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17 Jun 2020

Exciting new ways to cook with store cupboard basics

Liven up your lunches and supercharge your snacks with our chef's expert tips using essentials commonly found in your kitchen cupboard

Stuck at home and with more time on our hands, many of us are having fun experimenting in the kitchen.

A quarter of Which? members told us that they have been more adventurous with recipes during lockdown and one in five are cooking from scratch more than usual.*

To help give you some culinary inspiration, we spoke to Ryan Simpson, joint chef proprietor of Orwells in Henley-on-Thames, which has won awards for its sustainable approach to food.

Here, he reveals inventive new ways to cook with store cupboard basics, including making your own pu00e2te, flatbreads, dips, desserts, pickles and snacks.

Going food shopping? Find out the latest coronavirus supermarket information.

Tinned fish

Whether it's tuna, salmon or sardines, tinned fish makes a great potted fish or pu00e2te.

Ryan says: 'Mix the drained fish with oil or melted butter (around 200g of fish for around 75g of fat) and add some seasoning. Mix roughly or blend if you prefer a smooth pu00e2te.'

Add tomato paste or puree, pepper and fennel seeds to salmon. While tuna works well with dried herbs such as dill or parsley, and you can also add cayenne pepper and chilli (or curry) powder for extra flavour.

Sardines in tomato sauce work well with basil and diced courgette, which have a lower water content than cucumber so they tend to stay more crisp.

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Tinned meat

meat fritters

Make a delicious retro dish - fritters - from corned beef, Spam or tinned ham.

Ryan says: 'Cut the meat into thick slices, and dip into a batter made from flour, egg and milk.'

Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes then deep or shallow fry until they are golden brown.

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Tinned baked beans

Fed up with the usual beans on toast? Use them in a cassoulet instead.

Ryan says: 'A cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole that traditionally contains meat and haricot beans, which is what baked beans are.'

Drain the sauce from a tin of baked beans, but don't throw it away, before putting the beans in a pan or slow cooker with some diced meat or leftover sausages.

Gently brown with olive oil, then add the baked bean sauce and stock, and simmer for two hours. Serve with rice, jacket potato or Jersey Royal potatoes.

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Tinned pulses

Homemade hummus

Ryan says: 'Whatever pulses you've got; make a houmous. You could use split peas, broad beans or even kidney beans. Who says it has to be chickpeas?'

Combine your chosen pulses with olive oil, tahini (or hulled sesame seeds), lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper, then blend to a paste.

Serve with crudites or homemade crisps or tortilla chips.

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Long grain rice

As well as savoury dishes, long grain rice can be used in sweet ones, too, such as rice pudding.

Put 100g of rice with 500ml of milk (preferably whole milk) in a pan and bring it to the boil.

Add nutmeg or allspice to taste, plus sugar to sweeten and cook until the rice is tender, stirring occasionally to help make the rice sticky.

Serve with sliced banana and chocolate buttons.


Impress everyone by making your own crisps, using potatoes you've got knocking around in the cupboard.

Slice your potatoes very thinly, then rinse them in cold water to remove the starch. Dry with a kitchen towel and use a fryer or cook in enough oil to submerge them.

Ryan says: 'Don't put too many slices of potato in the pan at the same time because this will cool the pan down and they won't cook properly.'


Pickling is a great way to use up carrots that are threatening to go off in the fridge.

Ryan says: 'Slice them into rounds or grate them, then put them in a bowl with two parts water to one part vinegar and add caraway seeds to flavour. Leave the mixture for three days.'

Serve with a burger or steak to add some texture and zing.

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If you've got a lettuce, but you've had your fill of salad, did you know you can cook it?

Cut it into four and pan fry it with a bit of oil (the sugar in it will give it a good colour).

Or Ryan says: 'Sprinkle it with cheese then pop it in the oven to roast for 10 minutes.'


If you've found yourself with flour to spare and want to cook up something different from a standard loaf (or maybe you can't get hold of yeast), go for a simple flatbread instead.

Ryan says: 'It's easy to knock up a flatbread. Mix flour and water together into a dough, then pan fry until it's lightly browned on each side.'

Load it with pan-fried leftovers such as salmon and chickpeas, or other combinations such as goat's cheese and caramelised onions, or cheddar, apple and pancetta.

Sweet spreads and condiments

If you've got jam or chocolate spread in your cupboards, there's plenty you can do with them besides spreading them on toast.

Ryan says: 'Chocolate spread is an amazingly versatile product. You can put it into a chocolate mousse or spread it inside a sandwich, then pan-fry it.'

Another trick is to take vanilla ice cream out of the freezer until it's slightly soft, then fold in the chocolate spread before refreezing it.

Similarly, put 1/4 jam to 3/4 natural Greek yoghurt and freeze it for a delicious, fruit-flavoured dessert.

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Savoury condiments and spreads

If you're running low on savoury basics such as gravy granules or soy sauce, a yeast extract such as Marmite is a great universal substitute.

It provides dishes with that umami experience you could be looking for, and it adds another flavour dimension when you're cooking fish, stews and curries.

Peanut butter is another ingredient that can add a lovely nutty flavour to whatever you're cooking or baking.

Sweetened varieties are great in mousses or to give a twist to chocolate cake or carrot cake.

Ryan says: 'The more savoury versions can be used like a tahini base if you make your own houmous, pulse-based dips or in a marinade.'

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Oats aren't only good for a hearty, healthy breakfast - you can also use them to make your own oatcakes or as a great alternative to breadcrumbs.

Ryan says: 'Oatcakes are so simple to make and are a great alternative to bread or crackers.'

Mix together rolled oats, flour, water and butter, then roll out and cut into 5mm-thick rounds before baking for 15 minutes.

Another use is in a 'pane coating', but instead of adding breadcrumbs to the flour and egg you use oats. 'It makes a delicious coating for mackerel,' says Ryan.

*In May 2020, we surveyed 5,619 Which? members.