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Peter's traveling pantry (Recipe: green shrimp or fish curry) {gluten-free}


Guest post and photo by Peter in Brazil, chef and co-owner of Pousada do Capão

All this talk about the perfect pantry and peeking in other people's pantries makes me wish I had taken a few photos of the mobile pantry I put together while working as a personal chef in Rhode Island, before I moved to Brazil.

My traveling pantry was a work of art.

I really didn’t want to mix business with pleasure in my new personal chef venture, so I decided to buy everything new for my traveling pantry, except for exotic or expensive or rarely-used herbs and spices that I already had on hand in my kitchen. The same philosophy applied to utensils and tools; I did buy new pots and pans for preparing clients' meals onsite in their kitchens, but I used my own blender and Cuisinart.

I found a sturdy cardboard flip-top shoe box perfect for my condiment kit -- deep enough so the standard size Penzeys bottles and supermarket tins would be able to stand upright.

Then, I exhumed an old purple plastic milk crate that had once held my LPs (okay, not just old... antique!) for the staples. And everything else I packed into assortment of plastic restaurant bus tubs (the kind used for carrying dirty dishes from the table to the kitchen), Rubbermaid storage bins, and thermal bags, carefully selected to fit in the back of my Subaru.

In building my traveling pantry, I planned to start with just the basics, and then add as new client menus called for additional items. I cleaned out my kitchen cupboards to see whether I already had any duplicates in the far recesses. I found doubles of thyme leaves, sea salt, oregano, cinnamon, whole cloves, and a grinder with a four-pepper blend.

I began by shopping for the basics: bay leaves, basil, savory, marjoram, crushed red pepper, sweet paprika. Herbs and spices would be color-coded for ease of access. I bought round stickers –- neon green for herbs, hot pink for spices, bright yellow for anything else -- wrote the names of the items on the stickers, and stuck the proper color sticker on top of each jar or tin. Then the staples were organized in the purple milk crate: olive oil, vegetable oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic, Dijon mustard, honey, white sugar, flour, cornstarch, tomato paste, bread crumbs, garlic.

It was amazing how fast my traveling pantry grew as the jobs came.

My first personal chef gig was a 12-meal plan, four servings each of: Venetian scallops with a jardinière; Greek chicken pie with spinach in onion cups; and slow-roasted pork loin with lime mojo and oven-roasted root vegetables. So I added nutmeg, dill seed, chili powder, ground cumin to the shoe box, and sherry vinegar to the milk crate.

The second menu offered green shrimp curry over rice with tamatar bhurta, pastizzada (Venetian pot roast with polenta), and turkey meatloaf with twice-baked sweet potatoes. Turmeric, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick went into the shoe box and coconut milk, ginger root, lemon, beef bouillon, white wine, cornmeal, corn flour, and San Marzano tomatoes went into the milk crate.

Before I knew it, the number of ingredients was outgrowing the confines of my traveling pantry. But did I cut back? No!

Instead, I opted for a swing pantry –- a bus tub in the closet where I kept traveling pantry items that didn’t need to travel to a client today, but might be swapped in tomorrow. I could also stockpile sale items that I knew I would eventually use. This worked like a charm; before a new job I would simply move the things I wouldn’t be using from shoe box and milk crate to bus tub, and move things I would need from bus tub to shoe box and milk crate.

Imagine my friends’ and family’s delight when I had to give away the contents of both my kitchen and traveling pantries as part of my big move to Brazil. Doubles of almost everything made everybody happy!

Green shrimp or fish curry

Adapted from The Complete Oriental Cookbook (Marshall Cavendish Ltd., London, 1978), this recipe pays tribute to Lydia’s recent ginger, turmeric, and lemon posts and to the early days of my traveling pantry. Serves 4.


1-1/2 inch piece ginger root, peeled and chopped
3  cloves garlic
4  green chiles, seeded
6  Tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
1  Tbsp coriander seeds
Juice of 1 lemon
2  cups unsweetened coconut milk
1/3  cup vegetable oil
1-2/3  pounds shrimp (or firm white fish, cut into portions or 2” pieces)
2  medium onions, chopped
1  tsp turmeric
1  tsp mustard seeds
1  tsp salt


Put ginger, garlic, chiles, coriander leaves and seeds into a blender with the lemon juice and enough coconut milk (4 oz) to blend to a smooth paste. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the shrimp (or fish) and fry, turning occasionally, for 5 minutes; shrimp should be just pink, fish should be just opaque. Set aside. Skim off a bit of excess oil from the pan juices.

Add the remaining oil to the pan and fry the onions until golden. Stir in turmeric, mustard seeds and salt and fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the spice paste and fry for 5 minutes,
stirring constantly. Return the shrimp (or fish) and juices to the pan and coat thoroughly in the paste. Pour in the remaining coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and very gently. Serve over basmati rice.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Pineapple shrimp curry
Green chicken curry with eggplant
Egg curry
Curried squash, apple and pear soup
Avocado coconut milk ice cream
Vietnamese rice stick noodle salad with caramelized shrimp

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How cool to have a traveling pantry. Sounds so well-stocked. I like all the ingredients in this recipe. Yum!


So were there more than Lydia's total of 127 items?

Peter, you sound amazingly well-organised! Which reminds me that I need to organise my own spices a bit better because my partner can't seem to find anything when he cooks. This recipe sounds terrific & using spices & ingredients that I usually have.

That curry sounds so warm and satisfying. I love curry.
I think your sticker organizing for spices is a great idea. Hubby does it for wine - in the rack (about 60+) he has red for the ones that have to lie down for a long time. Yellow that should lie down for a little bit. Green for the ones that are ready to drink and blue for the ones that should be consumed fairly shortly. Now I don't have to worry about opening up the wrong one if neighbours drop by.
This would be good for my herbs and spices, I have over 100 and it keeps growing.

Just so comforting to eat with steamed rice....love it!

What a fabulous tale from your days as a traveling, personal chef. I can only imagine the level of organization you had to maintain! Thanks for sharing such an enjoyable read.

I've used a similar system for catering, but your pantry sound much more well stocked than mine! You must have some great stories!

Paz - the recipe is really simple and the combination of flavors is very rich and warm and comforting. Try it.

Mae - by the end of my personal chef stint there were lots more than 127 items in those boxes and tubs and crates, but I never did actually count.

Nora - in my own kitchen I tend to be less organized too. I know where everything is, but others would be hard pressed to find things easily. On the road though order was a must.

Natashya - 4 colors! What a great idea! My problem with wine is that I never can seem to keep them in stock...

Tigerfish - rice is the best with almost anything. And the spicing in this curry is very comforting.

Sandie - you're welcome. Organization was a must - especially on the 2-gig days!! Lots of lists and very few slip-ups.

Aimee - I do have some good stories, but so must you as a caterer. I used to always do new menus just so I could buy more ingredients for the pantry...

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