Tools and Equipment – LBB#5

So now you are armed with ingredients, and are going to take them home to your well stocked kitchen. Now what? Better make sure you have the right tools for the job.

There are two general approaches to tools and equipment. I have seen cooks who roll into the kitchen looking like they are outfitting a kitchen store themselves, and others who carry a small knife roll and not much else. I find this is consistent with how people approach most things in their lives:

A: buy every new tool and gadget that comes out so you have everything you could possibly want available.

B: buy a small number of good quality items and use them for a variety of purposes, and rely on a bit of ingenuity to figure out how to accomplish new ideas.

I am a “B” myself, (although my guitar collection might say otherwise) and have always maintained that a few good knives and a set of well built cookware can take you almost anywhere. In my kitchen, there are two categories, the must haves which I cannot do without, and the nice to haves for making certain, special things. Here is the list for both in my kitchen:

Knives: Buy knives of good quality steel which feel balanced in your hand. I find that depending on the shape and size of your hand, some brands just feel more comfortable than others. I don’t have a favourite make, and have always kept a bit of a mongrel set myself.

Must Have: French (Chef’s) knife (8-10 inch, your choice), a medium size (6 inch) utility knife, flexible filleting knife, boning knife, paring knife, serrated bread knife, and a steel and stone (oil or water) to keep them sharp

Nice to Have: large slicer (tranche), meat cleaver, turning knife, Japanese-style vegetable knife or small fruit cleaver

Cookware: For sauce pans and stock pots, buy stainless steel with fairly thick sides and bottoms to conduct heat evenly. Enamel covered cast iron is great for things like a rondeau or dutch oven, and cast iron or carbon steel is great for saute pans, grill pans, and griddles. Most non-stick saute pans are on an aluminum base, which is fine for that application, but still look for thickness in the bottom for even heat distribution. I try and avoid plastic handles on pans and lids as I like to be able to put my cookware in the oven to finish things off.

Must Have: large and small sauté pans, a good non-stick pan or two, three sizes of saucepan, a stock pot, a dutch oven (rondeau), and a steamer insert that fits on top of one of the sauce pans

Nice to Have: grill pan, griddle that can fit over two burners, crepe pan, wok or stir-fry pan

Small hand tools and utensils: As with knives, buy good quality, sturdy utensils that feel comfortable.

Must Have: vegetable peeler, whisk, wooden spoons, silicone spatulas, tongs, box grater, fish tweezers, a coarse and fine strainer, and a small offset metal spatula

Nice to Have: rasp, mandoline, spaetzle press, ricer, food mill, zester, hand juicer, pasta maker

Bakeware: For flat trays and muffin tins, if you are lining them with parchment or silicone, heavy aluminum is fine. If you plan to bake directly on them, get some with a non-stick surface. Cake tins are best if they are non-stick, and I prefer glass (pyrex) or ceramic for pie plates and casseroles

Must Have: baking sheets (approximately 12 by 16 in.) 8 or 9 inch round cake tins, a spring-form pan, pie plates, muffin tin, bread pan, rectangular casserole/lasagne pan (9 by 13 or larger), a set of small ramekins (4 oz), tart pan (10 inch), wire racks

Nice to Have: different sizes of cake tins (both square and round), tube pan, bundt pan, small individual tart shells, enamel coated terrine mould

Small Appliances: This is an area that seems to be ever expanding. A good quality, heavy duty stand mixer and food processor will last a long time and prove themselves a great investment over their light duty, cheap cousins. I know there are some cooks who think that microwave ovens are inherently evil, but I find them a valuable resource for tempering butter and chocolate in a hurry, and heating prepared foods without evaporation

Must Have: food processor, electric stand mixer, blender, microwave

Nice to Have: coffee/spice grinder, hand blender, attachments for a stand mixer (grinder, sausage stuffer)

Measuring and portioning tools: In Canada, we are constantly influenced by the fact that we have three different measuring systems we encounter: SI (Metric), Imperial (UK) and the US measuring systems. It is important to have measuring tools that can switch between metric and Imperial/US measurement, and you will find that I use them interchangeably. In context, when I refer to liquid measures (ounces, cups, and gallons), I am generally referring to US measures rather than Imperial. We’ll talk about conversions and rounding off in a later post.

Must Have: measuring spoons, graduated measuring cups, digital scale, thermometers (meat and candy/deep fry), assorted stainless mixing bowls, colander, small and large ladles, a set of nested round cutters, large and small cutting boards (I like having one large wooden one for bread and pastry and a few smaller plastic or vinyl ones for cutting and chopping), rolling pin, bench scraper

Nice to Have: cutters in different shapes and sizes, piping bag and tips, squeeze bottles with tips, bottles with quick pours, pastry wheel, gnocchi paddle

Of course the “Nice to Have” lists can go on forever, but if you have all of the “Musts” and some of the “Nice” you are well set to attempt pretty much anything. Of course, there are always new things on the market and new techniques, such as the current movement in molecular gastronomy that may require specialized equipment to attempt properly, but those are discussions for another day.

For now, we should be entering a well stocked kitchen, and will be ready to talk about what’s next: digging deeper into the main methods and principles behind preparing and cooking food.

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