I finally got my own apartment but feel woefully unprepared for all the cooking I’m going to be doing in my tiny kitchen. I got a set of pots last year and am planning on a set of good knives, but what other tools do you think I should have when getting serious about cooking?
Oh, sharp knives are so important! And I better not catch you trying to sharpen them at home—the honing steel is fine, but please, leave the actual sharpening to the professionals. When purchasing, it’s so easy to buy the set that comes in a knife block, but honestly, you only need a few:
- a chef’s knife, the biggest size you are comfortable working with—I use my 8-inch chef’s knife or my Santoku for most of my prep jobs. It looks overwhelming, but you’ll get better leverage with the longer knife.
- a paring knife for small jobs like cutting citrus, peeling apples, poking at boiling potatoes to see if they’re tender, etc.
- a serrated/bread knife for both bread and thin-skinned fruits like tomatoes and plums. You won’t have the problem of your cherry tomatoes bouncing off the counter or squirting you in the eye if you’re halving them with a serrated knife.
I’m proud of you for getting some pots as well—I hope you’re not afraid of stainless steel. I think home cooks are all too reliant on nonstick, but that’s not the question you asked, so as the great Alton Brown says, that’s another episode. I would also say that there are a few less basic items that I find to be indispensable and perfect multi-taskers. These are things that you might not immediately pick up when going on a kitchen-stocking spree, but you’ll thank me down the line.
Hear me out: Even if you think grapefruit is the most horrific fruit you have ever encountered, it’s worth your while to pick up a grapefruit spoon. Seriously, even if you’re never going to eat a grapefruit in your life, just humor me—I found mine in the open stock bin at Fishs Eddy.
Its pointy serrated tip is curved just right to be an incredibly effective scraper for all sorts of nooks and crannies. I use mine for getting the hairy chokes out of artichokes, scraping out squash insides before roasting, and even hollowing out baby potatoes when I’m doing twice-baked filled potato appetizers. (OK, maybe you don’t do that as often as me… but you might!)
I can’t believe I’m disagreeing with him, but I find tongs infinitely useful. They’re awesome for pulling spaghetti out of its water and into the waiting pan of sauce, leaving just the right amount of pasta water clinging to the strands. They provide a steady hand when flipping food with a spatula, especially smaller pieces of meat that can wobble and fall, and essentially take the place of your own fingers for touching/moving any hot food you can think of. You can even wrap rubber bands around their scalloped grabber ends to snatch canning jars from a sterilizing bath instead of buying jar lifters. Oh, and my dad uses them to reach the chain pull on our ceiling fan in the kitchen, five feet above our heads!
And even if you have a large colander, invest in a good mesh strainer, because the small holes created by the metal weave are key. How else can you strain soups and custards or drain smaller grains like quinoa and barley from cooking water? A bonus use for the mesh sieve (and one that my husband might think is the primary reason for its existence) is to evenly dust powdered sugar on French toast or pancakes. A chic brunch is within your grasp.
Finally, I tried to keep it to three, but I really can’t end without mentioning the Microplane. You’ll notice a lot of chefs talking about these specialty graters in interviews, and I really can’t overstate their fabulousness. Yes, it’s a little obsessive to have a drawer full of graters in varying degrees of fineness, but they just grate so damn well with such little effort that each is worth every penny.
(For the record, I use my coarse grater the most—ginger and Parmesan cheese are in high demand here.) If you’re skeptical, just buy the box grater and let me know what you think.
Ask Casey takes a break next week for Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking of you. Send me all the questions you’ve been hoarding to caseyATgoodfoodstoriesDOTcom.