Monday, December 12, 2011

Kitchen Essentials for Every Aspiring Cook on Your List

Making a base for braised rabbit ragu in a Le Creuset Dutch Oven

Just in time for Green Monday- the latest made up event to spur X-mas sales with the promise of free shipping from online retailers- my list of kitchen equipment I can’t live without.   If you are still making a list, maybe checking it twice, here are a few items that any aspiring cook would be grateful to have in his or her collection. 

Dutch Oven:  My 5 1/2 quart round Le Creuset gets a workout.  From cassoulets to rabbit ragu to beef bourginon, this heavy-duty pan does a lot of heavy lifting.  Dutch ovens from Le Creuset (along with worth competitors such as Staub) combine the heat retention of a cast iron pan with a slick, colorful, almost non-stick enamel surface.  This dynamic combination of parts is perfect for searing meats on the stovetop before adding liquid and vegetables for a transfer and long braise in the oven. But this pan is so versatile it works as well for making simmering soup, soaking beans, or even deep frying.  A word of warning, these pans get addictive.  It is no wonder they come in so many sizes and colors.

Le Creuset 5 1/2 quart Round Dutch Oven- The gold standard. 

12” Stainless Steel Sauté Pan:  I am partial to All-Clad but there are many fine brands out there.  The idea is you want one good sauté pan with a metal handle that can move seamlessly between the stove and the oven.  Say you have a thick piece of halibut or a 2 inch pork chop.  The stove to oven sauté pan lets you sear the fish or meat on the outside for a nice crust then move it into a hot even for a few minutes to finish cooking through.  Just working on the stovetop risks an overcooked outside or an undercooked inside when using a thick cut.  Working both on the stove and in the oven gets the best of both worlds- crispy skin and moist, perfectly cooked interior.  Also good for: frittatas, casseroles, gratins.

All Clad Stainless-Steel Fry Pan

Chefs Knife and Paring Knife:  The very first cooking class I took the instructors drilled into us students that above all else we needed good knives.  But they assured us a full wooden block set was not necessary.  95% of normal home cooking techniques can be done with just a good Chef’s knife and paring knife.  I am partial Henckels but the market is now flooded with well-made options from German Wüstof to Japanese Global and Shun.  Look for a knife with a full tine- the visible metal portion that extends from the blade into the handle.  If you are trying it out in the store, make sure it feels good to hold in the hand- the handle should feel relatively heavy with a good balance to the blade.  While you are at it, pick up a steel- a knife is only as good as the sharpness of the blade.  I like a basic ceramic steel that works for all standard, non-Japanese knives.  And don’t be afraid of a sharp knife.  As many a chef told me over the years, more accidents come from dull knives than sharp ones. 

Kyocera 9-inch Ceramic Steel Sharpener

JA Henckels International 8 inch Chef's Knife

ICEL 4 inch Paring Knife (note: I have had this inexpensive knife for 7 years and it seems to never get dull)

Happy Green Monday Cyber Shopping!

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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