As a home cook, I cook almost every single day – from meal prepping for lunch to cooking full family dinners. In this expensive city, I’m sure there are many out there like me, who juggle full-time jobs while also struggling to buy groceries and cook at home as much as possible.

My daily struggle begins before I even have breakfast, when I fret about what to cook for dinner and the next day’s lunch. That is how far I plan ahead. Sometimes, when you don’t have the inspiration to cook or the time to buy groceries, you just have to rely on whatever’s left in the fridge and get creative.

Here are three items that have saved me a lot of trouble and time thinking about what to cook, ’cause they’re so darn brilliant on their own:

1) A jar of French chicken/duck/goose confit

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Photo credit: EatwithMeIstanbul

This is a really random item to have in a Hong Konger’s fridge. I actually got it randomly too when a friend was clearing out his fridge while getting ready to leave Hong Kong. It turned out to be the BEST. GIFT. EVER.

According to our friend Google, confit is a French word meaning “preserved”. In the confit method, meats are cooked in fat for a long time at a low temperature. This renders tough cuts like duck legs more tender, and when stored in fat in a cool place, they can last all winter long.

Shop-bought jars of confit usually come filled to the brim with stewed meat and jellied fat. A French colleague led me to the magical world of possibilities of cooking with confit, using the fat from the jar to make some truly delicious things. It’s like cooking with oil that is already so packed with flavour and aroma that you don’t have to try that hard to make your food taste good.

Image titleMake Hainanese chicken rice with chicken confit!

I tried making Hainanese chicken rice with jellied confit fat; it turned out to be my most legit and successful attempt so far. And then I made a quick pasta lunch by stir-frying the fat together with some mushrooms; it was heavenly and so fuss free. I also made fried rice with it and was blown away by how good a simple rice dish can taste simply by using confit fat.

I am sold. You can easily get a jar from upscale supermarkets that carry a large range of international items (think city’super).

2) XO sauce

Image titlePhoto credit: Food52

One of my favourite things from Hong Kong is XO sauce.

A spicy Chinese seafood sauce that is typically made with dried scallop and shrimp, I love the versatility of XO sauce. It goes extremely well with stir-fries, and it’s one of those sauces you can use when you have no inspiration to cook, but your dish will still taste good owing to all the premium ingredients that already exist in the sauce.

Italians will probably disapprove, but I do occasionally like experimenting with XO sauce to make an Asian-inspired pasta dish – it hits the spot with a spicy kick. Shop-bought XO sauces are good enough, but we also recommend the one from Sichuan specialist Chilli Fagara made with premium abalone for loads of umami seafood goodness.

3) Frozen proteins

Image titlePhoto credit: Add a Pinch

I usually have some sort of frozen protein stored in my freezer, used for emergency cooking. Sometimes I marinate meats, chuck them in the freezer and then thaw them whenever needed. If you don’t have time to head to the wet market for fresh seafood, get bags of frozen scallops and shrimp to store in your freezer. They are always useful in making quick and easy dishes like fried rice.

Do you have some brilliant kitchen hacks? Share them with us!

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