

The office lunch at our place involves sourdough baguette, ham, cheese and pickles. And mustard, lots of mustard. Maille is my benchmark – rich, smooth, with a kick of heat and a touch of vinegar. It's also the basis of every salad dressing I make, the magic ingredient of my steak tartare burger, and the secret behind my schnitzels and lamb cutlets – just coat with mustard and press into panko breadcrumbs before frying. TD

Maldon sea salt flakes
$8.50 for 240g

Lee Kum Kee spicy black bean sauce
Lee Kum Kee spicy black bean sauce  Photo: Simon Schluter

These little seasoning diamonds from Essex in England are my salt BAE (before anyone else). Sprinkle the perfect little crystal pyramids on steak, smashed avocado, sliced tomatoes. The classy, glassy flakes add noticeable crunch to homemade salted caramel. Finding an intact giant pyramid in the pack is like finding a four-leaf clover. AS

Mariage Freres English breakfast tea
$35 for 100g

My day cannot begin without English breakfast tea. I have slurped my way through hundreds of different types. For flavour, elegance and depth, this is my favourite. Loose leaf in a warmed pot; good morning world. AB

Maldon sea salt flakes.
Maldon sea salt flakes. Photo: Simon Schluter

Mutti San Marzano tinned tomatoes
$3.99 for 400g

A pantry without tinned tomatoes is like a freezer without those little oven-bake dinner rolls perfect for making chicken nugget sandwiches (don't fight the urge now the idea's been planted). I'll use about four cans of tomatoes a week, usually in a ragu, often in minestrone and sometimes with red wine-braised brisket if there's people coming over. I find Mutti's whole-peeled San Marzano pomodoros are the best in their price range, with a vibrant fruity flavour capable of energising the laziest of Tuesday night pastas and taking lasagne to new heights. CB

Ortiz anchovies
$15 for 47g

Mariage Freres tea.
Mariage Freres tea. Photo: Steven Siewert

The king of tiny fishes, there's no savoury dish an Ortiz anchovy can't improve. Serve them on sourdough toast rubbed with garlic and olive oil, melt them down in a pasta sauce, slip them under the skin of a leg of lamb – they add a roundness to everything I cook, and make me feel like a genius. They are always on my pantry shelf so I know even if I haven't been home for weeks, they'll always be there to greet me. Myffy Rigby

Red Seal Black Adder liquorice tea
$5.86 for 100g

If you appreciate the flavour of licorice root, Black Adder delivers on the pack's promise: "deliciously sweet comfort". I find its combination of licorice root, fennel, peppermint and anise very soothing after a rich meal, and it's sweet enough to substitute for dessert. Fun fact: licorice root gets its flavour from glycyrrhizic acid, a chemical 50 times sweeter than sugar. RG

Ortiz anchovies in olive oil.
Ortiz anchovies in olive oil. Photo: Simon Schluter

Long Lane small capers
$25 for 150g

These tangy, aromatic Australian flavour bombs blitz the imported variety. I lob the salted flower buds into everything from scrambled eggs with parmesan and potato salad, to my favourite store cupboard tuna pasta dish. A small ziplock bag of the salt-preserved capers is a camping cook's secret weapon. RG

Spiral Foods Japanese sesame oil
$9.95 for 250ml

Red Seal Black Adder liquorice tea.
Red Seal Black Adder liquorice tea.  Photo: Simon Schluter

Cheaper sesame oils are often poorly made and roasted to a point where a couple of drops can overpower a whole dish. Spiral Foods cares about your dressings and stir-fries, though, and this cold-pressed oil of dark roasted Japanese sesame gives a beautiful nutty lift to noodles, salads and tamari-brushed steak. Melbourne-based Spiral Foods also imports a terrific genmai (brown rice) miso from Japan that I can't stop using to poach chicken and broccoli. CB

Villa Rossi cannellini beans
$1.29 for 400g

It doesn't really matter what's for dinner – it could be pan-fried king salmon, roast chicken, grilled lamb chop, baked ratatouille, garlicky prawns or steamed mussels – it will be better with white beans. Drain, rinse and gently heat white beans in extra virgin olive oil with thyme and rosemary, then douse in lemon juice and toss with lots of cracked black pepper. JD

Vita-Wheat 9 Grains.
Vita-Wheat 9 Grains. Photo: Simon Schluter

Vita-Weat 9 grains
$3.50 for 250g packet

I never crave sugar, always carbs. These guys are my favourite adaptable snack base to load with cheese, pâté, tomatoes, plain butter, avocado or anything I have lying around (which sometimes is almost nothing come the end of reviewing season – critics' fridges are sadder than you may imagine). They're actually nutty enough that I eat them on their own. Sue me. Gemima Cody

Fridge

Aldi quark
$2.49

Aldi low-fat quark.
Aldi low-fat quark.  Photo: Megan Johnston

Nuttier than cream cheese without the sourness of yoghurt. My quest to find the protein-rich spoonable European cheese in Australian supermarkets always came to nought, until the day I excitedly stumbled across it in the Aldi dairy aisle. You could bake with it, I suppose, top with fruit or spoon on muesli. But my favourite is to slather it on rye with jam for a sweet morning or afternoon snack. MJ

Dodoni feta
$15 for 400g

I have a best buddy who is Greek. Her mother migrated from the Peloponnese in the 1950s. She tried every feta in Australia, this is the one she chose. Who am I to argue? The tangy, salty, creamy slabs of sheep and goat's milk curd sit in our fridge waiting to adorn sliced tomatoes, red onion, green capsicum and dried oregano-flecked cucumber and olives. Yep, a Greek salad of the most traditional kind which, with any type of lamb on the barbie, totally sorts your summer. AB

