12 Canned Foods Celebrity Chefs Always Have On Hand

The pandemic has taught many chefs, amateur and professional alike, that it's never a bad idea to have plenty of non-perishable foods in the pantry in case of emergencies. And canned food, in all its variations, is the poster child for doomsday preparedness. Any self-respecting bomb shelter will be piled high with it, so it shouldn't be too difficult to stock your pantry with some good quality, long-lasting canned foods.

That's not to say you should only use your canned goods in the event of a nuclear holocaust. Food is meant to be eaten sooner or later, so you may as well use it to add flavor to your day-to-day recipes, as long as you restock, just in case! However, not all canned food was created equal. If you've ever opened a can of gray beans that were supposed to be green, you'll know about the lower end of the spectrum all too well. But there is also such a thing as a high-quality canned good, dense with flavor and made with fresh ingredients, like freshly caught anchovies or tomatoes off the vine. These items might be exactly what you need to elevate a humdrum dish, which is why many celebrity chefs always have certain canned goods on hand. Let's take a look at some of the best options.

Giada De Laurentiis - always adds anchovies

Who needs salt when you have anchovies? That's exactly what Giada De Laurentiis must think when she stocks her pantry with cans of anchovies. Although we don't know exactly how many tins she has on hand at any given time, we can only guess there are a lot since De Laurentiis uses anchovies to flavor a number of her meals.

Funnily enough, you might not even notice when there are anchovies in a dish. You might think this feisty little fish has a very strong, distinctive flavor, but once added to other ingredients, it tends to dissolve and blend in seamlessly, leaving the overall sauce with a perfect balance of saltiness and umami. A great example of this effect is the classic puttanesca recipe, where the anchovies are sautéed early on and caused to break down and spread evenly through the canned tomatoes that are poured into the pan shortly after. Another example of stealth anchovy action is the classic Caesar salad. Although many recipes will omit this ingredient, the original relied heavily on anchovies to flavor the dressing, and it would be a shame to miss out on the extra kick they provide.

Alton Brown - can't go without sardines

Alton Brown has made no secret of his love of canned sardines, but he's also very particular about them in that he won't go for anything less than top-shelf sardines bathed in olive oil. This is because olive oil preserves the natural flavor of the sardines, while brine tends to dilute it. So, if you're going for flavor, which is what you should be doing at all times, opt for sardines in olive oil if the budget allows.

But what to do with them once you have them? Frankly, you can just lay them on a cracker and pop them in your mouth. It makes for an excellent and filling snack. But there are only so many crackers you can eat in one sitting. Other uses for canned sardines include tossing them into a salad, perhaps by using them instead of tuna in this colorful Nicoise salad recipe. You can also stray slightly from Alton Brown's rule and purchase sardines in tomato sauce and use them in this almond, dill, and sardine bucatini pasta.

Giada De Laurentiis - puts cherry tomatoes in everything

Next time you put canned tomatoes on your shopping list, consider changing that to canned cherry tomatoes. These tend to be sweeter and less acidic than larger tomatoes, which means you can confidently use them in sauces without the need to add sugar. In fact, you can substitute cherry tomatoes for regular ones in almost any recipe, instantly making it sweeter and more delicate. This seems to be what Giada De Laurentiis does with her canned tomatoes every chance she gets.

Start with this fast and easy marinara sauce, which calls for canned tomatoes, roasted garlic, sweet onions, olive oil, dried basil, salt, and pepper. Just make sure you cook everything before blitzing it all together in a food processor. You could even use canned cherry tomatoes in this classic lasagna Bolognese recipe. But don't forget to properly crush the cherry tomatoes before you add them to the cooked beef and pork mixture. In this recipe, it's important to keep ingredients small and bite-sized so you don't have any large chunks interfering with the overall texture.

Bobby Flay - reaches for the coconut milk

If you like to cook Thai curries or dairy-free meals, you might want to stock your pantry with plenty of canned coconut milk, as does Bobby Flay. Since red curry paste is one of the other ingredients we know Bobby Flay always has on hand, we think it's safe to say that he likes to use this element to make Thai red curries. Happily for us, this is a pretty simple recipe to make at home, especially if you follow our Thai red curry chicken instructions.

