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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Kitchen Equipment

Unlike knives, you don't have to spend "big money" on other bits and pieces, you just have to know what you are looking for.

Pot's, pans, baking trays, and stuff like that:

Large non-stick frying pan. About 12-14" in diameter and about 3" high. Get the heaviest based pan you can... at least a cm. Mine is an M+S one that I've had for years and I cook all my sauces in it apart from bolognese (which is huge and I have to use either a wok or a large pot). If you get one with a metal handle you can also use it in the oven and under the grill.

Set of stainless steel saucepans with heavy bases... again about a centimetre thick at the base. The diameters  should range from about 7" to about 10".

If you can afford it... a La Crueset non-stick casserole pot. I don't have one but I wish I did. They are made of cast iron and you can use both in the oven and on the hob. Perfect for curries, goulash and casseroles! Larger the better with this one as long as it fits your oven.

Large non-stick wok. Not just for chinese food but for cooking large quantities of sauce like bolognese or chilli.

Griddle pan. We are not all blessed with a proper grill for steaks. Putting steaks under the home grill will not produce great results from my experience. Also handy for other stuff and leaves those lovely grill marks on whatever you are cooking. Health and safety be damned... turn the smoke alarm off while you're cooking and open the windows while using for a more peaceful cooking experience (but remember to turn the alarm on again afterwards).

Colander. My wife insisted on a "pretty" green one which is a pain in the arse to clean (day old rice is particularly painful to wash up). Get a non stick one or a stainless steel one. Bigger the better as long as it fit's your sink.

Sieve. Fine as you can get and worth buying a small one and a large one for different applications/containers. Get metal ones though, plastic sieves don't last long, they melt and discolour.

Pyrex dishes. Large round casserole with a lid and a long rectangular lasagne style dish.

Shallow, non-stick baking trays. As wide and long as your oven can fit.

Non-stick loaf tin for making bread. Just under the same size as ... erm... a loaf of bread.

Non stick cake tin with removable bottom. About 10" in diameter and 6" tall.

Fairy cake/muffin tray. Non stick is preferable and at least 6 cake bits.

Other bits:

Tongs. Absolute must! Small 8" pair and large 12" pair.

Wooden spoons. Try and get long ones as they'll keep you a nice distance from the pan.

Metal spoons. Slotted spoon, non-slotted spoon, ladle. At least a foot long.

Fish slice. No idea why it's called a fish slice as you absolutely do not slice fish with it. Slotted is probably preferable.

Potato masher.

Speed peeler. Those daft ones that are vaguely knife shaped are pants with a capital P. Make sure it's nice and sharp. Oxo do one called a "Good Grip" and it's awesome. Handy for more than peeling duties...

Tin opener. Mine is a MagiCan and has lasted ages. Think I've bought 2 in ten years.

Garlic crusher. Save SOOO much time and effort. Chef's might sneer at this little gadget but they can sod off.

Egg timer. Not just for timing eggs oddly enough... you can sit back and relax during downtime and this handy gadget will remember for you.

Food processor. And not one with a celebrity chef's name on it. Magimix or another well know brand. Spend as much money as you can on it. Mine is RUBBISH!! A supermarket's own brand and has fallen apart within 6 months of owning it but we still use it... Hand blenders are useful too but have a really short lifespan from my experience.

Chopping boards:

Get a good thick sturdy wooden one for veg and fruit. I use what's called a butcher's block for my veg.

Plastic boards for meat and fish. Ugly but sensible. If you get one that's not white, they'll last longer before you have to throw it away because it looks repulsive. Has to be plastic for meat though folks... blood etc can seep into the pores of a wooden one.

I think that's the necessities... I'll put more on the list if it comes to me... You've probably got most of it already but I thought I'd list the bare essentials.

Kitchen Knives

It is perhaps the chef's most valued tool and even when cooking at home, a decent one is an absolute must!

I share the same opinion of most chef's that there are three core knives that it's worth spending a bit of money on. A blunt cheap knife will cause more cuts and also invariably need replacing more often so it's worth the investment.

The three knives that I believe to be essential are the following:

8" Chef Knife.

This is your "go-to" knife for pretty much anything you need to chop or slice. You can use it for purposes it shouldn't technically be used for (you can even slice bread with it at a push as long as it's sharp enough), and it will become part of your hand when preparing anything! I couldn't live without mine. 6-8" long and about 1 and a half-2" tall is an absolute minimum though for safe chopping... trying to cut through butternut squash or turnips with a vegetable knife is going to lead to a really long and painstaking process at best and missing fingers at worst! You should also make sure that the blade is rigid and not flexible, you should not be able to bend your chef's knife at all.

3-4" Vegetable, Utility or Paring Knife.

When you need to get up close and personal to what you're preparing or if the peeler has gone walkies, absolutely essential! You'll find that you can often use this knife in place of similarly sized knives like filleting knives, just make sure that you wash it as thoroughly as you can (like all kitchen equipment) between different applications. Like I said above, make sure the blade is rigid!

Bread knife.

You can use other knives to slice bread but it isn't easy... I find it incredibly difficult even with the sharpest blade to get nice thin slices. If you buy sliced pre-packaged bread all the time and don't need to buy a bread knife... erm... well.... nuff said.

Those are the essential ones but there are other knives you may wish to consider:

10" Ham/Salmon knife.

Thin blade and perfect for slicing smoked salmon or cooked meats like a joint of ham (duh!). Also a good knife to use when cutting delicate things like soft cheeses, pate and terrine.

Pallet Knife.

So you've rolled your pastry and cut it out into shapes.... how ARE you going to get it off the work surface without butchering it with a fish-slice or ruining the shape with your fingers??? Mr Pallet Knife will prevent fingers from getting over involved. Pallet knives come in handy all over the place so it's worth buying one and the great thing about them is that they need not be expensive or sharp. Find one that's got a broad, thin blade and you're laughing.

Basics

I'm going to spend the next few posts talking about some basic skills and equipment that you'll need to cook well at home.

I realise that I should of probably done this at the outset but I'm not the most organised chap and wanted to dive in at the deep end with my Italian recipes (I'll get back to Italy soon but my blog just looks like an Italian cookbook at the moment so I'm trying to diversify).

It really is worth taking the time to perfect things like culinary knife cuts; and also worth investing a little money on some half-decent equipment. It will make your dinner parties seem much more "restauranty" and you may even save a bit of money (more on that later).