If you are going to be even a basic chef you need tools and lots of them. I do not believe in one purpose tools. If it can be done with other tools I prefer to use a multi purpose tool. You can clutter up your precious drawer and cabinet space with one use tools. There is a myriad of one use appliances out there. Do not give in to the spur of the moment shopping. I prefer to use my knives as much as possible, they are your best multi purpose tool in the kitchen. I am sure some of you get the latest and greatest gadget every holiday, if it only has one use give it to the kids to use in the sand box. If you invest in a high quality item now you will not have to replace it many times over the years. Some of my utensils I have had for 30 years.
Spoons, spatulas, scrapers and turners??? What is the difference and does it matter??
There are a few types of spoons
A slotted spoon, a basic mixing spoon and a ladle. The slotted spoon is for serving items in a watery liquid, when you only want to serve the main item such as vegetables. The ladle is also for watery liquids except when you want the liquid and the ingredients such as soup. The type of basic spoon you desire can be a personal preference. For cooking in a hot pan I like bamboo spoons, they do not scratch nonstick pans they have a sturdy feel and they don’t get hot. They are not the best for serving. They also work great for mixing heavy doughs and candy. I also have a silicon spoon for sauces, this easily scraps the sides of the pan. A pasta spoon is important as well. Make sure it is heat resistant and sturdy. I bought one once, a popular name brand, it felt sturdy in the store, once I put it in the hot water it became as limp as the noodles I marched it right back to the store.
Scrapers and spatulas are interchangeable terms.
For me these are what I use in food preparation, such as scraping the sides of the bowl. They can also be uses in hot pan if they are heat resistant. I prefer scrapers that are solid silicon. In two piece scrapers the handle can be removed often falling off in your food, or bacteria can settle in the groove ans harbor food borne illness and nobody wants that. I sturdy handle is again of utmost importance. When you are mixing heavy batters you want a tool that will not bend or break, especially if it is a boiling hot batter such as fudge.
Spatulas and turners are often interchangeable as well
This term is referring to what you would use to flip a grilled cheese sandwich. I prefer ones without slots so that bacteria will not settle in the grooves. I also prefer one that does not have raised sides, these can interfere with the turning process, especially if you are flipping and omelet or a pancake. We had an awesome once it was about 8 inches round we called it our phwackado, I loved it for crepes because it was ultra thin, and for omelets it was wide enough to fold over the whole thing in one stroke, It was also great for my world class lumberjack pancakes which bigger than your plate. I also like the bamboo spatulas shown here they work well for sauteing and cooking vegetable and meats in a skillet.
Other essential tools
* a pastry brush, preferably silicon as the hairs fall off in to your food of the bristle hair ones.
* a wire whisk with a solid handle, the cheap ones rust and the rust can fall into your souffle or meringue.
* a long pair of tongs, these work great for turning items in a skillet and serving these items.
* a meat mallet, This needs a sturdy handle with a rough side and a smooth side As you can see in the picture mine is old, but it works.
* a stainless steel vegetable peeler, choose one with a sharp blade so it cut the skins rather than tears it.
* a high quality garlic press, if it is not sturdy you will get frustrated and not use it.
* measuring scoops, I have three sizes these make cookies, fill cupcake pans and give proportionate scoops to several food items.
* measuring spoon make sure these contain a 1/8 spoon.
* measuring spoon get ones with 1/3 and 2/3 cups.
* glass measuring/liquid measuring cups, a 2 cup, 4 cup and 8 cup work well. A small 4 ounce size works good for salad dressing as well.
* pocket thermometer this works great to test yeast temperature, a quick check for meats and liquid temperature for other items.
* a pastry blender to cut butter/shortening into flour for pastries.
*a cheese grater, I like the one shown the long handle makes it easy to grate in to a cooking pan or over a bowl.
*rolling pin one that has free flowing ball bearings or a solid piece work fine what ever you prefer. Mine I have had since I married in 1986. Do not wash the wooden ones in the dishwasher as this will rust the interior ball bearings. I just rub mine down with a wet wash cloth. You can buy one that has slide on rings to perfect the dough thickness. After years of practice you will be able to feel the thickness desired.
These are the most basic there are other gadgets that do work well, a lemon zester is handy, a ginger grater, a cheese slicer.
POTS and PANS
This area is well worth spending some money on. A cheap pan will scorch your food or leave fleck of nonstick stuff in your food. YUCK nobody want that. If a pan set costs less than $200 it should be passed by. Costco has a good anodized set, Bed bath and beyond has several good stainless steel sets. I have not tried the new enamel pans so I have no opinion. Your best bet is to buy open stock so you can get the pieces you want and don’t have to have the ones you don’t. There are many brands bought from home shows, I am talking about the ones that sell pans and nothing else. These are good products and can cost you $1000-$4000 a set. You do not need these but if you desire them and can afford them then go for it.
I used nonstick pans for years, until I coaxed my son (with many months of hinting and pleading) to but me a stainless set for Christmas. The transition was difficult but the flavor of the food was so worth all my begging. Plus the cleanup is easy, since they can be washed in the dishwasher, no more greasy pans. Unless I scorch something, then I have to use a stainless steel scrubber, everything has come off easily. My mom has the most awesome heavy aluminum pan ever. It was once a stove top pressure cooker, it is a 4 quart size, the ultra heavy metal is prime for deep frying or stocks. Nothing gets scorched in it. Unfortunately the chances of finding anything similar today is out of the question. So go raid your grandmas cupboard and find her heavy old pans. Maybe she is old enough she won’t remember :-). When buying pans lift them, feel the handles in your hands test the lids. You want ones that feel comfortable in your hands especially the saute pans since you will be lifting them a lot. I am not exceptionally please with my lids since the handles are not heat resistant. I traded that feature for a pan handle that I felt comfortable with. I can use a hot pad on the lid, but if I drop my food because the handle doesn’t fit in my hand or is loose, all my food can be lost.
* 8 quart stock pan with lid
* 6 quart sauce pan with lid
* 4 quart sauce pan with lid
* 12 inch fryer with straight sides and a lid
* 1 inch saute pan
* 6 inch saute pan
* flat square griddle