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.

My Ken Onion/Shun Chef Knife, approx 8in blade, with accompanying steel

My Ken Onion/Shun Chef Knife, approx 8in blade, with accompanying steel

Knives

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.

2014-07-02 11.32.34

From Left to Right, Honing Steel, Chef Knife, Slicer, Serrated, Utility, Firm Boning, Flexible Boning, Paring Knife and Shears

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.

L to R, masher, two flat spatulas, fish spatula, two silicone spatulas and a frosting spatula

L to R, masher, two flat spatulas, fish spatula, two silicone spatulas and a frosting spatula

All the spoons!

All the spoons!

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.

They go click click click

They go click click click

Bottom to Top, flat grater, mouli grater, microplane

Bottom To Top, flat grater, mouli grater, microplane

I prefer the two stainless

I prefer the two stainless

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.

L to R, meat hammer, pastry brush, apple corer, zester, channel knife, zester w/ channel knife, wine key, peeler

L to R, meat hammer, pastry brush, apple corer, zester, channel knife, zester w/ channel knife, wine key, peeler

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.

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About mthomasmaenpaa

Father, writer, geek, food-lover

Posted on June 30, 2014, in Equipment and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Max Brueggemeyer

    Mouli grater. My parents used to own one of those when I was growing up. Best thing for putting parmesan on shit. I needs me one o’ them. That would fall under presents I can get my wife that will also secretly be presents for me. Also, I suspect I’m going to lose this argument/conversation/Q&A/friendly chat/discussion/banter, but…Laura sings the praises of cast iron left and right when we get on the subject. I, on the other hand, *adore* cooking on a good lightweight, non-stick. Cast iron are heavy as sin and so much work…exactly what is the benefit of cast iron that is worth the tremendous pain in the ass? Any chance of a follow-up to this entry explaining the bias you ended this one with?

    • So, cast-iron. It is a superior conductor of heat, easy to clean, best for searing fish and meat, lasts forever. That’s the short answer. Long answer will be in the next gear post.

    • Also, just out of curiousity, how do you find cast-irons to be more work than non-stick? Also, I would suggest going high-grade stainless if you want to go the lightweight route, except nobody can actually afford AllClad.

  2. Max Brueggemeyer

    I have a harder time cleaning cast iron, actually. And I find the conduction of heat to be uneven…certain parts get real hot, others not so much…and I’m still not quite intimately familiar enough with the cast iron we have to know the proportions and layout of the heat distribution. It’s *great* for searing steak. We’ve done that a few times, and I prefer the cast iron for that, but…it’s something I prefer for particular tasks, and not the majority of them. Also, as I said, heavy as fuck, so I can’t manipulate them as easily. I can flip hash browns using just the pan with our biggest non-stick skillet. I like being able to do that. Showy, and probably risky, but I haven’t dropped more than a few bites in quite some time.

    • The weight is definitely an issue, the heat distribution could be from an improperly seasoned pan, the burner itself, anything. The cleaning part, that should be simple and easy. Just add water and boil it out.

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