With the kitchen, the key is collecting a handful of multipurpose tools that can be used in a wide array of food preparations. This means staying away from very specific gadgets such as potato ricers and garlic presses. Instead, stick with the basics. Here’s blogger (and Culinary Institute of America student) Sam Zuker‘s list of the basic building blocks of a fully equipped kitchen.
A solidly made sauté pan is a kitchen essential. Choose something that feels heavy for its size and has a stainless steel cooking surface. Avoid solid aluminum pans; the metal can react to acidic foods and does not conduct heat evenly. Also, buy an all-metal pan (no plastic or rubber handles), so it can be used in the oven, and make sure that it has a heavy bottom, so you avoid scorching your food. A decent quality starter pan can be found for about $45.
Any chef will tell you that a good, sharp knife is the most important tool for an aspiring cook. Avoid gimmicks and go for a solidly made 8-inch chef’s knife. For a good-quality knife that is easy to maintain but won’t break the bank, get a “stamped” knife, one where the blade is machine-stamped and has either a wood or plastic handle. The weight of these knives is less balanced than a “full-tang” knife, but the blade quality is comparable. If you do your research, you should be able to find a good-quality version online for about $30. On the same order, add a paring knife, which is a second essential knife, for around $10 more.
Pots and pans
Get a good stockpot, which can be used to make stocks and soups, as well as to boil large amounts of salted water for pasta or vegetables. These can be found fairly easily at discount stores for around $25. Also, get a smaller saucepan with a lid and handle for around $15.
Now that you have the knives, pots and pans, you need a surface on which to prepare your culinary creations. Avoid glass, stone and very hard, composite cutting boards, as they will quickly dull and damage your new knives. In this case, a cheap cutting board gets the job done just as well as an expensive one. Find one for around $10.
You’ll need a strainer or colander when straining sauces or draining pasta. In order to get the widest range of uses out of this tool, pick a mesh strainer with relatively fine holes. These can be found for peanuts online, with prices as low as $5.
This will allow you to begin baking cookies and other delicious desserts right at home. Also, if you purchase a wire rack that can sit on top of the baking sheet, this piece of equipment quickly doubles as a basic roasting pan. Make sure that the baking tray you buy will fit in your oven. A “half sheet tray” will fit in most home ovens. Get a solid, food-service grade piece of equipment for around $15, and add on a wire rack for another $15.
Wooden spoons may be overlooked, but many chefs care for their wooden spoons for years and have an emotional connection to them. Use your wooden spoon to stir around the edges and corners of the pot, the danger zones that are often left untouched by your traditional, square spatula. Also, if you’re using non-stick cookware, a wooden spoon will not damage the valuable non-stick coating. A set of three wooden cooking utensils can be found for around $15 online.
In the professional kitchen, the one tool that spends more time in the hands of the cooks than their knives is their tongs. Flipping a steak, searing a roast, blanching vegetables — tongs do it all. A good pair of tongs will come in handy in your home kitchen as well, when you prep, cook and serve your meals. Choose a pair that’s 10-12 inches in length. Anything longer becomes difficult to use. You should be able to find a set for $10 … and soon it will become your best friend.
Depending on how much money you are looking to spend on your kitchen, some of the items above could easily be upgraded. If you love hunting for a bargain, check out a local professional restaurant supply store, which sells high-quality equipment for prices far below those of the boutique kitchen stores at your local mall. You’ll find pots, pans, spoons, ladles, knives and more. Happy hunting!
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