Dodoni feta.
Dodoni feta. Photo: Simon Schluter

Farmers' Union Greek style yoghurt
$5 for 1kg

Tart, unsweet and as thick-set as Trump, I use it for breakfast, smoothies, mixed with tahini to dress roast pumpkin and in place of sour cream for quiches, cakes (especially chocolate cakes), baked potatoes, and in a dressing for potato salads to make a sharp, still creamy but egg-free version. One of my favourite baked custard desserts uses one cup, to two eggs, two tablespoons of dark sugar and a bit of vanilla, slow-cooked over any stone fruit. GC

The Fermentary raw kimchi
$12.50 for 350g

Farmers' Union Greek style yoghurt.
Farmers' Union Greek style yoghurt. Photo: Simon Schluter

Sharon Flynn's kimchi from her Daylesford Fermentary is funky-fresh. Arrange a few of the red-speckled cabbage squares over slices of mature cheddar for a top-notch toastie. Also great chopped up for fridge-raid fried rice with bacon, spring onion, peas and fried egg. AS

Kerrygold butter
$6 for 250g

My longtime love affair with Irish produce begun over Guinness but grew serious over dairy. The rolling green hills must do something magical to the cows – Irish butter is creamier, naturally softer, and, slathered over soda bread, is wickedly wonderful. Kerrygold, made in Ireland from the milk of grass-fed cows, is the most iconic, and is now widely available in Australia. Be still my struggling heart. AM

The Fermentary raw kimchi.
The Fermentary raw kimchi. Photo: Supplied

Kewpie mayonnaise
$4.90 for 300g

I was Hellman's for life, or so I thought, until my later-in-life first encounter with Kewpie mayo. There's something about this thick, creamy, umami-rich condiment in its cutesy squeezy bottle that leaves me weak at the knees. It might be that it's made with rice vinegar instead of distilled vinegar. Or it may be the MSG. Whatever. Slathered on a fish finger sandwich, swirled into Sirena tuna for a sandwich, squiggled onto fried chicken or just squirted straight onto the finger from the fridge, it's definitely the best thing to ever come out of a red nozzle. AM

Macro hard tofu
$4.60 for 500g

Meredith Dairy marinated goat cheese.
Meredith Dairy marinated goat cheese. Photo: Simon Schluter

People often ask me what I eat when I'm at home. And they're always horrified when I tell them the truth. Which is, very little and very rarely. So for me, a solo home-cooked meal needs to be something gentle and soothing and not particularly fatty or salty. I like to marinate a slice of firm tofu in fish and soy sauce, then pan-fry it and serve it with steamed broccoli. If I'm feeling frivolous, I'll occasionally fry an egg, too. Go ahead – judge me. I don't care. Because if it's not that, it's Weetbix, honey and bananas. MR

Meredith Dairy goat cheese in olive oil
$13-$16 for 320g

This adaptable beast is on my apocalypse list ahead of some of my family. You can turn the one vegetable left in your crisper (sliced tomatoes, steamed broccoli, roasted carrots or beets) into a legitimate dish with a couple of notches of the tart, creamy cheese and a splash of its garlicky, thyme-infused oil. Ditto any carb: spread on crackers, a heel of bread or stir through pasta. Got a veg and carb? You have something properly excellent. When empty, use the oil for salad dressing or to fry eggs. GC

Kewpie mayonnaise.
Kewpie mayonnaise. Photo: Simon Schluter

Ocean Blue mini blinis
$5 for 205g

One of my favourite things to do in those crazy days before Christmas is to take a side of ocean trout or king salmon, and cure it with beetroot, dill and gin. Then when anyone drops in, I just rip open a pack of these mini blinis (get them from Coles or Woolies), warm them in a hot pan or in the oven, and send them out with horseradish sour cream, cured fish and salmon caviar. Everybody who tries them goes off to buy them for themselves. I need to get myself shares in this company. TD

Wing Hong Lup Chong
$8.06 for 175g

Birds Eye garden peas.
Birds Eye garden peas. Photo: Simon Schluter

Smoked, sweetened, seasoned with rose wine (mei kuei lu) and soy sauce, and then dried, lup chong is the pork sausage you can keep in the fridge door for months on end. I steam it for 10 minutes first to soften it, then slice it and chuck into fried rice and noodle dishes. It's particularly good over steamed fish with spring onions and soy; or crisp-fried and scattered over Chinese fried eggs for breakfast. TD

Freezer

Birds Eye garden peas
$3.70 for 1kg

My love of frozen peas goes back to growing up on the family farm, and the excitement and anticipation of the huge pea harvesters that would trundle down the road at midnight to capture the peas at the height of their sweetness. Now, I feel insecure if there is less than a kilogram of them in the freezer. What if I wanted to cook a roast, or make fried rice? I love mooshing them into a puree, adding a handful to a rocket salad with parmigiano, throwing them into omelettes and fritters and adding them at the last minute to stews and soups. JD

Ho Mai yum cha entertainer pack
$14.99 for 1kg

Ideally, you want a frozen yum cha box featuring prawn toast, but any combination of spring rolls, dumplings and cocktail samosas will do (money bags are a bit rubbish, to be honest). Timing is vital when using an entertainer pack to entertain. Whip the box out too early and you'll be judged as a cheap host who couldn't be stuffed fashioning a crudite, let alone pleating a few homemade gyoza. It's a different story after the party's gone through a case of riesling, however, and yum cha straight from the oven becomes factory-made manna from heaven. CB