10 Essential Tools For Your Kitchen
After I recently started this blog, lots of people have been asking me – what do you use in the kitchen? What kind of equipment do you have? Do I have to buy a bunch of new stuff to start cooking?
These are all good questions and I’ll preface my answer with saying you can almost always deal with what you have (see: Alton Brown, Kitchen MacGuyver). It takes a little know-how, but don’t feel under pressure to wipe out what you have and start anew. If you want to become a serious cook, what I will suggest are the 10 tools that I use the most and recommend to everyone. Cooking requires equipment, just like any other activity and this is a great list to start from. I stress quality over quantity as you want to get the best stuff that you can afford – and it usually lasts a very long time (some with lifetime warranties).
1. 8-inch Chef’s Knife
A great knife is essential. Some good brands are Wustof, Shun, J.A. Henckel’s, and Global (the line that I use). These knives are probably more expensive than you think (this Wustof one is $120!), but a quality knife is of the essence. If you have a great knife, you’ve armed yourself with an essential kitchen tool. A sharp knife is always better than a dull knife – and safer since you don’t have to wiggle it around to cut that tricky tomato – it’ll slice right through. A chef’s knife will also take care of 95% of your cutting jobs. Find a nice knife shop that can sharpen your knives once or twice a year. If you live in Nashville, go to Davis Cookware & Cutlery Shop in Hillsboro Village (1717 21st Ave S). They do it right. Once you have this knife, you don’t really need more, but if you want 2 more good ones, get a serrated knife and a paring knife.
2. 10 inch skillet
In order to cook, you need a pan to cook in. This is the one you want. The one I use here is a Calphalon One Infused Anodized pan. You could just as easily do stainless steel or copper. For me, this pan is more than large enough to cook for 2 and up to 4. You can sear a steak in it, toss pasta into your sauce, toast spices, make hash browns, anything! If you have a larger family, opt for a bigger pan (say in the 12 inch range). You also want this pan to be heavy for even heat distribution.
I probably use my blender a lot more than I should. In the morning, I use it to make a smoothie. In the afternoon, I make a salad vinaigrette in it. In the evening, I use it to puree a soup or make a sauce. It’s a stalwart in my kitchen and I’m not sure what I would do without it. I have a Viking model, although I want to upgrade to this new fancy Vita-Mix one. These things are great. I make a lot of sauces with different components and if you want the sauce to look nice and smooth, a blender is the only way to go. Dump your tomato soup in there and buzz it until it’s smooth. It’s great to make vinaigrettes since you can open the top and drizzle in the oil so it emulsifies. You can make all kinds of purees for side dishes, like potatoes, carrots, peas, etc. If nothing else, you get to make my favorite treat – MILKSHAKES! Put some ice cream, a little bit of milk, and some chocolate syrup. Fuggeddabouddit!
4. Dutch/French Oven
This is just an all around good pan. Essentially, you have the fry pan for all the quick cooking stuff. This pan does everything else. You can make sauces and soups in here, you can do braises in here, you can even roast a chicken in it! I have a Le Creuset pot, which is made of cast iron so it’s really heavy and retains heat very well. I do use this pan for all my roasts because the pot actually acts like an oven (hence, the name). It can replace a roasting pan. The beauty of this pot is that it allows you to just throw a lot of vegetables, meat, and starch into the pot, cover it with some water or stock, and stick it in the oven for a few hours. Do that, and I’ll be right over…
5. Pepper Mill
You do grind your own pepper, right? The pre-ground stuff in a can, just doesn’t compare to freshly ground pepper. Black pepper is probably my favorite spice. Although, there are lots of peppers to experiment with – white pepper, pink peppercorns, green peppercorns, grains of paradise, and I even have some smoked black pepper (awesome stuff!). Buy your pepper whole and grind it fresh. Your cooking will dramatically benefit from this simple change. Try to get one where the grind can be coarser or finer depending on how tightly the top is screwed. This gives you some variety.
6. Food Processor
Like the blender, the food processor is an essential tool in my kitchen. If there are a lot of things I need sliced and don’t want to spend hours doing it, the food processor is a blessing. You can have all the ingredients for that salad or coleslaw ready in seconds! It’s also great for making any kind of pie dough or pastry. Lastly, it makes some of my favorite snacks – like hummus and pesto (especially when I have more basil than I know what to do with right now!).
7. Probe Thermometer
This thing is a life saver. Really. I bought it during Thanksgiving last year since I was cooking a fairly big bird and wanted to make sure it was cooked perfectly. With this thermometer, I didn’t have to worry at all. I set it to the temperature I wanted the turkey cooked at (161 degrees if you wanted to know) and I went about doing other things – spending time with family, friends instead of opening the oven every ten minutes. You essentially take the probe and stick it into whatever you are cooking at its thickest part. Set it to the temperature you want it to be done and when your roast reaches that temperature, the timer beeps. So you know it’s time to take it out and you know its perfectly cooked. How cool is that? Never have a burnt roast and forget about serving something undercooked. With this tool, it all comes out perfectly. It also functions as an instant read thermometer, so you knock out two birds with one stone.
Without a doubt, the utensil I use the most in the kitchen. I use it more than spatulas, wooden spoons, and whisks. You can turn meat or vegetables with them. You can take them out to the grill. You can move stuff around in the pan with them. I have like 3 pairs. Indispensable.
9. Box Grater
If your family is like mine, you go through a lot of cheese. This is what you want to grate it all. It has 4 faces for all different kinds of grinds. You can grate mozzarella on one side for pizza, or Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese on the fine side. You can even grate vegetables, like zucchini for zucchini pancakes or potatoes for hash browns. This one, from Kitchen Aid, comes with a a box you can put on the bottom, and if you have extra, you can put the lid on and store it in the fridge. Clever.
10. Mixing Bowls
I have a lot of these. I use them a lot, maybe even too much. I use them to make marinades, to make salad dressings, to combine ingredients for a pastry, to put purees of sauce in after I’ve used the blender, and to scramble my eggs. You can use them for mis-en-place (which is having all of your prep in separate bowls). Mine can even go on the stove to reheat something. They come in glass, stainless steel, and plastic. Some are decorative, some are simple. I have the simple, stainless steel variety and they are cheap. I think I got like 10 for $5. I can’t remember the last time I cooked a meal and didn’t use these.
Allright, well there you have it. Once you have all this stuff, you’ll be really well equipped in the kitchen and on your way to cooking success! Everyone will bask in your glory and you will turn out some amazing meals. Now, get to cookin’!