6 of the best: kitchen equipment
In this edition of my occasional series of posts, in which I look at some of my favourite stuff, I am going into the kitchen. In our house, the kitchen has an ill-defined identity. It is a very social place – we hang out and entertain guests there mostly, instead of using the living room. This is partly because a lot of our entertaining is based around food, and the kitchen is where we eat, but also it tends to be the warmest room in the house, as there is an 8kW wood burning stove, which we use a lot from Fall to Spring.
The kitchen is also, to some extent, my domain, as I do a lot of cooking. I enjoy preparing food and the pleasure is at its best when I have the right equipment …
In many of life’s endeavors, being successful is not simply down to having the right kit. This is certainly true of cooking, but IMHO having some good equipment can add to the pleasure. So I have picked out six examples of kitchen equipment that I enjoy. Considering that I am generally a fan of technology, it might be surprising to observe that none of these are electrical …
Every cook needs knives. Having the right knife for each job is important, but comes down to having 3 or 4 at the most. A sharp knife always works best and is usually safest, as a blunt knife can slip. I have a number of steel knives, which I try to keep very sharp. Of course, they lose their edge from time to time and I have to sharpen them, which is easy enough. Unfortunately, after a while they need regrinding, as they stop being able to hold an edge. Another problem with steel knives, as the best ones are plain carbon steel, is acidic vegetables can cause corrosion and discoloring of the food. For these reasons, I have also taken to using some ceramic knives. These are incredibly sharp and never lose their edge. There is a slight knack to get the best out of them: you need to do cutting using a sawing action – that is how they work best. Unfortunately, ceramic knives are not perfect. If you drop one onto a hard surface, they can shatter. Also, if they get knocked around in a drawer or in the dishwasher, the edges can get chipped, which makes them less effective. However, they are my “go to” knives for most vegetables.
Enamelled Cast Iron Pans
To me, the epitome of good design is when something does a great job and looks attractive too. In the kitchen, enamelled cast iron pans meet this brief. They can be used on the hob or in the oven and look so nice that they can be used for serving too – less hassle and washing up. These pans are also virtually indestructible and are likely to last me for the rest of my life – or, at least, as long as I can lift them! They are somewhat non-stick naturally, but, if some food does get burnt on, cleaning tends to be very straightforward.
The pans I have are the classic brand Le Creuset. Some people tend to collect them in a single color. I, however, like the selection of different colors and can take advantage of any good deals that come along. They are quite expensive, but, considering their frequency of use and longevity, their cost of ownership is tiny. This picture shows just six pans. I have at least another five and numerous ceramic dishes of the same brand.
I use a fair amount of garlic in cooking – often several cloves, but I used a whole bulb the other day! Although sometimes chopping garlic is best, most commonly crushing the cloves brings out the oil and, hence, the flavor. Traditional garlic presses are rather fiddly and hard to clean, but I came across this elegant device:
It is a single piece of cast aluminum, with no moving parts. All I have to do is peel a garlic clove, place it on a board or a plate and push down with this tool, then rock from side to side. It is a very simple device, but also looks elegant.
Although I cook food in a wide variety of styles, a cornerstone of English cuisine is roast meat, often served with roast potatoes and a selection of other vegetables. This is a very traditional meal on a Sunday and it is something I like to do from time to time. So, I need a suitable roasting tin. The pan needs to be big enough for a good joint of meat or a large chicken etc., along with some surrounding potatoes. It needs to distribute heat nicely and be easy to clean. It must also remain flat after years of use and be usable on the hob [to make gravy, for example].
Again, Le Creuset provided exactly what I needed. This pan is stainless steel, but is a sandwiched with copper, so it behaves very well. I actually have two of these, which fit nicely side-by-side in my oven. Sometimes I want to roast even more potatoes or other vegetables. Again, thee pans are far from cheap to buy, but have a low cost of ownership
Not all of my favorite cooking equipment is expensive. There are numerous kinds of potato and vegetable peelers on the market and most cooks prefer a specific design. I like the type that is, I believe, called a Lancashire Peeler.
It is very simple, with 2 peeling blades and a pointed end for removing “eyes” etc. The handle is traditionally wood, with a grip made from string. These things are very inexpensive – I would guess that a new one might be less than $3.
All the equipment that I have discussed so far has been for the preparation of food. However, to me, there is a very important adjunct to almost any meal: wine. I enjoy wine, but I am no expert. I know enough to buy a few bottles without getting too many bad surprises. Nowadays, a large proportion of the wine I buy has a screw top, which is fine – no hassle to serve! However, some bottles, particularly some finer wine that might benefit from some bottle ageing, still has a cork. Extracting corks can be annoying and fiddly, but I have several corkscrews on hand that make it easy.
My favorite kind is the style used by many wine waiters. It can be folded away very compactly and has all the necessary features to remove most corks. A small blade helps remove the capsule [the covering over the cork] and a two-stage lever enables even a very stiff cork to be extracted without too much force.