Monday, December 28, 2009

Equipment corner

As promised, I will talk about this today:

What, exactly, am I looking at you ask? Well that is my global 8 inch chef's knife in its new sheath from sitting upon my tool kit for school. I finally received this thing after some serious waiting (the guy at culi-tool apparently forgot about the order, but did refund money because of the wait. He seems like a fantastic guy and honest to boot.) and am very happy with it so far. It seems like the perfect thing for culinary school, but I don't know if it is too geeky to actually wear your knife on your belt. I guess I will see if they all laugh at me or if they are all jealous. It seems like a handy thing to me, so maybe I don't really care what they think.

Well, the idea here is to talk a bit about essential equipment. This is going to be a bit of an overview as anything in depth would be far too lengthy to read. Perhaps later in the blog I will give my opinion on cookware, knives, and other sundries. For now, I was thinking of just a list of things you should have in your kitchen. As for us culinary students, our kits look something like this:

Well, I have to say, my case is fairly unique. Most culinary students carry around something that looks more like this:

Mine is literally just a tool briefcase I purchased at Home Depot with some customization. Eventually I plan to rivet some other modifications into the darn thing, but I need to get a rivet gun first and work out what exactly I want to do. Anyway, the carrying case is a bit beside the point. What tools it carries is more important. As I am in the Desserts and Breads program, my kit is going to be a bit different than the standard culinary student's kit, so don't take my word as law for anything. As for the home kitchen, here is what I think you should have:

1. First and foremost to me in any kitchen is your chef's knife. If you are going to invest your money anywhere, invest it here. I have two 8 inch chef's knives, one by Global and one by Shun. In the past I have also owned an 8 inch Henckels chef knife which I liked at the time. The chef's knife is the most versatile instrument in the kitchen to me. I use it every day. Well, I could talk forever about this, so look for future posts on the topic. For now, suffice it to say that this is the heart of your kitchen. Don't skimp.

The rest of these are in no particular order. I find them all important and somewhat essential.

  • Tongs - yes, it seems simplistic, but I love tongs. Screw the fancy wooden salad fork and spoon gift set, give me a pair of tongs in a salad bowl any day of the week. Screw the stupid pasta fork thingy, give me the tongs. Screw the carving fork, give me the tongs. Skimp away here, by the way. A pair of tongs is a pair of tongs. No need for anything fancy.
  • Bench scraper - I love this tool. Strangely enough, I use it the most for cleaning, but its great for scooping chopped veg, or for cutting dough into portions, or for chopping butter. Again, nothing fancy is needed here.
  • Frying pan - Ok, I will probably also spend another blog post on cookware some time in the future, but I consider the most important cookware in the kitchen to be the frying pan. I guess the saucepan is also fairly essential as they do entirely different things. I will talk more about non-stick and all that later. This is one of those things I wouldn't skimp on by the way. There is a huge difference between the cheap crap you can get at Target and the professional cookware you get from restaurant supply stores. Spend the money, it matters.
  • Kitchen scale - I know, I know, it seems like something you can do without. Trust me on this, especially if you plan to do even moderate baking. A scale is essential. Get one that can convert between metric and imperial. Get one that can tare (this means you can reset the weight to zero as to add-on more items to whatever is on the scale). I have an Oxo Good Grips scale with a pull out display. It is fast and accurate.
  • Half sheet pan - You need at least one. If you have an oven that can handle a full sheet pan, I hate you and you should should get full sheet pans and half sheet pans. A couple of things to go with this - a cooling rack and parchment and/or a silpat.
  • Paring knife - You can't do everything with a chef's knife. Some things require a smaller blade. Don't go crazy. Something simple with suffice.
  • Bread knife - the one serrated blade I recommend in the kitchen. Get one long enough to cut through a 12 inch round cake.
  • Carving knife - ok, the last knife I will recommend for now. I would suggest one fairly long for the larger cuts of meat. I also recommend a graton edge to help while carving. Again, I will discuss knives more in-depth later.
  • Wooden spoons - Super cheap and great for stirring or scraping fond from your frying pan. I usually go cheap, but since I have broken a rubber scraper and a wooden spoon this xmas while stirring fudge, I think I will spend the couple extra dollars for a the stronger spoons in the future.
  • Rubber scraper - speaking of which, get a rubber scraper. I like the clear silicon ones for no particular reason other than they do not melt as easily and the stains are not so apparent. I can also see more clearly when they weaken and need to be replaced. Again, I will be looking for sturdier handles after the fudge debacle this year.
  • Measuring spoons, cups, etc. - While I like the scale for most applications these days, I still require at least a teaspoon measure, a cup measure, and a tablespoon measure. I would go stainless steal with sturdy handles. I prefer the deeper spoons to the shallow ones. Longer handles can come in handy.
  • Thermometer - you need this. You do. Get one with a range big enough for candies and frying (think -40 degrees F to 500+ degrees F). I recommend digital and perhaps one that doubles as a timer. I have a Thermopen which I adore as well as 4 others.

The not so essentials, but stuff I still love:

  • prep bowls - I have a ton of bowls in the kitchen. I have glass/ceramic ones of various sizes that are ok in the microwave. I have stainless steel ones that I can use either directly over heat or as double boilers. I recommend all sizes from as small as 1/4 cup to as big as, I donno, 2 gallons?
  • mixer - expensive I know, but I love my Kitchen Aid. I would go 6 quart (the one with the bowl that can be lifted and lowered, vs the one with the tiltable head). Once again, I would say skip this one unless you are willing to spend the money for the Kitchen Aid or better.
  • food processor - while we are talking electronics, I love the food processor. I can chop most things on my own, but the food processor is definitely a plus when it comes to making mayo or dressings or purees.
  • cling wrap - I know, not good for the environment. If you are uber conscious of such things, by all means skip it, but I use this stuff all the time for food preservation, for splatter guards while tenderizing, and as an aid when shaping certain things like barrages and my home-made pop-tarts.

Ok, so really this list could go on forever, but these are what I can think of now. I am undoubtedly forgetting some essentials, but this is a good start. I would ask for recommendations, but as of now, this blog feels very much like me spouting off incoherent blather to a limitless void. I wonder, sometimes, how Molly and Julia ever actually became noticed within the vast ocean that is the blogosphere. Ah well, if nothing else, it acts as an interesting journal to which I can return when I am feeling nostalgic. And perhaps some day someone will find some use of this all. You never can tell...

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