All posts tagged Top 10

Top 10 Kitchen Essentials

Ten Kitchen Essentials

Recently, a friend of ours who is setting up a new kitchen asked us about our Top 10 Kitchen Essentials – the must have items to outfit a new kitchen. Here is my top list:

  1. A comfortable, sharp chef’s knife. This is your workhorse. It should be as long as is comfortable for your grip – usually 8-10 inches is about right. Keep it SHARP – that’s far more important than how much you paid for the knife itself – but more on that below. Get hands on with knives before you buy them – go peek at a friend’s house or grip them in the store. If you’re afraid of the knife, it’ll cut you. You have to be comfortable with it.
  2. A comfortable, sharp paring knife. Usually 3-4″. This is your fine detail knife, useful for smaller or more precise tasks. Again, keep it SHARP. Seriously, a dull knife is one of the most dangerous things in a kitchen – they’re exponentially more likely to skip off food and cut you, and the cuts they do leave are more like a tear than a cut. Sharp knives go where you want them to, and if they do happen to nick you, they do so almost politely – cleanly and quick to heal.
  3. A honing steel. This is a metal or ceramic rod that helps maintain a knife’s edge. An example is this ceramic rod by Messermeister. A honing steel doesn’t sharpen your knife, in that it doesn’t actually take metal off the blade, but it helps keep the edge true and working well until the knife is truly dull. Use this often – a few swipes before getting started. When this doesn’t get your knife sharp, it’s time to find a good professional and let them put a great edge back on your knife. (This is usually every 6-12 months, depending on use.)
  4. A skillet. 10 inch is a good all-purpose size. I like stainless steel, with a heavy base, to keep the heat even. (Something along the lines of this 10″ Cuisinart skillet could work great.) Since this is a top-10 list, I’m skipping non-stick skillets – regular metal is more versatile. Humanity survived without non-stick surfaces for years and ate well.
  5. A good pot. 4 quart or greater. May not be large enough for boiling pasta, but it’ll handle all sorts of soups, sauces, and the like. Again, make sure it’s sturdy, not flimsy – avoid aluminum, as it can react with acidic foods and this is your one good pot for anything. Stainless or enameled cast iron are my favorites. Something similar to this 4 quart pot from Cuisinart would work well.
  6. Cutting boards. This is your work surface; don’t skimp on size. There is no definitive scientific evidence that I’ve seen on whether wood or plastic is better; basically, both will perform well as long as you care for them. Clean promptly in hot soapy water (plastic ones can generally go through the dishwasher). I like having two, one specifically for raw/uncooked meats and one for everything else. Avoid glass, marble, or other exotic materials, as all they do is dull your sharp knife.
  7. Instant read thermometer. Yes, I put this on my top ten list. I own the Cadillac of instant read thermometers, the Thermapen (in British Racing Green). It isn’t cheap, but it’s the gold standard. For years, though, I used another instant read thermometer from Thermoworks, the RT301WA. This thing is a workhorse. The main difference is that it takes 5-6 seconds to read instead of 3, and it’s about one fifth of the price of the Thermapen. Use this religiously to test any meat for being done, whether bread is cooked all the way through, whether the water is hot enough to poach – really, once you get in the habit, you’ll find you use it all the time.
  8. Utensils. It’s a bit of a cheat to put a category item here instead of listing things out, but these are incidentals. Have a good spoon, solid and slotted. Have a couple of big heat-resistant spatulas. Have a turner/flipper spatula. Have a couple of whisks, one French-style (slender and long) and one balloon-style (same length, but much wider) – they’re used for different things. (Use the skinnier one to mix things, use the balloon whisk to beat air into things like whipped cream or egg whites.)
  9. Mixing bowls. Have a couple of good big ones. It’s easier to use a bowl that is too big than a bowl that’s too small. Plus, they double as a giant salad bowl for when, like me, you decide to binge on lettuce. (It happens.)
  10. Side towels. Kitchen towels dedicated to wiping up spills, quick cleaning of counters, and as a pot/pan-holder. Wash after every use. I’m kind of obsessive about my kitchen linens, but they really are great tools to have.
  11. Bonus: A totem. I’m stealing the term from an Alton Brown interview, but it’s something I’ve done for a long time. This is the thing that gets you in the right frame of mind to be in the kitchen. For me, for a long time, it was a bobble-head tiki god that Christine bought for me at Target one day. It sat next to the cooktop (at my insistence – I admit, it matched exactly none of our d├ęcor), and I would tap it on the head before any food met pan. Currently, that guy is in a box from the move, and I don’t have a great home for him. Instead, now, it’s my best blue pinstriped apron I picked up in England, with a side towel hanging from the waistband. Putting that on is the difference from I’m-going-to-go-heat-something-quick and I’m-serious-about-what-I’m cooking. It’s like any other uniform – putting it on is putting on your game face.