It has occurred to me that if I’m sharing recipes and cooking tips with all of you, I ought to make sure you have the tools to make the foods I’m showing you. Hence, the first five basic cooking supplies your kitchen should have and why. This will be a continuing series, so don’t think I’m expecting you to make every recipe in the world with these five tools.
Dutch oven: Super versatile, oven safe, easy to clean, cheap (at the low end, at least), the virtues of this piece of cookware just keep coming. I use mine to roast chickens, make soup, fry pork chops, saute vegetables, etc. I honestly use it just about every day. You can find super cheap cast-iron, non-enameled versions at surplus stores, flea markets, and camping supply stores (they’re very rugged and durable) that should set you back less than $35.
Old ones at flea markets and antique shops will cost a bit more ($50-$80), and the super fancy enameled ones from companies like La Creuset will set you back at least $100, though they come in colours instead of just black iron.
Pro-tip: you can give any cast iron cookware a renewable non-stick surface simply by pouring a layer of oil (canola works just fine, anything with a high smoking point) into the bottom and heating it until the oil shimmers and begins to smoke, then pouring most of the hot oil off and allowing the pan to cool. Repeat once or twice, wipe with a towel, and like magic you have a non stick surface that won’t get scratched. Just know that if you use soap when washing the pan, you’ll have to start over. Instead, just use water and a scrub brush for really stubborn bits.
Cast iron skillet/large frying pan: Again, I favour cast iron for the above reasons, but really any pan will do. Why do you need both? A broad, low walled frying pan allows water vapor to escape cooking food more easily, which improves browning. Downside: the low walls increase the spatter effect, which is why I often use the dutch oven for messier tasks.
High quality knife: You really ought to have more than one knife, but in a pinch you should have one really good, always sharp knife. I use a cleaver my dad brought back from Japan years ago (the knife has to be at least 40). It has a very thin blade profile — which makes for easier, lower resistance strokes through material — and I use it for EVERYTHING.
I like a carbon steel knife blade because it sharpens better and gains a better edge, but it does rust more and that’s unsightly to some (I think it gives it a badass, antique patina), though it comes off easily with a Brillo pad. You can find old knives for fairly reasonable prices at yard sales, antique fairs, and flea markets, or shell out some more cash for a brand new one, but I suggest buying something high quality either way. Look for a long tang (the part of the blade that extends into the handle) which affects the strength and balance of the knife, avoid 440A steel (if you have to buy stainless, 440C or another high-carbon stainless alloy would be better), and above all remember to sharpen your knife regularly. A sharp knife makes for easy cooking! A good knife, maintained regularly, will last your whole life.
Colander: use it to drain pasta, boiled broccoli, for rinsing fresh vegetables, for draining canned foods, whatever. It might not be exciting (unless it’s green), but it is essential.
Tongs: You’ll need these to avoid super-burny hands or mangled, dirt-covered food. Cooking is way easier when you can actually manipulate hot food. Plus, if you buy long handled ones you can use them both in the kitchen and on the BBQ.
Those are the first five tools I’m suggesting you place in your kitchen cabinets. Next week I’ll provide you with a recipe, and recommend a few more basic tools for the beginning chef.