A Beginner’s Guide to a Spicy Pantry

Credit…Christopher Testani for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

The spring-cleaning itch has hit me nearly as hard as the pollen has. In the kitchen, that often looks like a pantry and freezer clean-out — and a restock. Every time I take an inventory of my spice rack, I’m gobsmacked by the sheer volume of chile products I’ve accumulated. But here’s the thing: They all have their rightful place in my cooking.

If you’re in the market for a kitchen refresh yourself, here is a (nonexhaustive!) list of pantry and fridge staples worth stocking to spice up your cooking, and thus, your life.

Dried chiles

A well-equipped pantry might have three different forms of dried chile: whole, flakes and powdered. Whole dried chiles, such as guajillo chiles or chiles de árbol, can be rehydrated by soaking or simmering them in water, so they can be easily puréed into smooth salsas, pastes or moles. They’ll add color, earthiness or heat (or all three!) to dishes like Rick Martínez’s chilaquiles.


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Red-pepper flakes (or crushed red pepper), often a blend of dried hot chiles and their seeds processed into uniform flakes, may be the quickest, most cost-effective and accessible path to heat. In Alexa Weibel’s simple arrabbiata sauce, one or two teaspoons of the stuff builds the fiery foundation of the classic tomato sauce.

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