When I was waxing rhapsodic about my ice cream maker the other day, it got me thinking about my favorite kitchen tools, the ones I absolutely could not do without. What if, for some reason, I had to rebuild my kitchen from zero? What would I spend my money on?
So I put together this list of my top 10 most essential tools for the kitchen. I don’t think you can outfit an entire kitchen with just these 10 things, but you can certainly come close.
I realize that many of these items are fairly expensive (I didn’t provide links but all of these items are readily available at Amazon, Cooking.com or Williams-Sonoma, among many other places). However, I think it’s a better investment to spend a lot of money on a few things that you know are going to give you value for many years and that you are going to use pretty much every day, rather than buying cabinets full of cheap stuff that you don’t use or doesn’t work well or you have to replace frequently. A good strategy is to build a core set of high-quality tools that you supplement with less expensive items as you need them.
1. Le Creuset 10-inch cast-iron skillet: I just recently acquired this, and it has become my primary skillet anytime I need to sear, pan-roast, pan-fry or sauté something, which is pretty much every day. It is very heavy and gets very hot, perfect for browning. It has two spouts for pouring out the juices, making this a great skillet for building a pan sauce. About the only thing I wouldn’t cook in it is eggs. I might even use it to make cornbread, since the handle is oven-safe.
2. Le Creuset 5½-quart Dutch oven: This is a workhorse of a pot. Because it is cast iron, it heats evenly and holds the heat for a long time, so it is the best choice for dishes that have long cooking times. I use it for making stews, chili, soups; braising chicken; and slow simmering of tomato sauces. It can even be used to bake bread.
3. Calphalon 8-quart multi-pot: I resisted buying something like this for a long time because I had read many negative reviews. But I’m glad I did because I use it all the time. It has a good capacity for boiling pasta, potatoes, corn and the like, for blanching any vegetables, plus making stock or a large quantity of soup. The insulated walls hold heat very well; after draining pasta, I mix it with the sauce in the pot, and the residual heat keeps everything nicely warm before serving. The steamer insert is very handy, and I have used it to steam one kind of vegetable while boiling another. The pasta draining insert is handy only when cooking chunky pasta, but I have also used it for quickly draining potatoes, for instance. By the way, I found mine for a much cheaper price than on Amazon, so it’s worth shopping around.
4. All-Clad 2-quart stainless steel saucepan: I love this pot because it’s taller and narrower than similar saucepans, which makes it a perfect partner with my stick blender (see next item). I use it to make pureed soups and sauces, simmer vegetables, boil eggs and other smaller jobs.
5. Braun Multiquick hand blender: I didn’t use to like my hand blender until I got the All-Clad pot I mention above and was finally able to puree soups and sauces on the stovetop without spattering everywhere. Now it’s become an essential tool. I also use this thing to quickly emulsify salad dressings and for small chopping jobs.
6. Cuisinart food processor: What my hand blender can’t do, my food processor takes on. I don’t know how I would get by without one. I use it to puree dips, spreads, pestos and salsas. It can quickly grate potatoes, zucchini or a block of cheese. It can knead dough. It can thinly slice cucumbers, peppers, whatever. It is great.
7. Oxo non-stick locking tongs: I actually have 2 of these in different lengths because I use them so much and for so many things. Tongs are much better than a spatula for turning food when pan-cooking. They also come in handy when roasting, broiling and grilling.
8. Henckels Santoku knife with bamboo cutting board: This is the best knife I have ever used. I love the way it feels in my hand, and as long as I make a few passes on the honing steel before I use it, it keeps an incredible edge. It will slice through anything cleanly and neatly. Add a bread knife and a small paring knife, and you’re set for cutting implements. I cheated a bit and made this one a twofer because I love bamboo cutting boards; they are attractive, easy to keep clean and sustainable.
9. Microplane graters: I have three of these. I use the coarse graters for Parmesan and other hard cheeses and the fine grater for zest and nutmeg. These are the best graters, hands down.
10. Oxo salad spinner: The best salad spinner I have ever found. It is essential for quickly washing and drying any kind of green.
Other than these 10 things, I can only think of a few other essentials to fully outfit the kitchen: a small non-stick pan for omelets and scrambled eggs; a couple of baking pans (cheap, because I ruin these often); a casserole/roasting dish; some mixing bowls; a French press coffee maker; and a few necessary utensils (spoons, spatulas, ladles). I guess an ice cream maker isn’t an essential after all, but it sure does make life a little nicer.
So, what are your top 10 kitchen tools? I’d love to see some different lists. Post them in the comments.