I spend a minimum of 40 hours a week in the kitchen, cooking for clients and for myself. I’m somewhat of a minimalist and don’t believe you need a lot of gadgets to create a great meal. While some of these tools may seem obvious, many kitchens I cook in do not have these basics. A thoughtfully put together kitchen will start with these inexpensive tools.
A quality chef knife is the foundation of the kitchen. It’s the first thing you acquire in cooking school, and it’s usually the first thing I grab when beginning to prepare a meal. I’m not talking about the knife set you got for Christmas – it’s important to invest in a quality knife. You can get a decent Wusthof or Shun knife somewhere between $80-$100. You want to try it out before you buy, and make sure it’s a good fit in your palm. You’ll figure out by trying different knives what works for you. When you get it sharpened, which you’ll need to do periodically, try to find Japanese style sharpening in your area. The process results in a much sharper blade than you would get using other methods, and gets your knife back to as close to its original state as can be.
The microplane zester is an incredible and versatile tool. It’s great for grating parmesan cheese and citrus zest. In a pinch, you can use it to grate some lemon zest on steamed vegetables or fish to add extra flavor. It’s infinitely more efficient than a traditional grater or zester and one of my most used tools in the kitchen.
For under $20, you can have a portable blender. Immersion blenders are much easier to clean than a regular blender, and often just as effective. They’re great for blending soups and sauces, but my favorite use for them is smoothies. When I’m feeling too lazy to take out (and clean) the blender, I throw my smoothie ingredients in a measuring cup and blend it. It’s much less fuss and mess than using the blender
Cast iron pans are inexpensive and under-appreciated. Because they can tolerate being heated to high temperatures, they are great for stir-fries and searing meat. I’ve started using them to cook all sorts of things. Sure, they require a little more maintenance than an all-clad pan. But they’re also nearly indestructible, not that hard to clean, will last forever, and a set will cost you a 1/4 of an all-clad type pan. While both have their place, cast iron has won me over and I can’t imagine a kitchen without it.
Quality Cookie Sheet
A commercial quality cookie sheet goes a long way in the kitchen. While it may seem like an obvious item to own, a nice, thick cookie sheet that doesn’t warp under high heat is incredibly versatile. I use it to roast vegetables on a daily basis. I use it to roast meats. You can literally throw your vegetables and a piece of fish on a cookie sheet and roast until done, and have a meal ready in less than 20 minutes. It’s not just for cookies, and comes in incredibly handy when trying to get a decent meal on the table in no time.
While this list by no means constitutes a fully stocked kitchen, it’s an excellent start. What are some of your favorite kitchen tools? Do you have a specific item you use on a regular basis that you couldn’t live without?