It’s very difficult sometimes to decide what to buy in terms of cooking equipment. There are a lot of equipment out on the market today, which only makes the decision to buy the right “tool” that much harder. A lot of them are cheap and that is all they are, cheap. Companies advertise them as “home starter packs” but what it should say is “land fill”, because it doesn’t really take that long before they do end up on the hard rubbish pile.
Yes, I do agree that cooking equipment is not cheap to buy, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get really “trustworthy” kitchen tools, trust me, I still have some of the tools I bought when I first moved out of home. You just have to know where to get hem from.
There are a few things that a novice cook must have in the kitchen, like a trusty frying pan. Now, you can buy this at a supermarket for under ten bucks but spend a little more time and maybe an extra fiver, you can get something that will last and serve you much better, for longer.
I have a cast iron frying pan. It distributes the heat evenly and it also holds the heat a lot longer than say, aluminum pans. It certainly lasted a lot longer because unlike Teflon coated pans, the more you use it, the more it becomes protected. You can buy these brilliant pans at many outdoor camping places, but I see them now in many department stores, sold in different sizes at surprisingly low prices.
A sauters, a small sauce pan and a cast iron frying pan
Try and keep away from sets. Half the time you wont even use a lot of them, especially if you’re single or a couple. More pots and pans just make more mess. All you really need in a starter kitchen is a large heavy based pot (about 8 liters) with a tight-fitting lid and a medium heavy based saucepan or sauters with tight-fitting lid and a small sauce pan, all in stainless steel. Spend the money on quality, not quantity. Heavy base for great temperature control, stainless steel for durability and lids so it allows you to cook varied dishes.
Large stainless steel pot with tight fitting lid
One more useful cooking equipment is a wok. How much can we cook using woks? A lot. I cook use mine for just about everything. Great heat distribution (that’s why it is the shape it is in) and heat retention, perfect for the quick pan work, quick stir fries or tossed dishes like pastas, yeah I cook pasta in wok!
A well seasoned wok will last a very long time
Other equipment such as a large chopping board is also great. I would rather have the food on the board than on the bench, especially if you’re renting, at least I know I clean my board. I choose large wooden blocks for home use. For me, I love the softer, more natural feel of chopping on a wooden block. If well oiled and looked after, it would last longer and will be kinder to your knives than any other blocks. DO NOT choose glass or hardened plastic, they absolutely destroy your knives.
A good knife is important and probably one of the first things a chef buys. If you choose right, you can have it for the rest of your life. You really don’t need expensive knives for home cooking but if you are going to buy a professional knife set because it looks good in your kitchen then look for:
- Weight – it is important you choose a knife that is the right weight for you, too heavy then you start looking at injuries (depending how much you use it), too light and it may become unbalanced and again cause serious injuries (constantly cutting yourself).
- Ergonomic – place it in your hand, grip it, pretend to cut with it, if it doesn’t feel balanced or comfortable, then pick another. All knives are shaped slightly differently, pick the one that fits your hand.
- Size of the blade – knives come in many sizes. For me, I pick a 10cm cooks knife, it’s versatile and I can use them for many jobs. Too big or too small, it limits the use.
- The steel – check the steel and quality of the steel. I love carbon steel, it’s soft and keeps it’s edge nicely but it can’t be used for heavy chopping because it’s so fine the edge chips so I only use it for fine knife work. A good mixture of chromium and carbon is good for the all-rounder knife
- Forged handle – I find is the best balanced knife. Simply put, it’s a knife that is moulded into one solid knife as opposed to a blade stuck onto a handle. This is more balanced and most professional chefs have forged handled knives for safety, long life and comfort.
For home use, it doesn’t have to be too difficult or expensive. I go to the Chinese grocer and buy knives for under five bucks and it’s surprising how long it keeps a good edge and how good they feel in the hand, perfect for home use because at the end of the day, you’re not chopping for the hundreds, just few people and the knife isn’t in your hands for too long.
A peeler is important along with a wooden spoon. Cooking with wooden spoons is lot more gentle and doesn’t scratch your pots and pans (metal on metal is not good, leaves metallic residue in your food). A temperature resistant, rubber spatula is very useful for mixing when you are cooking with delicate things like an Anglaise for your ice cream. Your pairing knife is your “go to” knife, especially for those tricky little jobs. The steel is just to take the burrs off the edge of your knives. For home and at work I take out three things all the time, my 10cm chefs knife, a pairing knife and my steel, these three items usually gets me through a day of prep.
A medium, stainless steel mixing bowl is also useful in the kitchen along with a fine, “mesh” conical strainer (chefs call it a chinois). Those pretty coloured colanders you get at the home wares store are only useful for certain jobs, a fine mesh strainer can be used for many more things from passing your Anglaise through and making sure it doesn’t have lumps to straining your pasta!
Cheap Chinese chopper, paring knife, peeler, rubber spatula, wooden spoon, steel
You do build a collection of cooking equipment as time goes by and the more you get into your cooking; but those I have mentioned above are things you must have.
Where to buy? A friend of mine bought a really expensive, full set of Le Cresset pots and pans at the flea market in Gepps Cross (South Australia) for not even a fifth of the price at the stores and it’s in perfect condition. Camping stores or the best bet is on the net; bid for the ex-restaurant equipment, you’d be surprised at the savings and the quality is better than what you would get at any home wares store.
Trust me, when something is so good that it lasts for a long time, buy it because in cooking, the longer you have a piece of equipment the better. You become comfortable with it and you know how it reacts. It does take a lot of the thinking away. For example, you will know how fast your pans will heat up, or what angle to steel your knives or much liquid your pot will take with out thinking. Some chefs, including me, still has and uses their very first knife (chefs are sentimental when it come to that sort of stuff)
One more thing that is a bit of a luxury but I can’t do with out is a food processor. You don’t have to get an expensive one, so long as you look after it. One of these cuts your prep time in half and it has many uses. I’m a chef, I should be using a knife but I’m not making things at home to have restaurant presentation all the time, so long as I get restaurant quality in flavour.
Note: the items above are useful for “general home” cooking. More advanced cooking and baking need another set of cooking equipment. Which will be in another blog.