Hmmm, you’ve reached an older feature - let’s get you up to date! Read our latest Cookery lessons features here.
What do your kitchen accessories say about you? (Er, pathetic waste of space with no culinary talent at all – or is that just me?).
Whilst I recently revealed how delighted I was with a novelty poached egg holder, lemon squeezer and jar opener (all essentials in my book, and I’m not budging on my position), Muddy’s resident superchef Paul Collins has gone and trumped me with his own utensil essentials. In fairness, he has chosen some rather groovy items *humph*. Just don’t tell him I told you that.
Kitchen Essentials, by Paul Collins
On my travels across the country cooking in people’s houses, I often get asked what are the things that I could not do without in my own kitchen, or the professional kitchens I’ve previously worked in.
So many gadgets are really useful and I couldn’t work without them, and others should never have made it to market. If you have a turkey baster you’ll know what I mean!
As with other hobbies or interests, you need to start with the basic tools for cooking to enable you to perform, so here you go – my Top Ten kitchen essentials for every home…
1. Chopping Board
It’s a generous size as you really do need the space to slice and chop things up without feeling like you are working on a postage stamp. I always prefer to work on wood to plastic as I feel that it gives better grip to my knives. Make sure you oil it regularly as well as it will keep it in better condition. And always put a damp cloth underneath it to stop it moving when you are chopping.
2. Multiple bowls and trays
There’s nothing more irritating than going to make a cake or a loaf of bread and not having the right shape or sized tray or bowl. I keep a varied collection of stainless steel bowls and good old fashioned Pyrex. I buy them in nests of bowls so that they all stack up nicely in the cupboard and the smaller ones are great for weighing out the small amounts of ingredients when I’m cooking with my kids Ava and George. As for the trays, again, I have a varied collection but I always seem to favour my collection of mermaid trays of various sizes for baking and cookies etc. Choose non stick – always the best!
Sounds obvious? But you really should have the right knife for the task. I have a selection but the vast majority stay put because I can usually use 2-3 knives for most of the jobs. But they also need to be kept sharp so try having one of those knife holders that sits on the worktop, as the minute you start putting them into draws, they really do deteriorate and lose their edge.
I have a mixture of Victorinox, Henkel and Mac knives. One small serated knife for peeling and chopping shallots and peeling garlic, ginger etc, a large chopper for cutting vegetables, and a serated bread knife. Other specialist knives I use less frequently include my boning knife and a flexible knife for when I’m skinning fish.
Great knives need looking after, so you should also have a decent knife steel to keep them sharp. I have a diamond coated one from Tiffany’s. JOKE! It actually cost £25 from Thame.
4. Versatile pots and pans
Buy well and you’ll only fork out for these pans once, so it’s worth paying a little more than the budget. I use professional pots and pans at home and for my work, but I also have a couple of traditional, le Creuset type pans as well for cooking family soups and stews etc.
One of the main advantages for these type of pans is it means I can seal off my meat for the stew, then put the whole pan straight into the oven, thus cutting down on washing up (huzzah!).
Stand-out brands for me include Mauviel, De Buyer and Bourgeat, plus Le Creuset and Circlon. And always buy a professional frying pan with a 20 year guarantee – it really makes a difference to your cooking and of course will save you money in the long term.
5. Tick tock
How many times have I burnt something? Lots and Lots. Occasionally I still do! So a timer is essential, preferably one that sits by the side of the cooker. I think I even picked mine up in Waitrose last time I was there so it doesn’t have to be superflash, just be able to keep the time and beep on demand!
6. Good Utensils
I’ve always bought stainless steel utensils, primarily because they never break ! The ones with plastic handles always seem to come loose (just me?!) and when you’re pouring out hot liquids, the last thing you need is for the handle to fall off!
I keep all my utensils such as whisks, spoons etc in an old ginger jar by the side of the stove so when I need to whisk the sauce or get out my poached eggs they’re the right ones for the job.
7. Maldon Sea Salt
I simply couldn’t cook without this stuff. No other salt will do. It tastes clean and salty, but natural, so you won’t need as much as the refined stuff. I do use Saxa for cooking pots of potatoes but for seasoning meat and fish I always use Maldon, as there is a clarity to its flavour which does make a difference to the finished dish that is for sure.
8. Good Olive Oil
If, like me, you look at the shelf in your local supermarket and are confused by how many types and brands of olive oil they stock, I’d recommend buying own-brand Extra Virgin Oil and Olive Oil as these are really good for the job in hand. Failing that, if you’re near Thame (my nearest town), pop into Italian specialist Umberto’s and take a look at small producers and single estate varieties. These will be more expensive, but well worth a little extra to pour over your salad or Minestrone!
9. Accurate Scales
In every kitchen I work, and at home, I have a very small pair of Salter digital scales that go up in increments of 1g. It’s vital in all recipes, but especially on the pastry and bread making side of things, to be as accurate as possible.
I know that a teaspoon should be 5g but to be certain I always weigh it out. We all know that a pack of butter weighs 250g, but sometimes it still needs to be checked on the scales. Then there should be no nagging doubts if anything does go awry in a recipe.
Occasionally I calibrate my scales by putting on a weight that I know weighs 100g and seeing if the scales say the same. But then I am a bit uptight about this kind of thing!
10. Meat Thermometer
With this little gadget you’ll overcook the meat on a Sunday lunch again. In many professional kitchens these days we have probes attached to the oven so that if we want to cook a piece of meat rare we just tell the probe that temperature, then stick it into the meat and place the meat into the oven. Once it reaches that temperature the oven turns off and the meat will be perfectly cooked. The only difference at home is that you turn the oven off manually.
I’d also recommend manually weighing meat, as it will revolutionise your accuracy when cooking large joints. I have very simple digital scales that are very accurate and cost no more than £15.
All the equipment I’ve mentioned can be found at www.nisbets.co.uk, a professional catering supplier.
As always, if you have any questions do get in touch – I love to hear from you.