Forget the doodads. This is all you need to create beautiful meals.
By Christina Pirello
I hate gadgets. I’m glad that’s off my chest. From garlic presses to citrus juicers, I have little use for any of it. Give me a chef knife and a cutting board and I’m all set. Every time I see a cute new doodad (that’s all I can think to call them), what comes to mind is that it’s another thing to clean.
If you love gadgets and simply must have the latest, greatest tool to make life easier, go for it. But if you’re like me, you want to streamline, reduce consumption and control how much stuff clutters your life and kitchen. To that end, I recommend the following items. I won’t say I can’t live without them, but I would miss them terribly.
All this posturing about gadgets and consumption aside, I must be truthful. As an avid baker, I am in the midst of a long, passionate affair with my stand-up mixer that shows no signs of abating. I couldn’t live without her—she is my one weakness.
Essential tools to cook anything
A kitchen without a great chef knife is nonfunctioning. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but head to a kitchen shop where you can hold the knife and see if you like the heft and balance of the blade. I advise between 7 to 8 inches for the blade length. While I am a ceramic knife fangirl, for most of us, a solid stainless steel blade that costs under $50 will serve you just fine.
The second most important tool in the kitchen, a thick wooden board, will change how you cook. Thick boards won’t crack or warp and will last a long time. Get a board that suits your space—but only as big as your space allows—so you still have room to work. Bamboo is also a great choice as it’s lighter and naturally antibacterial. Don’t even think about those flimsy roll-up plastic ones—just don’t do it.
10-inch cast iron or stainless steel skillet
I want to say you need both of these in your kitchen, and I might even add a “green” nonstick skillet as well. Most people struggle with seasoning a cast iron pan, so stainless steel is a good choice for everyday cooking. They distribute heat evenly and clean easily.
Sieve or colander
A sieve or colander comes in handy for rinsing grains and beans, draining pasta and lifting boiled or blanched vegetables from boiling water. I use mine every day and prefer a fine sieve over a colander because I use it the way most people use a slotted spoon.
Saucepans (2 to 3 quart)
The number of people you’re regularly cooking for will determine the size of this pan, but every kitchen needs a small saucepan for steaming, boiling, blanching, sauces and small pots of soup. I have several smaller pans, as I cook for two people most nights.
There’s no chili, stews, pasta or boiled vegetables without a large Dutch oven. Five to six quarts is the average size and will serve you in cooking for one or for a crowd. There are many varieties, so consider what you might be preparing most often. If you’re boiling pasta, stainless steel will serve you fine. If you stew, make big pots of soup or chili, or make casseroles, consider a porcelain-coated cast iron.
A good set of long-handled tongs do a lot of jobs, from mixing salads to lifting foods from boiling water to turning foods on the grill. I like tongs with silicone tips, since they can stand the heat of whatever I am doing.
Wooden spoons add a beauty and grace to cooking that I love. They’re easy on your hands; they don’t scrape the pans’ surfaces; they clean easily. I have many, but a few will get you started. Go with a set of 10-inch, 12-inch and 14-inch spoons. They will serve you best in just about any task. I’m not a fan of silicone spatulas, brushes or metal spoons. I just don’t consider them essential.
Measuring spoons and cups
I have to confess; I don’t measure and never use measuring spoons or cups unless I’m testing a recipe for a new cookie or cake. But for most of us, measuring is key to the success of recipes, so get a set of cups and spoons. I like stainless steel for both of these as they last and last and clean easily.
Microplane or box grater
I use my microplane so often, I feel like it’s an extension on my arm! From citrus zest to cheese (if you eat it), a microplane is easy to handle and clean and gives you a fine-grated texture. A box grater is good as well, but I feel like it’s not as versatile as a microplane.