Cut up (photo by Bethany Winter)
Most good cooking happens with one tool: a super-sharp knife. However, creating plated masterpieces (or just the best mashed potatoes ever) requires a few more tools. Here is my guide, plus a link to the Amazon list where you can find them all.
Shun Santoku Knife I like a Japanese knife for most basic cutting purposes. The blade is easy to sharpen (and keep sharp) but more delicate than its German friends, though, so don’t try cutting through chicken bones with this guy.
Wusthof Chef Knife Go German for heavier tasks, like breaking down a chicken, or cutting up thick winter squashes.
Epicurean Cutting Board Epicurean makes beautiful wooden boards that are dishwasher safe and pretty enough to stand in as a cheese board in a pinch. The one on the Amazon list is reversible — flat on one side for easily transferring chopped veggies to a bowl or pan, then grooved on the reverse to catch everything from watermelon juice to the chicken blood you so desperately want to keep on the board and off your floor.
Epicurean Pizza Peel Maybe not an essential for every cook, but if you bake your own bread or make homemade pizza, this gorgeous board is sturdy and well made, but attractive enough to serve up those slices straight from the oven.
Stainless Nesting Bowls The workhorse of any kitchen, stainless bowls are light, functional and easy to store and keep clean.
Pyrex Measuring Cups with lids Similar to the bowls, but the ability to measure and mix in one container rocks, and these guys also get bonus points for being microwaveable.
Plastic Quart Containers Ubiquitous in restaurant kitchens, these players should have their own drawer in your home too. Dishwasher safe, microwave safe, freezer safe, reusable … but the best thing about these is they come in quart, pint and cup sizes, but each size uses the same size lid. They stack easily and are easier to dry and store than their Ziploc or Glad counterparts.
Mandoline If you eat a lot of veggies, you need a mandoline. That is all. It makes uniform slices, putting ratatouille and homemade French fries well within reach of weeknight execution. You’ll also want that mesh glove. I guess oyster shuckers the world over swear by those things, but I use mine so I don’t have to use the stupid pusher that comes with the mandoline and wastes a quarter of your vegetable by stabbing it with its little prongs.
Citrus Press (Orange) Most limes I buy are too big for the green lime press. Most lemons are too big for the yellow lemon press. I press everything with my one orange (wait for it) orange press.
Ricer Ricing your potatoes is efficient and creates the best possible, creamiest, most consistent mash. Instead of randomly smashing the potatoes with a standard masher or turning them into wallpaper paste by repeatedly working them unnecessarily in a stand mixer, the ricer mashes them easily while only pressing them once. It functions like a large garlic press.
Fish spatula These are for more than just flipping tuna. Fish spatulas are perforated, so they’re naturals for removing food from poaching liquid or frying oil. Plus they’re great for scraping stuff that sticks, turning large and heavy flat things like grilled cheeses and cauliflower steaks without ripping them to shreds. They also come in right- and left-handed versions, so keep that in mind when shopping.
Bench scraper Cut dough into equal pieces, clean the sticky flour from your countertop (and rolling pins) or even use the versions with rulers on the edge to quickly assess the size of a pan or plate.
Roux whisk A flat whisk isn’t just for making Creole roux. The flat design prevents batter and sauce ingredients from getting lodged in the center of the whisk. No more picking cookie dough out of the middle of the whisk.
Locking tongs Don’t get the kind with silicone tips. Those are just slippery. Don’t get the kind that have a little metal piece that you have to pull down over the tongs to hold them together instead of locking. You want to be able to unlock them by tapping the end on the counter.
Microplane Grate like the pros. Everything from Parmesan to lime zest to ginger comes out beautifully grated or minced.
Ceramic Peeler These are a little fragile compared to metal versions but do a swell job since they stay super sharp and food tends to easily fall away from the blade.
All-Clad Stainless Steel Pans Heavy, indestructible, dishwasher safe. Unfazed by an SOS pad (more on that in a minute). They look pretty hanging but store stacked in a drawer just as easily.
SOS Pads Really, why are people afraid of using SOS pads? They are wonderful, efficient, and they get nasty stuff off your pans. People often ask, “but don’t those scratch up your pans?” Well, perhaps they scratch them slightly over time, but I’d prefer to have slightly scratched pans that don’t have food residue all over them.
Vitamix You might not need a Vitamix to feel that your kitchen is well appointed, but if you ever get one you won’t regret it. Wow, from making your own baby food to turning weird CSA greens into pestos and soups, the Vitamix does the job better than any other blender.
Deep Fryer If you don’t ever fry, you probably don’t need a countertop deep fryer. On the other hand, if you had your own, you might end up frying a lot more. I have lots of tips about deep frying and how to work it into a healthy diet. But that’s another post.
Salt Pig Easy access to your seasoning products is a must. I like this guy because it’s easy to fill and looks cute (but not too kitschy) on my counter.
Silicone Spatulas and Spoonulas The brand, color and style is less important than the heat resistance. You want spoonulas that can stand up to a hot pan and a dishwasher.
Bamboo Skewers Not just for grilling kebabs, the bamboo skewer is the perfect humble tool for testing everything from cakes to boiled potatoes for doneness. Plus, they really come in handy for jumbo shrimp tempura if you decided to take the leap on that deep fryer. They’re cheap and they won’t take up too much space, so really you should just go ahead and invest.
I’m sure there are plenty of tools I’m forgetting, so I’ll try to keep updating this post and the accompanying Amazon list. But for now, these favorites are a good place for most cooks to start.