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This or that substitutes for the kitchen

By: Ron Stoddard, Summit Chicago head chef | May 19, 2020

ChefI have been asked this a lot lately due to our inability to venture out on a whim to the grocery store. Even when you do make it to the store the item you are looking for is out of stock. I dare not ask the store clerks to check in back, so I just rely on what I have in my house. Here are some of my suggestions that I have learned over the years in the professional kitchen.

Yogurt vs. sour cream vs. buttermilk

Substitute equal portions either direction.

Baking tip: An easy swap for buttermilk in those heirloom banana bread recipes is sour cream or yogurt. The acid in both will give you what you need. Tenderizing the gluten, giving a little tang to your recipe and reacting with the baking soda that creates air bubbles.

Chicken stock vs. vegetable stock vs. water

In the commercial kitchen, we can sub water for vegetable stock. The reason we shy away from chicken stock is we want to keep our dishes friendly to our vegan/vegetarian customers. When at home, go old school and use chicken stock for the rice pilaf or cream of broccoli soup. You will enjoy the extra richness from the chicken stock. An easy vegetable stock can be made with onion scraps, carrot peels, herb stems and tomato scraps. Keep vegetable scraps through the week and when you have enough make a little stock.

Cream vs. milk vs. plant-based alternatives

Let me go back to that cream of broccoli soup. We had broccoli with our pasta the other night and I saved the stems, so I peeled them and followed my recipe, but when it came to the cream I didn’t have a drop. I know that I can easily add milk or even coconut milk. Coconut milk is a great item to stock in the pantry. It has a long shelf life and use it when you make your next cream of spinach and you will be surprised.

Pantry tip: There are many shelf stable dairy products on the market that can last up to a year. Ultra high pasteurization and sterile packaging keeps the dairy product safe from spoilage. Once opened, store in the refrigerator and use promptly.

Baking powder vs. baking soda

The easiest substitution here is baking powder for baking soda. Just use three times the amount of powder to soda. If the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking soda, go ahead and use 3 teaspoons of baking powder.

Yeast vs. no yeast

This is probably one of the biggest question these days. Everything about making bread is soul satisfying, from the kneading of the dough to the aroma of a fresh loaf in the oven. Instant yeast is probably the easiest to use, then there is fresh yeast, which is difficult to come by, and for the adventurous baker – the wild yeast. The latter is done by capturing yeast on fruit and then adding it to water and flour for a few days until you have a living thing in your kitchen which needs to be fed every day. I suggest going with a savory quick bread recipe that will be an easy substitute. Think of a cornbread.

Unsalted butter vs. salted butter

Some recipes call for salted butter, mainly streusel toppings for coffeecakes or older recipes you might have lurking in your family recipe book. Salted butter is good for the table to smear on your fresh baked quick bread and it can also stay out at room temperature without spoiling as fast. Transferring between the butters is easy. When substituting unsalted for salted butter, just add salt. Now, for salted to unsalted, just go easy on the salt around the dish. If using salted in a baked item eliminate the addition of extra salt.

Worcestershire vs. soy

This is a question that is asked in relation to making bloody Mary mix or cocktail sauce. An easy swap here is equal parts soy sauce to Worcestershire. They both will help you get the savory or umami flavor that you are looking for.

Meat vs. no meat

This is a very common question that we face every day. You can’t serve steaks every day, chicken gets boring, fish, I don’t know about you, but I like to cook fish on the grill. I hate to have a stinky house of fish. Try cooking beans. A great source of protein, affordable and many different types are available. Cheese is also a great source of protein. Revisit that grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. I always like to keep firm tofu around to make a quick stir fry with rice or toss together an easy vegetable tofu soup.

Now, any recipe can be conquered with confidence. Overall, use what you have and know that you can bend the rules a little when you know your ingredients. In the professional kitchen, we expect the unexpected. These substitutions were discovered from necessity. The vendor forgot to place an item on the delivery or I might have forgotten to order that one item. Sometimes, you have to pivot and change the dish completely. Just like I mentioned above about the bread. If you don’t have yeast just make a different style of bread. Other times, you can make a clean substitution. Sour cream to yogurt to buttermilk is as clean as it comes. Keep cooking and share recipes.



Ron Stoddard, Summit Chicago head chef

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