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6 Essentials Spices Everyone Should Have in a Kitchen Cabinet

Even if you don’t know Alison Roman’s name, chances are you’ve eaten a recipe the former Milk Bar pastry chef cooked up during her stints as senior food editor for Bon Appétit and Buzzfeed—or maybe she taught you how to finally nail the perfect pancakes over in The New York Times? Well, she’s dropped a whole bunch more perfectly seasoned brilliance in her first cookbook, Dining In. It’s packed with “highly cookable recipes,” as she calls them. “You don’t need a lot of equipment, you don’t need a lot of time, and you don’t need a lot of ingredients,” she explains. But what spices should you be stocking your cabinets with to pull ‘em off? Her six saviors are below.

Essential Spices

1. Fennel Seed

“I’m not someone who uses tons and tons of spices, but I do love fennel and reach for it pretty often. It’s great for simmering in something brothy or for grinding up and sprinkling on vegetables.”

2. Dried Chiles

“I’ll find a way to use any kind of dried chile—like Aleppo pepper, Urfa biber pepper, and whole chile de árbol, which I bring back when I travel to Mexico. You can find good-quality dried chiles online if they’re not available near you. If I’m sauteeing garlic and olive oil, I’ll always add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, and I just throw some whole chiles into a stew or a braise. I sprinkle Aleppo pepper on popcorn and use it to top a salad. Recently, I toasted a bunch of sesame seeds and mixed them with Aleppo pepper and flaky salt, and I keep that in a jar and put it on everything—I’ll even throw it in with the melting butter when I’m making eggs. I always want my food to be a little spicy, but I don’t like to use hot sauce because it can be too sweet or too vinegar-y—chiles really allow you to control the tanginess and the heat.”

3. California Olive Ranch Olive Oil

California Olive Ranch Olive Oil

“California Olive Ranch is a great all-purpose oil—nice enough to use on salads and eat raw but also inexpensive and sturdy enough to cook with. Having two different kinds of olive oil is a thing that a lot of chefs suggest, but I just could never do that because I’d run out of one and just end up using the other.”

4. Vintage Seltzer

“My fridge always contains seltzer water. There’s a brand that you can get in New York called Vintage. It’s in such a cool can—I don’t think they’ve updated their logo in 18 million years—and there’s something about it that I really like.”

5. Jacobsen Sea Salt

“I really love this salt from Portland, Oregon. I like the fact that it’s made in the United States, they really care, and their classic, flaky version is just excellent. The crystals are a really nice size. I made a roast chicken for someone the other day, and she said, ‘I make a roast chicken, like, every week, and I’ve never had one this good.’ I told her it’s probably just because I’m using more salt.”

6. Chile Oil

“This something that’s also always in my kitchen—I just went through a big batch of it. To make it, I cook some chile flakes, Szechuan peppercorns, and sesame seeds in peanut oil until everything is really toasty. You can stir it into anything!”


Written by: Maren Ellingboe

Photography by: Christine Han

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