The difference between a cook and a chef welcomes many different opinions, but when I heard Christopher Kimball of Milk Street’s definition distinguishing between the two, I took note.
He enumerated a few more contrasts, but these three stood out in my mind and stuck in my memory, primarily because they make sense. Often the cook adheres to the recipe as they haven’t cooked often or that particular dish/recipe often and may not trust themselves to create the flavors as they go. As well, when we don’t know the function of salt or don’t have quality salt, we may have never experienced what it can do for the ingredients selected when used properly.
Most important to note, one role (chef or cook) is not better than the other; I find it simply interesting to consider what may define someone as a chef versus a cook. And with that said, as someone who enjoys cooking, the more I cook in the kitchen, the more I push my explorations with ingredients, with recipes and have more fun exploring without the guidance of a recipe. I also use more salt (quality salt) while I cook.
Recently, I made a flourless chocolate cake, and I appreciated that the recipe explicitly stated, add more salt than you may be comfortable with. 🙂 This made me smile because doing so made ALL the difference in bringing out the deep rich flavor of the quality chocolate used – contrasting the sweet with the savory and creating a delicious bite. I didn’t taste ‘salt’. I tasted a decadent chocolate cake. 🙂
Salt I recommend, but there are many:
All of this is to say, the more time I spend in the kitchen, the more I dance with my kitchen and move about, reaching for what I need, using what is necessary, I have found these 15 kitchen tools to be essential and pretty much all I need to make most recipes whenever I cook. Now notice, I am not making a baking utensils list (that can be found in my first book), as I am much more of a cook than a baker (although I do love making a good tart quite frequently :)).
Again, these tools are for everyday cooking, and as you know what you enjoy making in your own kitchen and eating, you will know what key tools are essential in your kitchen. But if you are just getting started or looking to fine-tune and invest in quality items, these 15 will treat you well, and yes, purchase quality, and they will last and perform well allowing you to be the cook, and not become disappointed by inconsistencies.
1. Lots of Rubber Spatulas!!
Whether the one or two are being washed and not readily available or I need a larger one versus a smaller one, I find I need at least three, but thankfully have five spatulas now in my kitchen of three different sizes.
2. Dutch Oven (enough for 5-6 servings)
My big splurge upon returning home from my first solo trip to France (aside from studying abroad in my early 20s) was to buy myself my very own Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Used constantly for browning meat, making lentils, soups, and so many other dishes, when you are able, give yourself the gift of Le Creuset or another quality brand – Staab comes highly recommended. They will last your lifetime.
3. Fine Mesh Strainer (medium size)
To drain my black rice or farro after having boiled on the stove, I regularly use my medium-sized strainer (I have the large and small mesh strainers, but rarely use them). I also use my strainer to sieve batter for lemon tarts and anything that I want to remove the lumps from when in a liquid. They sit easily on top of a mixing bowl, and keep in what you want and let through what you need to pass through.
4. Ditto for Spoons – Lots!
One of the most inexpensive extras to have in your kitchen for stirring, scraping and simply tending to whatever is on top of the stove, when you find a style, shape or size that works for you, buy multiples.
5. Pepper Grinder
Freshly ground pepper is added to at least one meal if not every single meal I cook each and every day. This is my go to grinder. It looks nice, isn’t too fancy and functions wonderfully.
6. At least two 9-10″ traditional fry pans made of either copper, cast iron or carbon steel
I love my copper – heats up quickly, distributes the heat evenly, retains heat well and will last forever. Cast iron and carbon steel are just as wonderful for their own reasons. I have one cast iron pan I use every single day and so long as it is seasoned, it is my non-stick wonder pan. While I don’t have a carbon steel pan, these are recommended highly by chefs as they too become naturally non-stick after their first seasoning and are much lighter than the cast iron pans. Also, their handles (shop de Buyer) are made in such a way to not become hot while the pan is on the stovetop.
7. Box Grater
From grating cheese, vegetables or anything else that needs the fine removal of its goodness, a box grater’s sturdiness and ease of use is a must-have in my kitchen. Offering four different ways of slicing or grating, it is multi-functional as well which makes it even nicer without having to add separate sizes, etc.. The fewer accoutrements to store the better.
8. Three knives – top quality: Chef’s knife (between 20-22″ in length), a serrated knife, a paring knife
Once you have quality knives, your love for cooking will deepen. At least it did for me. Keep them sharpened (simply use a sharpener such as this one – I prefer my sharpener flatter rather than round as it holds the knife in place more safely), and you will not only gain confidence in the kitchen, but the pace at which you can prepare your food to cook and bring to the plate will increase.
9. Metal tongs
I have used a handful of different tongs, but I find myself returning to the basic metal tongs that can be held closed when not in use by pulling up the top of the handle. They easily can grab the meat to flip or turn, even if the skin is stuck, and I also don’t use a long pair of tongs as they often get in the way. 9″ is my ideal.)
10. Whisks with a top hook – multiple (and at least two different sizes)
Whisks that can hang from a rack (as when they are stored in a canister often get tangled up with other utensils and when I pull them out, the entire contents come up and out with the whisk) and in multiple sizes. Every single day a whisk is used as I prepare my eggs for breakfast.
11. Metal spatulas – multiple
I have a few different sizes and styles – traditional – I have a few of this size alone (eggs and pancake flipping), super thin for helping me with my pastry dough and a fish spatula.
12. A deep metal pot for boiling water for pasta
Complete with handles on either size to be able to carry from the sink to the stovetop when it is filled with water, I have only needed one of these deep metal pots and I am thankful because they do take up a lot of space in the cupboard; however, having one is a necessity.
13. Sauce pans in 3-4 different sizes (with lids)
Whether for boiling and then simmering my black rice or farro or couscous, melting butter or chocolate or both, sauce pans in a variety of sizes are a must, and they store well because they can often nest within each other which is helpful for storage purposes.
14. 1/2 or 1/4 size baking sheets for roasting vegetables, cooking gougéres, etc. (full size baking sheets tend to be too big for the amount I make, but that size might be perfect for how many servings you need).
A peek at my oven and all three of the baking sheet sizes (I primarily use the top two – the bottom one is a full-size baking sheet)
I usually line these pans with parchment paper or tin foil when I use them, but they inevitably show their use. However, it doesn’t matter as they continue to work as they should, and I store them in my sheet pan drawer next to my stove for easy grab and use, I have two of each, and that has turned out to be just enough.
15. 3 graduating liquid measuring cups – 1 cup, 2 cup and 4 cup sizes
For quite some time I hand one liquid measuring cup (2cup size), but I found either it was in the dishwasher when I needed it (not washed yet – yes, I know I could have hand-washed it), or I needed to fill it twice or more for what I needed (the broth for risotto, for example). As these tools are not that expensive (Pyrex is my go-to), I went and finally purchased a smaller size – which is most often used for baking and then I purchased the 4-cup size which I use every single day to whisk up my eggs for breakfast.
With each year, more time spent in the kitchen, exposure to new recipes and meals and with inspiration from travel, this list will likely change as it has so far; however, simply knowing you have the essentials to make a great meal, elevates the enjoyment each time you step into your kitchen to prepare it. Be sure to tune in for Season 4 of The Simply Luxurious Kitchen this September, Saturday the 11th for more ideas for enjoying your food and enjoying ever more stepping into your kitchen.
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~View all of the posts from FRENCH WEEK 2021 here.