Start by baking the chicken at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes as you sauté the onions, garlic, and red curry paste. At this point, it's time to add coconut milk, coriander, and ginger to the pan. Once the chicken is done, add it to the coconut mixture with some spinach and serve over rice. A few sprigs of cilantro as a garnish will make a nice touch. For a dairy-free approach to a recipe that typically requires cow's milk, you can just use a simple 1:1 ratio in your swap when using coconut milk, including when baking.

Ina Garten - prefers San Marzano tomatoes

We all know pretty much what to expect from canned tomatoes. They're useful in sauces and soups and typically taste pretty good no matter which brand you use. But there is one type of canned tomato that towers above the rest: the San Marzano variety. This must be why Ina Garten prefers to use these canned tomatoes in her cooking. These oblong gems are slightly sweeter and less acidic than average, and they're only slightly more expensive.

Ina Garten, for one, uses them in practically any recipe that calls for canned tomatoes. In particular, she uses them in her penne arrabbiata recipe, where she blends together "an unbelievable amount of garlic" with the canned and drained San Marzano tomatoes, then adds whole chopped fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, red wine, salt, and pepper. But don't restrict your San Marzanos to only Italian recipes. They work well anywhere, including in this simple Shakshuka recipe, which calls for crushed tomatoes to be added to sautéed garlic, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. If you have yet to sense it, there is a theme developing here: A rich, creamy tomato dish with a hint of spiciness.

Ree Drummond - spruces up tomato soup

Having canned soup in the pantry may seem like a cop out, or something to hide from your food snob friends. But that's because they don't know that when you use canned soup, you don't have to just plop it in a pot, heat it up, and call it a day. You can actually use it as a base ingredient for a wide range of doctored soup recipes. Ree Drummond would know because she has canned soup in her pantry at all times and isn't ashamed to admit it.

One way in which she spruces up an ordinary canned soup is by starting with condensed tomato soup and making it special. In particular, she sautés some basil pesto in olive oil before adding the soup, along with diced tomatoes, for texture. This is when she pulls out the big guns in terms of flavor: sherry, dried parsley, and grated parmesan, along with salt and pepper to taste. Top this concoction with garlic butter croutons, and you'll never know any of it came from a can. Another simple canned soup hack is to thin out a thick soup with some water. Although this may lower the sodium content, you can keep the intensity of the flavor by adding fresh spices and topping the soup with good quality extra virgin olive oil.

Bobby Flay - pulls out the chickpeas

Having canned pulses on hand can help you instantly add a protein to your dish if you're all out of fresh meat or fish, which may be one reason why celebrity chef Bobby Flay keeps them in his pantry. They're also incredibly versatile, and can be used in soups, stews, sauces, salads, and dips. Chickpeas alone can pull off all this and more. Hummus, for example, is a great way to start out a party. Try taking a can of chickpeas and blending it with garlic, pickles, dill, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, and salt to create this dill pickle hummus recipe.

For your main dish, consider this traditional Roman pasta e ceci recipe, which is Italian for pasta and chickpeas. The secret to making it is to blend some of the chickpeas into a cream and keep the others intact, allowing you to thicken the tomato sauce with the pulse while maintaining the lovely texture of the whole chickpeas. Be sure to also add a pinch or two of hot chili pepper flakes, even if the recipe doesn't call for it.

Martha Stewart - does it with pumpkin

Canned pumpkin is something we all should have on hand in case we need to make a last-minute pumpkin pie leading up to Thanksgiving. The dessert is pretty much impossible to make without this canned good unless you want to toil away with an actual, live pumpkin and draw out the pulp like in the days of yore.

But we think it's time to get a bit more creative than that. After all, pumpkin has a delicious, sweet, and subtle flavor that pairs well with all sorts of ingredients, not just condensed milk and winter spices. One chef, in particular, has come up with the ideal recipe for using canned pumpkin for something other than Thanksgiving. Martha Stewart's grilled cheese sandwich with canned pumpkin is easy, delicious, and not to be missed. To make it, take a couple of spoonfuls of pumpkin puree from the can and mix in some Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Then, simply spread the mixture over your bread of choice and add the grated cheese and shavings of fresh sage. Then, continue preparing your grilled cheese as you normally would, making sure to cover the outside of it with butter before cooking it on your skillet.

