My “Choose Well” category features my picks for foods, ingredients, and products for YourBestLife.
When I was in culinary school and worked in restaurants, the kitchens were well-equipped with all the tools needed to put out elaborate meals. Now, I’m the “executive chef” of our 48 square feet, alley-style kitchen that has NOT been designed for optimal storage space. In fact, with the dish rack occupying most of our countertop space, we had to install a drop-down craft table for some workspace. Only the necessary tools and equipment earn their spot with space at such a premium. Here are what I deem as the essentials. I buy based on quality. Most of these purchases should last you a lifetime.
The print above can be purchased from http://claudiapearson.com/shop/tools-of-the-trade/ .
For Cutting and Prepping
Chef’s Knife – You want to choose a knife based on its weight, balance, and size. The first two factors are individual. An 8-10″ knife will be most versatile. I have both German- and Japanese-style knives, but my favorite knife was given to me as a gift. (This set comes with a paring knife, also an essential.) Here’s a good guide to choosing a chef’s knife.
Boning Knife for breaking down poultry, trimming meat, and filleting whole fish. Whole chicken and larger cuts are more economical than pieces. Plus you can use the carcasses and trimmings for homemade stock.
You also want a sharpening stone and a sharpening steel (which is technically for finishing or honing the blade). Remember, a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one.
Cake/Bread Knife – The long, serrated blade makes slicing through bread, cake, and tomatoes a cinch and leaves them un-smushed. (We use only technical culinary terms here.)
Vegetable Peeler – I like the swivel ones because peeling in both directions makes for shorter prep time.
Microplane Grater – I’ve sung the praises of this tool before. Grating parmesan cheese, chocolate, citrus zest, garlic, ginger, and nutmeg is somehow a pleasurable tactile sensation with this tool originally used in woodworking.
Cutting board – Look for one that allows for use on both sides, is non-slip, and non-porous. I use one side for savory and the other for sweet (read: no onions and garlic allowed).
Pastry or Dough Scraper – Although its name implies its use in pastry making, it’s actually quite versatile; for example, it works perfectly to help you transfer cut food from your cutting surface to pan. Can be stainless steel or plastic.
Kitchen shears or scissors – For snipping herbs, cutting cooked meat into bite-size pieces, cleaning shrimp, etc.
Cast Iron Skillet 12″- After hours of research over a decade ago, I settled on investing on this 18/10 stainless steel pan with copper sandwiched bottom (for heat conduction). I still have it, but our cast iron pan given to us by my mother-in-law has since earned a permanent place on the stovetop. You can get a rusty, old one from a thrift store or garage sale and clean and season it yourself or get one already pre-seasoned! This is your work-horse pan; you want something that heats evenly and is durable and oven-safe.
Non-Stick Omelet Pan 6-8″ – Again, I prefer something that is oven-safe. Chef’s are very protective of their omelet pans. A serious chef’s omelet pan is to be used for eggs/omelets only and stored with a towel on top to protect its lustrous surface. Don’t even try going near one with anything metal…unless you get a smaller cast iron for eggs, too.
1 1/2 Qt Sauce Pan with Cover – Again, you want something with a heavy bottom that heats evenly and can go in the oven.
Stockpot – A 12 quart, stainless steel one can go from cooking pasta to poaching a whole chicken.
Pressure Cooker – Once I got over my fear from hearing horror stories about pressure cookers of the past, we put the slow cooker in storage. I LOVE pressure cooking–stews, dried beans, and broth in 1/3 of the time! Look for one that is stainless steel and large enough to make a decent size batch of stock. I have this one–the Mercedes Benz of pressure cookers–on my wish list.
(Rice Cooker – I’m Asian…enough said, right? 😉 Right now, I am using an old school Zojirushi that we bought on Craiglist, but I am in the market to upgrade to a fancier version. If you eat rice often, a good quality rice cooker is priceless.)
A casserole dish
Loaf Pan and Muffin Tin (for bakers)
Other Equipment and Tools
Tongs – I like that these close for storage but don’t have those damn locking rings.
Offset metal spatula with thin blade
Ladle, preferably with a bent handle at the top (like this one) to keep it from falling into your pot
Pot holders – I think the plain cotton squares are fine. We’ve tried silicone and think they can get slippery with heavy stuff.
Whisk with a solid handle and relatively thin (not thick and heavy) wires
Measuring cups and measuring spoons
Mixing Bowls – Go with stainless steel so they can be set into pots to be used as a double boiler, and buy 3 sizes from about 1- to 3-quart.
Can Opener – These are reliable and don’t take up much space–one for your kitchen and one for your camping mess kit.
Salad Spinner – Trust me, you don’t want wet salad greens.
Pepper Mill – Yes, you can buy the peppercorn in the pepper mills, but those are “junk” (as we use as an adjective in Hawaii). I am usually old-school, but I’m going to try this one based on reviews and so I can grind the pepper with one hand.
Oil Dispenser – I buy oil in bulk and refill these for dispensing.
Tapered Rolling Pin – Works in a pinch if you don’t have that wine bottle for rolling 😉
Kettle for boiling water. We use an electric one now that heat up in less than a minute.
Digital Thermometer – Very useful for roasts
Corkscrew with bottle opener – Cheers to setting up your kitchen for healthful, homemade meals! Now, you can go have a glass of wine with them.
This list leaves room for additional items as you find yourself wanting to make more things from scratch, but it’s definitely a good start!
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