Most chefs navigate grocery stores differently than home cooks. Instead of feeding a family, we’re often feeding a horde.
But getting ready, shopping smart, and post-shop prep are probably the most underrated skills of a great cook. Want to shop like a pro? Check out these tips.
Before You Get There
Prepare! Know what you’re looking for, and come armed with a list. Not only will you save time and money by sticking to what you need, you’ll also inevitably catch yourself if you’re hungry. I’ve still yet to meet someone who can make a grocery list while hangry.
When you’re planning your grocery lists and recipes, don’t be afraid to pick ones with funky ingredients. Fun, new items can add excitement in the kitchen. If you’re intimidated, choose recipes that combine only one or two new things with classic staples. Think grilled chicken with fennel bulbs, white fish with capers, or meatless lasagna.
Also, don’t be afraid of seafood. Many home cooks stay away from foods that seem finicky or difficult. But shrimp, fish, and other adventurous staples are anything but. You can Google tips and tricks for any ingredients you’re unsure about… the internet has amazing articles to help you with everything from fish to pork to souffles.
At the Store
When you get to the store, start with the veggies and go from there. Hopefully, produce will make up a solid chunk of your shopping. And there’s nothing better than feeling like you got almost everything done in one place. You’ll find some inspiration or fun things to try. I recently found a “cantamelon” (an extra-sweet cantaloupe, apparently) and bought it as a one-off. It was amazing.
Conventional wisdom says to stick to the outer perimeter of the grocery store - which is a mostly great idea, if not entirely impossible. If you’re going to stray from the outer edges, stick to products that are the least processed and the best quality for your buck. Switch from regular canned tomatoes to the San Marzano variety, for example, for a richer, less acidic sauce. Buy full-fat plain yogurt and strain it yourself for an authentic, non-grainy Greek yogurt. It’s easier than you think!
If you’re deciding between products, go for the one with the best ingredient list on its label - meaning the list with the most pronounceable ingredients. Ignore other label fluff, like “high in fiber” and “all-natural”. Most of those statements are just marketing.
But when it comes to organics? They’re not entirely necessary across the board - other than the “dirty dozen”. These are the foods highest in pesticide residue, so you should try to stick to the organic varieties where possible (and affordable).
Forever After (Until Next Week)
Shopping can be exhausting, but getting in some basic prep before you put your haul away can save major cooking time in the future. Wash, chop, peel and store in batches (everything except easy spoilers, like berries). When you pull out a pile of carrots for a big meal later, the prep is mostly done for you. Store washed and chopped veggies in a sealed contained lined with paper towel.
When it comes to storage, different items require unique solutions. Some fruits and veggies produce ethylene gas, which can prematurely ripen some produce. Avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, pears, plums and tomatoes should be kept away from apples, broccoli, carrots, leafy greens and watermelon.
Potatoes and onions should be kept in a cool, dry place - but not the fridge. You’ve been warned! And want the best out of your fruit? Cut the top off pineapples and store them upside-down. Seriously - it’ll (slowly) redistribute the sugars and make the fruit taste amazing.
Last but not least, compost everything that’s gone rotten. It can spoil the rest of your produce - so send it to vegetable heaven.
Good luck on your next grocery trip - you’re a professional now.