Essential Cooking Equipment
Brittany Risher; Chris Cosentino photo by Lisa Hamilton
Use this list to stock your kitchen, and you’ll have all the tools you need to prepare an impressive meal
Sure, Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium is stocked with every pan, knife, and other food gadget ever made. But chances are you’ll never attempt a cookdown with Mario Batali. What you need are the essentials. To help ensure that you have the things you truly need, we talked to Chris Cosentino, chef partner at Incanto in San Francisco and partner and owner of Boccalone (boccalone.com), an artisan salumi business.
The first step, he says, is to determine what your cooking goal is. “”There are so many pieces of equipment,” Cosentino says, “but you don’t need to worry about them all. If you know what you want to do, you can set up your kitchen accordingly.”
Here are the things he recommends the average at-home chef should have on hand to make anything from a fast bite after work to an impressive dinner date.
1. A Cutting Board
“Having a proper wooden cutting is where everything is going to start from,” says Cosentino, who likes Boos cutting boards (johnboos.com). Go with wooden—although plastic is non-porous, you’re likely to put deeper knife marks into it, making it hard to clean and disinfect. And bacteria thrive in those scars.
Also, wood won’t dull your knives as quickly, and it draws bacteria below the surface—and therefore away from your food. In fact, a study by researchers at the University of California-Davis Food Safety Laboratory found that used, scarred wooden cutting boards had almost the same amount of bacteria on their surfaces as new wooden ones.
All you need are four: chef’s knife, paring knife, boning knife, and fillet knife. The paring knife is for smaller, precise work such as peeling, trimming, coring an apple, and sectioning an orange. The chef’s knife is your Jack-of-all-trades. Use it to chop, mince, and slice vegetables, fruit, herbs, and meat. The boning and fillet knives are self-explanatory.
Cosentino likes Japanese knives because they hold an edge better, he says. When you’re shopping, be sure to pick up the knife and hold it as you’d use it. “When you hold it, is it like an extension of your hand, or is it like having your shoe on the wrong foot?” Cosentino says. “You should like the way the handle feels and the weight of the knife.” If it feels right in your hands, it’s a good choice.
3. A Slow Cooker
“You want a cast-iron, enameled pot—what I call a braiser—to slow-cook items in,” says Cosentino, who has used his Calphalon slow cooker to do everything from make tomato sauce and jam to braise meat and cook a whole chicken. It’s extremely versatile (use it on the stovetop or in the oven) and easy to use: Just prep the ingredients the night before, put them into the pot before you leave for work in the morning, and when you come home, you have dinner. And, since the pot is heavy-bottomed, the heat is dispersed evenly, so you have less chance of burning your food.
4. Pans and Pots
Keep things simple (and your cabinet uncluttered): again, four is the magic number. Start with a saucepot to cook soup in and a larger pot to cook pasta in. Then look for 8-inch and 10-inch sauté pans made out of a non-reactive material, such as cast iron or stainless steel. “Aluminum can react with acidity and change the flavor of foods like tomatoes and asparagus,” Cosentino says. He uses Calphalon in the restaurant kitchen and also recommends Demeyere cookware.
But you don’t necessarily need to buy your pans and pots individually—a set may be the best option. “If you want the basics to make beautiful meals, buy a set, and, boom, you have all the pans in the world you need,” Cosentino says. “As long as have a stove and electric or gas, you’re set.” They’re also cheaper and you’re more likely to find sales on sets than on separate items.
5. A Pepper Mill
If you want your food to taste good, this overlooked item can make a big difference in flavor. Cosentino says to think about it this way: If you buy preground pepper at the store, who knows how long it’s been sitting there? And how long was it sitting prior arriving at your supermarket? He recommends grinding peppercorns with a Peugeot mill.
6. The Basics
Don’t overlook the obvious things such as a whisk, mixing bowl, spatula (Cosentino likes fish spatulas, which are good for both delicate and heavier foods), and the one thing no man can do without: a grill.
7. The Extras
Pass on the onion goggles, but if you have a few extra bucks, there are two nonessentials Cosentino thinks are worth it: a pizza stone and a Benriner mandolin (benriner.com).
– Buy a stone, and all you need to do is hit the grocery store for prepared dough and the toppings of your choice, and you’re ready to make a pie that tastes better—and has less grease and fewer calories—than delivery. “A pizza stone helps keep the oven temperature constant,” Cosentino says, and that results in a perfect crust.
– Use the mandolin for an easy way to julienne vegetables or cut them into matchsticks. You can quickly slice tons of vegetables and fruit with it, so you don’t need a knife, and they’ll all be uniform size, which can turn an ordinary salad into an impressive-looking course when you invite your girlfriend over for dinner.
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