Like any new hobby or profession, you must have proper tools for your craft. The same with gourmet cooking. A wide variety of specialized tools and equipment is available to today’s chef. I have listed 10 that I feel are essential and will make the difference between a job well done and one done carelessly, incorrectly or even dangerously. If I’ve learned one thing in my 30 years of cooking, it is that having the right tool for the job is of paramount importance. It makes everything easier and safer.
1. KNIVES (Wusthof) – Knives are the most important item in your tool kit. With a sharp knife, the skilled chef can accomplish a number of tasks more quickly and efficiently. A good 8 to 10-in chef’s knife is your most important piece of equipment. High-carbon stainless steel is expensive, but it is the best choice for cutting most types of foods. Look for a blade that is riveted through the handle. Hold knives to check for balance, and buy one that feels good in your hand. Make sure the blade is wide and heavy for crushing garlic or cutting through chicken bones. Check out my post on using your kitchen knife with videos. And for your own safety, keep your knives sharp. Dull knives slip and cause accidents; they mutilate food instead of neatly slicing, and they add expensive minutes (and frustration) to preparation time. To keep your knife in top condition, always wash it by hand and completely avoid using the dishwasher.
2. POTS AND PANS (All-Clad) – When shopping for pots and pans, look for heavy-bottomed, high-quality pieces. Stainless steel is a basic kitchen workhorse and looks great. Look for three-ply, stainless-steel layers sandwiched with pure aluminum core for even heating. If I had to choose one for a starter, it would have to be the 12″ fry pan.
3. A LARGE STOCK POT – Cooking stocks are an integral part of any well-stocked kitchen. To be considered a chef, versus a mere cook, you need to know how to make and use good stocks. Check out my post on principles of stock making. Stocks may seem intimidating because you think you need to make the stock fresh before you start the recipe – not so! On a quarterly or semi-annual basis, take time to make, reduce, and freeze your stocks. This way you’ll always be ready to make some great food. A good stock is the key to a great soup, braised dish or sauce. Look for a heavy duty stainless steel stock pot with lid. I like the 20 quart size, but a 12 quart is fine to start with.
4. FOOD PROCESSOR (Cuisinart) – A food processor is used to chop nuts, puree cooked foods, emulsify sauces, prepare cooked foods, make compound butters, emulsify sauces and so much more. I personally have the Cuisinart 14 cup food processor and I love It! I make homemade bread, pesto, salad dressing, etc. It is a must for a gourmet cook!
5. MIXER (Kitchenaid) – A vertical mixer is indispensable in your kitchen! The U-shaped arms hold a metal mixing bowl in place; the selected mixing attachment fits onto the rotating head. The three common mixing attachments are the paddle (general mixing), whip (whipping eggs or cream) and the dough hook (used for kneading bread). This Kitchenaid has several additional attachments you can purchase separately, the shredder/slicer, meat grinder, juicer/power strainer, pasta roller and even a ice cream maker. I love the pasta roller. Homemade pasta is the best!
8. KITCHEN SCALE (Salter) – For accurate, consistent recipes, a good-quality scale is a must. I prefer a scale with a digital display for an accurate read. Look for a scale that can measure weight up to at least 5 pounds.
9. THERMOMETERS – I love thermometers and I find that an oven thermometer, a instant read thermometer, a digital programmable probe thermometer and a small candy thermometer are indispensable! I carry an instant read thermometer in my pocket at all times when I am cooking to provide a quick temperature reading. The digital programmable probe thermometer is my most favorite. You can check internal food temperatures without opening the oven door and the alarm sounds when the food is done. All ovens are not created equal, as an oven thermometer quickly illustrates. An oven that is a few degrees too hot can mean the difference between juicy, succulent turkey breast and turkey jerky; an oven that is too cool can skew cooking times and result in under-cooked meats and poultry. Buy an oven thermometer that hangs from the oven racks to optimize oven space. Candy thermometers can be used when frothing milk for espresso, making candy, and testing the temperature of oil for frying.
Whew…that was harder to do than I thought! There are hundreds of tools and pieces of equipment that can help you prepare, cook, store and present food. Choose the most useful, basic pieces of equipment to splurge on; a great knife, a stockpot, and a stainless steel pan. These tools will repay your investment many times over. You’ll find the efficiency they bring to your preparation indispensable, and, with proper care, they can last you a lifetime.