A practitioner is only as good as the tools he uses to produce his work. Since I fancy myself a kitchen witch, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tools of the craft that help make cooking easier, faster, and more enjoyable.
My Essential Kitchen Tools
- Non-stick cookware w/matching lids – Non-stick cookware makes cleanup easy, and because of that, my set of non-stick pots and pans are my everyday go-to cooking tools. While it isn’t necessary to have a full set (you might even come out better with mix-and-match pieces), it is advised to spend a little extra for quality non-stick cookware that won’t chip and peel as soon as you start using them. For the basics, I recommend a large pot (suitable for pasta and soups), a medium-sized saucepan and a large skillet.
- Rubber spatula – A must-have for cooking on non-stick cookware so you don’t damage the non-stick coating.
- Stainless steel skillet or saucepan – To make a quality sauce, you have to get some caramelization on the bottom of the pan. Same goes for searing meats. This simply cannot be achieved with non-stick cookware. A single 12-inch saute or fry pan should be enough for most kitchens.
- Metal spatula – A must-have for scraping the caramelized bits (or fond) from the bottom of stainless steel pans. Never, ever use it on non-stick cookware.
- Baking sheet – I prefer metal baking sheets which help caramelize roasted vegetables and meats. For easier cleanup or non-stick baking, I line the sheet with foil or parchment paper. If you only have one, I’d recommend one with a lip or raised edge to keep food or juices from sliding off into the oven.
- Rectangular baking dish – Perfect for casseroles and cobblers.
- Tongs – Like having a heatproof pair of hands. Ideal for handling items in hot oil or water and for turning meats without piercing the skin and letting precious juices escape.
- Peeler – Why torture yourself trying to peel fruits and vegetables by hand? A peeler makes quick work of the task.
- Mandolin – While this isn’t an everyday tool, it comes in handy when I need thin, evenly-sliced veggies for salads. Works like a charm when making homemade potato chips.
- Mini chopper – While I do own a large food processor, I rarely use it because it’s so big and I’m not usually chopping huge amounts of food at once. My 4-cup mini-chopper is more practical for finely chopping fresh herbs and veggies when making sauces, salad dressings, salsas, soups and stews.
- Chinese skimmer – This handy tool is great for removing fried items from oil and for removing pastas (like ravioli, farfalle, etc.) or vegetables from boiling water.
- Latex gloves – I keep a supply on hand for messy manually-intensive tasks like forming meatballs, and for dealing with raw meats and poultry. Be sure to use the non-powdered variety.
- Mortar and pestle – Some folks swear by their spice grinder. For me, a good stone mortar and pestle are all I need to grind up a small amount of dried herbs or spices.
- Wok – Honestly, if I could only have one piece of cookware, it would be a wok. It’s versatile enough to use for boiling, stewing, frying, steaming, and even for popping corn. I have 3 in my cabinet, but prefer the hand-hammered steel one to the 2 non-stick ones.
- 2-3 good knives – Nothing makes prep more enjoyable than a good quality, sharp knife. There’s no need to get that variety set that comes in the wooden knife block, since you won’t use half of them. An 8-inch chef’s knife and 1-2 smaller knives (a 6-inch and/or a paring knife) are more than adequate for most kitchen tasks. Henckel’s or Wusthoff are the most recommended brands. The quality is well worth the price. The knives that this website recommends are of top-end quality, which is certainly durable and as sharp as to get through the meat to a perfect delicacy. You’ll have these forever.
- 2 cutting boards – I recommend at least 2 cutting boards – 1 for raw meats and 1 for veggies and other cutting tasks. Wood or plastic is up to you, but glass cutting boards can dull your knives faster.
- Knife sharpener – Your knives will get dull over time. To save the hassle of having someone else sharpen them and to protect your investment, get yourself a simple sharpener.
- Utility scissors – Couldn’t spatchcock a chicken without ’em! They also come in handy for clipping fresh herbs.
- Whisk – How else are you going to whip cream or make stiff peaks out of egg whites? A standard wire balloon whisk should be sufficient.
- Stick / hand blender – I mostly use mine for making smoothies, but it’s a godsend when I need to puree a soup.
- Wire colander/strainer – A must-have for draining pasta, beans and other items. Can also do double-duty as a sifter.
- Measuring cups / spoons – I hardly follow exact measurements when cooking my own recipes. But when following someone else’s or on the rare occasions when I bake, measuring cups/spoons are absolutely necessary.
- Parchment paper – As I mentioned before, I don’t bake often, but baking cookies and brownies on parchment reduces the risk of burnt-bottom (I mean, unless you’re into that) and makes cleanup much, much easier.
- Aluminum foil – See #5 and #23.
- Set of kitchen towels – When cooking, my hands are constantly getting dirty and constantly getting rinsed or washed between steps in the cooking process. One of the first things I do before cooking is make sure I’ve got at least one towel on hand. Most times I tuck it into my back pocket or toss it over my shoulder, so I have easy access to wipe or dry my hands or whip it out for more heavy-duty uses. In a pinch, I also use my kitchen towel to handle hot pans or lids.
photo 1: Auxillary home kitchen tools. by Special*Dark, on Flickr
photo 2: Baking Dish 2/14/11 by esimpraim, on Flickr
photo 3: mortar & pestle by ani!, on Flickr
photo 4: my fancy new measuring cups by knittygurl, on Flickr