Kitchen Essentials: Gear
Everybody loves stuff, especially gadgets that make our lives easier. Chefs are no different, except that our toys can get pretty expensive. The monetary value of my knives alone could probably buy a cheap used car. Hell, my chef knife was $300 before sale tag. My honing steel was nearly a hundred. But these are the tools of my trade, the two things I use every single day. Do you need to drop that kind of cash? Probably not, but let’s go over the things you should probably have in your kitchen.
You could probably make do with a chef knife, a serrated knife and a paring knife. With these three, you can handle most any task that involves cutting, chopping, slicing, trimming, cleaning or mincing. Serrated are best for bread, but also useful for fruits with tough skin and squishy insides, like tomatoes. Paring knives are good for coring fruits and veggies, as well as acting as a peeler for when you’ve lost yours.
But for as many tasks in a kitchen, there is a piece of equipment designed for that purpose. And no, not a slap-chop. Knives for fish, for meat and poultry, for making weird seven-sided football shapes (a tourné). Sushi knives get really specific as well, a whole other list.
But if you want more than three knives, here you go. Boning knives come in firm and flexible varieties. Flexible are really good for cleaning the delicate flesh of fish, while the firm are good for things like carefully taking apart whole chickens. Cleavers are good for beheading chickens and scaring your friends, but unless you’re pursuing amateur butchery as a hobby, you probably won’t need one. Slicers are long and thin, making them useful for making thin slices from roasts, turkeys or sides of smoked salmon. They also resemble something a 16th century highwayman would use to relieve you of your bodice. Or something.
The Other Fun Toys
Spatulas are a given, but that is also a name that accompanies a variety of tools. There are metal grill spats, plastic ones that won’t scratch your non-stick and better yet, the high-heat silicon spatulas that come in many sizes and shapes. I own two, one flat and perfect for flipping eggs and scraping bowls, and another that’s more all-purpose. Oh and fish spatulas, wide, light and flexible. Designed for carefully separating seared fish flesh from metal without destroying the aforementioned fish.
A wide variety of spoons and ladles can be acquired, but differ dramatically only in size and whether or not they are slotted. Slotted spoons are very important for things like poaching eggs and rescuing your entree from a failed pan sauce. Whisks are important. I recommend the type with a steel handle and thick steel whips, because stainless steel is the true color of a kitchen. And also because they are less likely to break. Tongs are useful for more than just trying to rescue hot dogs when the grill catches fire. They can be used to hold proteins while being sliced, so as not to burn your fingertips. I don’t have nerve-endings in my fingertips anymore, just so we’re clear. Kitchens took them away from me.
Lastly, because there are so many more toys it could take me pages and pages to give detailed and hilarious descriptions of them, the few remaining necessities. They can generally fall into the grater category, which includes box graters, flat graters, mouli graters, microplanes of varying size, width and gauge. Also included are channel knives, for taking long gouges out of cucumbers and getting the crazy twists of lemon zest you see in martinis. And the zester, which has a flat steel head with usually four or five tiny holes at the end of it. You use this to make the annoying orange zest people sometimes put on things to be fancy, but never actually seems edible.
So that ought to wrap up part one, the condensed essential hand-tools guide. Next up, what pans do you have? Probably not enough of them are cast-iron.