The best ingredients are at your fingertips, the most prominent and flavorful of spices are within your reach, and the recipes that whet your palate are in front of you. Yet, there is one last component that needs to be discussed: your kitchen tools.
Kitchen tools, or utensils, are the brushes to your art and the hammer to your building. They need to be kept in top shape, but do not necessarily need to be the most expensive item on the shelf. And like tools, they should be comfortable to use and have multiple or important uses in almost every recipe.
However, kitchen tools are not appliances. Blenders, rice cookers, and any other electrical doodad or doohickey will not be on this list. Although they are indeed helpful, we’re focusing on the most commonplace items that are both affordable and realistic for any home cook or college student to have, regardless of kitchen size or experience.
1. Kitchen Knife and Two Cutting Boards
Contrary to every infomercial out there, a chef usually needs only one knife in the kitchen. Instead of buying those $200 set that promise you 35 different knives with glow in the dark handles, invest $40-60 in a reliable knife that is comfortable in your hands and can be used every day. My personal favorite knife is a Japanese Santoku knife that is easy to control and has lasted me about 4-5 years. Visit a culinary store to test out different knives and ask about what knife will suit your needs, whether you slice and dice meats or mince vegetables.
The supporting actors to your kitchen knife are your cutting boards (two, to be exact). A solid recommendation would be a ceramic or non-porous surface for meats and a wooden one for vegetables. Having two cutting boards will allow for cleanliness and prevent contamination of your ingredients during your preparation period.
2. Whisk/Wooden Spoon/Spatula/Tongs
These four handheld tools will help you prep everything from batters to stews to steaks on a grill. Indispensable in their own right, they will ease the cooking process when you need to make almost any recipe that requires the use of a mixing bowl, pot, or pan.
The whisk is useful in many dessert and batter recipes. By controlling how fast and softly you mix, the whisk can make an aerated and light batter for desserts such as Tempura Ice Cream or a creamy sauce such as a Sabayon. Masterful use of the whisk will elevate your dishes to a new level by controlling consistency and speed.
The wooden spoon adds flair to many stews because it does not react to acidic ingredients like metal mixing spoons do. At the same time, its lack of conduction with heat allows you to easily keep stews moving.
The spatula and tongs are your two closest friends in handling foods with ease and care both on and off the stovetop. They’re used in almost every recipe that requires you to move food around on top of heated surfaces with safe measure. Although metal does react poorly with some ingredients, my recommendation is to invest in a sturdy metal or aluminum spatula and tongs to prevent them from melting in dishes that require high heat.
3. Vegetable Peeler/Grater
The vegetable peeler and grater are greatly underutilized in the look and feel of dishes. Like a knife, find one that is comfortable for you to use and doesn’t strain your fingers as you skin and peel tough vegetables. A vegetable peeler can be used to make potato or any type of vegetable chips while a grater can be used to make garnishes out of different ingredients that fall outside the range of zest and herbs.
4. Cast Iron Skillet with Lid
The love of many chefs out there, the cast iron skillet can impart the perfect sear and lovely flavors when used to its fullest potential. Although a non-stick pan does do the kitchen justice, very few pans have the luxury of being used on the stove, in the oven, and on the grill without fear of rusting and damage. Having a solid lid also allows for different cooking methods to accompany one another as this multitasking tool is both practical and enjoyable to use.
5. Cast Iron Dutch Oven
Although many people do carry at least three or four pots in their kitchen, no stew can be as delicious as it can if not cooked in a dutch oven. The uniformed heat distribution and sturdiness of a Dutch Oven is just as versatile as its relative, the cast iron skillet. This wonderful tool allows for all the ingredients to be prepped in a single vessel and can be used with even more diversity than any other pot or pan in your kitchen. Having one of these in your kitchen is definitely a must have for those winter months or summer camping trips.
6. Kitchen Scale
Baked desserts and seared meats rely on this tool to ensure accurate measurements and appropriate cooking times. The kitchen scale, whether spring or digital, will allow you to make sound choices when it comes to creating the most delectable cakes or ensuring that perfect medium or rare doneness on steaks. Although its uses may seem more limited than its friends on this list, it does play an important role in defining the final product of many dishes, especially for up-and-coming bakers.
7. Kitchen Thermometer (Preferably Digital)
For those who love steaks, meats, and deep fried goodies, a kitchen thermometer is an absolute must to measure if the oil is just right for those fries or the steak is at perfection. Like its digital relative, the kitchen scale, the uses for a kitchen thermometer may seem lacking as other tricks of the trade can help chefs test their products. However, the importance of this tool will allow grillers and meat lovers everywhere ensure that their dishes are just right each and every time.
8. Strainer/Food Rack
Often forgotten next to pans and knives, both strainers and food racks give food the ability to relax and cool down without fear of being inundated by their juices or oils. Both have a variety of uses and can be used as a support during prep, after cooking, and even in the oven.
A strainer commonly plays a role in letting rinsed vegetables dry or catching pasta after it’s been cooked, but it can also be used to sift ingredients like flour, refining dishes by preventing clumps from reaching the end product. A strainer can add a smoother taste to many soups or baked goods, so most people should have one available just in case.
The food rack is usually often used for the final resting place of finished cupcakes or off the grill steaks. However, you would be missing out if you haven’t cooked a steak on it in the oven or used it for oven baked fries. The food rack will help prevent oils and juices from smothering many dishes and help impart both crispiness and tastiness that may have been missing from chickens, leeks, and stuffed mushrooms.
9. Ceramic and Steel Mixing Bowls
Mixing bowls are everywhere nowadays, but usually highly underutilized, with the exception of mixing batters or salads. Usually they are the first vessel to be brought out when marinating dishes and carry on the process of housing ingredients during the prep process. However, they can also be used to create a hollandaise sauce or homemade mayonnaise while looking great on the dining room table. A ceramic and steel mixing bowls should be in your collection to help facilitate different ingredients and should consist of different sizes to fit your needs of each dish.
10. Measuring Cups
The crème-de-la-crème for bakers everywhere, measuring cups are the most useful in ensuring accurate measurements of ingredients on a volume scale. When coupled with a kitchen scale, your baked dishes will definitely be accurate to the gram with no worry of over or under measuring. Measuring cups will also play a part in many recipes that require a marinade and can be used off the cup for housing different spices and ingredients separately while you prepare vegetables and meats.
Although these tools are essential to all chefs, feel free to deviate from the list and find components that fit your needs and cooking styles. Different dishes require specific tools such as muffin tins or woks, but for the most part, the above list will cover most dishes and can be used over and over again.
Do spend a bit of cash on quality tools that will last you in the long term as that will help you become comfortable with your kitchen space and speed up the process of cooking. Always look for something comfortable to use and be careful of impulsively buying deals or sets from infomercials and online. Visit culinary stores and test each item beforehand and consider if each kitchen tool you purchase will be put to good use for the next couple of years.
Now that we have both essential spice and tools out of the way, we will be approaching our last recipe of the semester after Thanksgiving by trying out a nice dish for all meals of the day, Bacon and Spinach Frittata. As always in the kitchen, make sure you engineer those recipes well and enjoy good eats!
by Romer Jed Medina