I am a firm believer in buying basic, quality cooking tools. I have many pieces that I have been cooking with for decades now and I see quality tools as an investment. I do not seek to buy every gadget available, but my criteria for buying a new tool is justified when I do not already have something that can perform its function, or if I need a specific tool to perform a specific job. Many of my tricks and strategies over the years are helped by the use of a particularly-shaped tool — for example, I have had the same wok paddle for 20 years but it is special in shape because it perfectly matches the curve of my wok!
Below I will illustrate some of my favourite must have kitchen utensils and tools and explain why:
Lodge Cast-Iron Cookware
This line of cookware is very affordable and is extremely durable — your cast iron will likely outlive you, and your children. Cared for properly, it will perform perfectly for you in the kitchen every time. It also doubles as a roasting pan and can withstand very high oven temperatures.
Before using your cast iron for the first time, you need to season / cure it. This requires:
-Washing and drying your pan thoroughly
-Warm the pan up slightly on the stove. Using a paper towel, rub shortening or vegetable oil all over the inside of the cooking surface
-Place the pan in the oven at 350F and bake for 20 minutes (right side up), then flip it upside down (you’ll probably want a foil-lined cookie sheet underneath to catch any drips) and bake for 3 hours
By doing this, you will properly seal the cast iron and it will act as a better “non stick” surface.
It is important to buy high-quality knives — not only because you want your tools to last long, but also because cheap knives dull easily and become a safety hazard. Invest in a few essential knives and a sharpener and you will not regret it. It will make cutting much easier (and safer). Henckels, Shun, Global, Wusthof, etc. are all excellent brands. In my collection, I have a mix of different knife brands. If you can, resist buying the large wooden holder with 20 knives of every shape and size. Take that money and invest in a handful of higher-end knives. I have been cooking for over 40 years and use a steady supply of 2-3 knives in my daily cooking. Despite what the commercials tell you, you do not need 20 knives.
The following are my “must have” knives:
While there are many great brands out there, a staple across the board is the classic 8″ chef’s knife. This is the knife you will be using for the majority of your cutting, slicing, and dicing. This size is perfect for most kitchen tasks. I have two versions: a lighter duty version suitable for “finer” cutting (can slice tomatoes, slice off orange peels) and a heavier-duty version that I can use to cut through bone and harder material. Both are 8-10″ chef knives and are absolute staples to my everyday cooking.
This is a more specialized knife, designed to maneuver and cut the meat around bones. I use this knife the most when I am de-boning whole chickens, which is my preferred method. Typically I buy a whole free range chicken and take it apart myself, saving the bones so I can make my own chicken stock. While not everyone will be doing this, I do it on a regular basis and therefore a boning knife is an essential to my kitchen kit.
Sharpening Steel / Rod
This tool is typically made of steel or ceramic, and helps to re-align your knives to retain their sharpness before use. I take my knives in for sharpening once or twice a year to a professional, but for at-home use, I use a sharpening steel on a regular basis. While this is intimidating to some people, the alternative would be to purchase a separate knife sharpener that is on wheels and where you simply slide the knife back and forth. That system works the same, but I find it is much easier to reach for a sharpening rod as it sits in the holder next to my chef’s knife.
Again, this is a bit more of a specialized tool but I use it often in my Chinese cooking. Not only does the heavy handle double as a mallet, it is a knife you will use forever. I have had mine for almost 30 years. I typically use it to chop through heavier items, like when I am serving a whole duck or whole chicken. There is no other way to chop through bone unless you have a heavy knife like this. Mine is the Chinese style where the handle is also made of steel.
For me, it is important to have a stock pot. Not only because I make a variety of traditional Chinese soups, but also because I like to make my own chicken broth. As I mentioned, I usually save any chicken bones make my own stock. Whenever I make large batches, I put them into reusable containers and defrost them as I need them. This is far more economical and healthier than buying chicken stock in a can or carton. A stock pot is also useful for making large batches of tomato & meat sauce, which I often do as well.