Jack Monroe: Top 11 storecupboard staples

  • By
    Lily Barclay - Senior writer - bbcgoodfood.com

Want to stack your kitchen full of budget basics? Jack Monroe's top 11 picks will mean you are never too far from a scrumptious, frugal supper...

Jack Monroe

Budget busting chef Jack Monroe knows how to whip up great, nutritious food to tight margins. In darker days, the keen food blogger and now cookbook author had just £10 a week to feed both herself and her little boy. We asked the ‘poster-girl of austerity’ her top 10 store cupboard ingredients... and she gave us 11!

Rice pudding1. Rice

The top store cupboard ingredient would be rice. It’s much more versatile than people think – you can make risotto out of it, paella, a pilaf, rice pudding, rice fritters… yes, I love a bit of rice! And it’s so cheap – 40p per kilo if you’re okay with white rice. People might say you should be eating brown, but really there are plenty worse things out there.

2. Chopped tomatoes

I go into a bit of a panic if I don’t have chopped tomatoes to hand: you can blitz them up into a soup, make a pasta sauce, a curry or a tagine. So if I’ve got a can of tomatoes in the house I’m good to make dinner. If I’m feeling a bit uninspired and there are no tomatoes I might get in a flap! Look at the price, too. 30p for a good quality tin of tomatoes.

Chilli con carne3. Dark chocolate

It’s one those things that sounds a little luxurious but it’s really not. You only need a couple of squares of it to get a really good underlying taste. You can use it in chilli, stews, in baking, or you can dice it up and spread it onto some white toast in the morning – that’s a lovely treat.

4. Booze

Wine or beer – they don’t need to be too expensive; you can get cooking wine from supermarkets for around a pound or a big bottle of table wine for about £3.50. You can get four cans of beer for a quid from most supermarket basics/value ranges. It’s pretty nasty stuff to drink but great in a casserole.

5. Woody herbs

I always have a woody herb on the go. So that would be rosemary or thyme growing on my window ledge. As an alternative, dried herbs start at about 30p per pack – that’s incredible flavour for very little money.

Parsley6. Fresh herbs

Parsley, basil or coriander go a long way. I’ll cook around what I’ve got but they can help transform simple ingredients into something tasty.

7. Oil

I use oil instead of butter when I’m cooking - vegetable or sunflower oil for everything, never olive oil. I think we came into a bit of an olive oil love-in in this country a few years ago where all the chefs started to use it and everybody raved about it. And okay, if I go out to a restaurant I like dunking some bread in some good olive oil, but to cook with every day you just need regular oil. People think olive oil is so much better for you but I use reverse psychology: if you use the oil that is worse for you you’re going to use less of it anyway.

Spice beans8. Baked beans

When baked beans are about 22p a can and a can of cannelloni beans comes in at around 70p, you don’t have to be a genius to work out you can have over three times as many beans if you just give them a quick spritz under the tap.

9. Kidney beans

Kidney beans are another popular bean. I can use them in chilli, make falafels, burgers, salads, and to pad out rice dishes. I love the texture, and they’re really filling.

Flour10. Flour

Great for padding out, lining and thickening dishes.

11. Frozen vegetables

Okay, so technically they wouldn’t be in my cupboard, but frozen green vegetables are an absolute Godsend. They’re so much cheaper than fresh vegetables and because a lot of them are frozen at source or within a couple of hours of being picked, most of the time they’re going to be fresher – not piled into crates and thrown onto lorries or aeroplanes. So I always have some frozen veg hanging round. They’re still nutritious, make no mistake, and so much cheaper than fresh equivalents.

Still hungry for more? Check out our budget recipes, cheap family meals as well as our dedicated section, full of expert advice for getting more out of your meals.

Do you agree with Jack's hitlist? What would you never be without in your cupboards? We'd love to hear your ideas...

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robertmalcolm's picture

Pretty much agree with all of this except the beer. I'd like to find cannelloni beans somewhere because I've not seen a tube-shaped bean yet :)
Couldn't do without pasta!
Money-saving tip for cooking rice - 1 measure of rice into 2 measures of boiling water, bring back to the boil, simmer (covered) for 2 minutes then switch off the heat and allow to stand for another 15 minutes. Your rice will be ready to serve.

fatmrsgeorge's picture

Fantastic tip about the baked beans. I always have lentils in my cupboard for making soup/ bakes/curries etc.

jaynepearson's picture

Ms Monroe was asked what she would keep in her store cupboard now, as a generally frugal cook, not what she spent her £10 a week on when that was all she had. Good for her! Especially as she's still sticking to frugal habits even now times are better. I think we all get fed up with hearing that people on lower incomes have to suffer poor diets - what a load of rubbish. It does take a bit of time and effort to make a decent meal out of cheap ingredients, but they can be just as tasty and nutritious as something where the ingredients cost a fortune. By the way - my tip for some pretty impressive Herbes de Provence-style mixed herbs - buy cheap sachets of individual herbs (eg tarragon, thyme, rosemary, basil) and mix them up in a large jar with some dried lavender flowers (purloined from a neighbour's garden or a public park if you have't got a plant yourself - you only need about three heads of flowers to give a lively tang to some mixed herbs). These would cost a fortune in Waitrose for a tiny packet. It's brilliant sprinkled on a chicken before roasting or a teaspoon added to bolognese or tomato sauce really perks it up.

BunnyMarbury's picture

I can vouch for the 30p herbs. They are from a major supermarket's basic range and even though my fortunes have improved, I still buy them, as I prefer them to other brands. Also, last I checked you can get dark chocolate from the same range for about 45p. A couple of squares can give you an anti-depressive boast when times are desperate.

alymead's picture

I find it hard to believe the £10 a week story...30p herbs? really? And dark chocolate and wine......that's half the budget blown already.

lisalouise73's picture

As stated in the above: 'cooking wine from supermarkets for around a pound'
Smart price chocolate is about 45p, and 30p herbs?
£1.75- still leaves £8.25 for the week.

£10 a week is hard to believe, but there are people out there who are actually doing it.
I think what we should be saying is: it's awful, in this day and age, for people to have to survive on so little.

Clarabel71's picture

If you go onto her Facebook page- a girl called Jack- or google her blog, you will find that unfortunately it was true, she only had £10 a week to feed herself and her toddler son. She made all her meals from scratch. Glad her fortunes have turned around.

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