January 18, 2005

Stuff you need for cooking

by psu

Hobbyist cooks are almost by definition equipment and gadget freaks. This is one endeavor where the latent object has great power.

Therefore, as a public service, I'm here to tell you what I think you really need, and what is just stuff that's nice to have.

You really need one good knife. I suggest a 8-10 inch chef's knife depending on how big your hands are. I have a soft spot for my mom's old chinese cleaver, but I never use it. A couple of good expensive paring knives also help, but are not critical.

You really need one good non-stick pan. I used to think non-stick pans were for girlie-men who didn't know how to season a decent cast iron skillet. But I find that a 10 inch silverstone-lined frying is perfect for almost everything. I use my pan for

- Eggs
- Stir fry and saute of all types.
- Pan roasting steak and potatoes.
- Fish.
- Making reduced sauces.
- Anything else that is small enough to fit.

For bigger jobs you of course need a bigger pan, but I hardly ever use by larger frying pans anymore, so I think bigger jobs are rare.

You really need one good soup pot. I suggest a 6-8 quart soup pot/dutch oven. Perfect for soup, stew, oven roasting stuff and making pasta. I recently tried one of those tall stock pot things with the pasta insert and it blows. I like my dutch oven better.

You really need a decent cutting board. Make it big enough so you have room to work. I like the wood ones best. But I'm getting old and have started to use lighter plastic ones that are easier to clean.

You really need a good oven. By good I mean, at least even. Sadly, you are usually stuck with the oven you have.

That's really it. You don't need a Wok. You don't need a huge flame thrower stove burner that can char a whole turkey in 20 minutes. You don't need a suitcase full of knives. You don't need three ovens. You don't need a bread machine, Cuisinart, 9000 horse power mixer, or all the rest. But damn they are nice if you have them.

Also, you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on cookware to get good stuff. Buy it on sale. Go to a restaurant supply house. In particular, don't buy super expensive frying pans. Frying pans, if you are using them right, get destroyed. Buy a $30 pan every couple of years instead of a $100 pan every couple of years.

Oh right. You need a rice cooker.

Posted by psu at January 18, 2005 08:05 PM | Bookmark This

To steal advice from Alton Brown, if your oven is really uneven, compensate. Unglazed ceramic tiles stuck in there will increase preheating times, but they'll also help even out the heat distribution once it's there.

Posted by Josh Myer at January 18, 2005 08:54 PM

I got to the second to last paragraph thinking "uh, you also need a rice cooker".

Posted by Faisal N. Jawdat at January 18, 2005 09:19 PM

I will suggest a ceramic knife in the arsenal. I use my 8" for just about everything except slicing bread and cleaving meats. It stays sharp for years but you do have to beware of chips.

Posted by Kristen at January 18, 2005 11:06 PM

If I were to be stranded on a desert island with a kitchen, here is what I would pray to be washed up on the shore: First, a good 8-inch stamped chef's knife. I own 6-, 8-, and 10-inch Wusthof chef's knives, and they are great. But if I could take only one blade, it would be my 8-inch stamped chef's because the thin blade makes constrained cutting, such as when dicing an onion, easier. And on the island, I would expect to be dicing many onions.

Second, I'll pray for a good 13-inch, non-stick frypan. I'll probably be sauteing island shrimp frequently, and I don't want the shrimp bunching up in the pan. You need the space to ensure for direct, powerful heat transfer. Otherwise, you're just steaming.

Third, an 5.5-quart All Clad saucier. This is my most used piece of cookware at home. With it, I can saute, brown, braise, cook soups, make rice, and do just about anything. It is the single most versatile thing I have ever encountered. (See http://www.allclad.com/displayimage.asp?id=449)

That's it. Give me the above, some coconuts, and a fish hook, and I'll enjoy my stay on the island.

Posted by Tom Moertel at January 18, 2005 11:30 PM

My favorite knife these days is a little 4-inch "mini-chef's" knife from Oxo. The blade's not long enough to rock from the tip when you're chopping, but it's very easy to handle for all kinds of slicing and triming tasks.

How well does the nonstick pan handle deglazing?

Posted by Christina at January 19, 2005 01:03 AM

I actually noticed after the fact that my favorite knife is an 8 inch and my second favorite is my wife's 6. So I edited the knife part a bit.

For some reason I always think my stuff is bigger than it is.

Posted by psu at January 19, 2005 08:02 AM

I'm an advocate of the cast-iron skillet school, but not for the reasons you think.

First, there's at least some research that shows that some classes of nonstick pans can emit fumes that are toxic to birds when heated above a certain temperature (see, for example, http://www.newmediaexplorer.org/sepp/2004/01/31/toxic_teflon_frying_pans.htm). There are no birds in my kitchen, but I'm operating from the assumption that if they're majorly harmful to birds, they might be minorly harmful to me. So anything done at high heat I do in the cast-iron skillet (I also wear my tinfoil hat while cooking, to protect me from the radios the CIA put in my teeth).

Second, I find my cast-iron skillet to be easier to clean than my nonstick pans. Just dump a generous amount of kosher salt in and wipe vigorously. And I can be as rough as I want, and not worry that I'm going to damage the delicate coating.

Posted by peterb at January 19, 2005 08:06 AM

I think you're right on the knife. One good one is all that's necessary. I would personally not need a rice cooker, as I really don't make rice for myself, and I actually have appearantly been really lucky in the times I've cooked it for other people, as it's been basically perfect every time. I would insist on a large cast iron pan. Baking, frying, etc, it's simply too versatile to ignore. That said, I do like having a decent non-stick pan--not the el crapo ones, but something in the $30 range is perfect.

Posted by rmitz at January 19, 2005 08:39 AM

With regard to pan deglazing, the main downside of the nonstick is that there is not as much cool burnt junk on the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Otherwise it works OK.

The silverstone is pretty tough stuff. Like I said, I spend about $30 on a pan every two or three years. Which, for something I abuse every day seems like a good deal.

Posted by psu at January 19, 2005 09:34 AM

I'm still in the "If I want non-stick, I'll use my cast iron" stage. But I also like to think I'm beyond the basics in my kitchen, except for the decent stove part. That will be coming soon, though.

Posted by Shelby at January 19, 2005 10:13 AM

If you cook meat, you need a digital probe thermometer. They're about $15 at Target, and they take all of the guesswork out of cooking. They are one of the wonders of the modern kitchen.

Posted by peterb at February 10, 2005 04:31 PM

howdy... first time here... anyway...

* A good set of knives, Wusthof is a very good choice.

* A set of good pots & pans, non-stick, but not the teflon coated crap, get hard-anondized instead and dont worry about the teflon question.

* A wok - the size of the sides is for cooking stuff at different temperatures, something you cant do effectively in a saute pan.

* A garlic press. Fresh garlic is best, and it gets extremely tedious to cut it by hand.

* A rice cooker. Absolute, must-have. Good rice is a pain in the ass by hand.

* Metal Collander for steaming veggies.

* Huge wooden BooS Block cutting board. It should be big enough to place a virgin on it to sacrifice.

Posted by joe at February 23, 2005 03:45 PM

So much of this is preference and technique -- I use garlic near-constantly, and it's never occurred to me to want or need a garlic press. That's what the side of a good solid chef's knife is for.

Posted by Nat at February 24, 2005 12:37 AM

You're gonna have a hard time baking a pie.

Posted by Honus at November 12, 2005 08:26 PM

Luckily, I don't bake.

Posted by psu at November 12, 2005 10:50 PM

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