Lidia Bastianich - keeps plenty of canned tuna

The star of Lidia's Kitchen and guest on a number of cooking shows, Lidia Bastianich was born in a fishing and shipbuilding town on the Adriatic Sea in what is now Croatia, although it was part of Italy at the time. As such, she has a strong and long-running relationship with fish, so it's no surprise that this celebrity chef likes to always keep a few cans of tuna on hand in her pantry. It's also no surprise that she primarily uses this tuna in Italian-inspired recipes, like pasta with marinara sauce enhanced with tuna, olives, parsley, and hot pepper flakes. She recommends keeping the tuna nice and chunky for added texture and to fully enjoy the flavor of the tuna.

But there are many other uses for canned tuna –- so many we certainly can't list them all here. So, we'll stick to the best recipes. This spruced-up tuna salad calls for the canned tuna to be mixed with mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, diced cucumbers, red onions, chopped red pepper, grated carrots, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread over sourdough or your favorite bread, and enjoy. Another top contender is this copycat Jimmy John's tuna salad, where the canned tuna must be mixed with celery, white onion, mayonnaise, soy sauce, salt, and black pepper and laid over a bed of lettuce.

Mary Berry - whips out the custard

Mary Berry is largely known as a sweet but firm judge on the legendary Great British Baking Show. As such, one would think that she'd be well above using store-bought ingredients over something she could easily make herself. After all, as per this Vanilla custard recipe by Mashed, the pudding is nothing more than a mixture of whole milk, heavy cream, egg yolks, vanilla, sugar, and cornflour. But in fact, Mary Berry has admitted to using canned custard and loving it.

That said, she doesn't just serve up the custard all by its lonesome. She actually uses it in her trifle, with the canned custard acting as a perfectly respectable time-saving hack, which is especially useful when you're making something as complicated as a trifle. In fact, canned custard would work perfectly well in this holiday trifle recipe that calls for pre-made vanilla custard. You could also use it as a shortcut in this cherry-pistachio trifle by mixing in some grapefruit zest to make the grapefruit curd.

Chris Oh - will never get over spam

SPAM is not usually considered to be a sophisticated food, and some might not even consider it to be food at all. But Chris Oh, of Um. Ma. in San Francisco, can't get enough SPAM and doesn't mind saying so. And hey, who are we to judge? We all have our guilty pleasures. Sure, in this case, the item is SPAM, but it's not like Chris Oh just eats it straight out of the can. He likes to deep fry, pan-fry, steam, boil and even put it in soups, sandwiches, and tacos. It's as if there's nothing he won't do with it.

So now that you know that even refined palates can appreciate SPAM, it's time to look at some recipes you might try at home using this ultra-processed ingredient. For something quick and easy, try a SPAM mac and cheese by first browning the SPAM, then simmering the macaroni in the milk until cooked through. Add cheese, butter, mustard, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt, and browned SPAM, top with breadcrumbs, and broil until brown and crunchy. For something even simpler (because what is SPAM for, if not to make your life easier but still delicious), simply slice the spam and cook it in a skillet until browned, then serve it alongside your scrambled eggs.

Bobby Flay - adds canned chipotle peppers

Bobby Flay is famous for many things, including his abiding love of the Southwest, and one of the many ingredients that scream Southwest cooking is chipotle peppers. And while you may have seen these used in a variety of forms, Bobby Flay likes to use store-bought canned peppers, especially to make collard greens. In fact, he likes to substitute the chipotle peppers for the more traditional smoked ham hock used in this recipe, thereby removing the meat while keeping the smokiness. It's the perfect vegetarian hack.

Luckily, you can do the exact same swap at home by following our Southern collard greens recipe and remembering to omit the ham and add the canned chipotle instead. After you prepare the greens, sauté the onions and garlic with the peppers before covering them in chicken stock. Add the greens and watch them slowly wilt under the heat, ensuring they fully sink into the liquid. This recipe calls for the pot to simmer for 2 hours until the ham is cooked, but since there is no longer any meat in this variation, your cooking time can be reduced. Just make sure you cook the greens and peppers long enough to allow their flavors to blend.