If you are starting on your journey in the kitchen there are some things that are essential. Without them, you will get nowhere and may as well order in Chinese.
Starting your own collection of kitchen equipment can be an expensive exercise but you can pick things up as you need them or as you can afford them or you can ask friends and family to gift you things for your birthday or Christmas or as a housewarming present. The good quality chef’s knife I use every day was a present from a friend many years ago and it will probably outlast the both of us. Indeed, many of the items I use in my kitchen were gifts from friends and I think of those people as I cook. Much better than a pair of socks or a box of chocolates!
This can be a significant investment and some chef’s knives can cost as much money as it would take to equip an entire kitchen. That said, a cheap knife will not last and could in fact be dangerous. A good knife should have about a 20cm cutting edge, a reasonable weight in your hand and feel solid. The tang of the metal blade should extend all the way through the handle for stability and endurance. A blunt knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife. A common cliché that is absolutely true. If your knife is blunt you need to use more force to cut and you are more likely to lose control of the knife and do yourself an injury. Keep it sharp.
The minimum quality of knife I would go for is something from the Swedish warehouse, in fact, Ikea is not a bad place to pick up everything you need to start your armory.
You can also rummage around in charity shops or car boot sales, it’s amazing what you can find for very little outlay.
If you are in rented accommodation you definitely need a chopping board. You won’t get your deposit back if you have left a spider’s web of cut marks on the kitchen countertop. Boards also protect the edge of your knife. If you cut on a marble surface, for instance, your blade will dull very quickly. For the same reason, I would advise against marble or glass chopping boards. There is also the small matter of food hygiene. You don’t want to slice salad vegetables or bread on the same surface you just dissected a chicken on. Having even two or three boards will make your life easier and possibly avoid a nasty case of food poisoning.
It’s up to you what type you want, plastic or wooden. Quality doesn’t really matter. There are as many types and styles of chopping board as there are cooks.
I have some cheap plastic boards that I use on occasion but I prefer wooden boards. There is some debate about which is more hygienic, plastic being easier to clean and wood having natural antibacterial properties. I have bought many boards over the years and I still pick up new ones from time to time. I use large ones for prepping a meal and little ones for making and serving a sandwich on. Large boards are also quite useful as a tray for TV dinners or a platter to serve different nibbles on. I quite like the new bamboo ones that are fashionable these days. Again, some boards can be expensive but I picked up a new large bamboo board from the German supermarket for 7 quid last week. Bargain!
You could get away with a large one and a small one but a set of three with lids is more practical. You can pick up a set for a tenner but if you spend a bit more on something more weighty they will last you a lifetime. I was given mine by my Dad as a housewarming gift and they are still going strong thirty years later. I would avoid plastic handles as they can easily melt or deform if you accidentally leave them over heat. Wooden handles can also get scorched if left over heat but are unlikely to burst into flames.
A big 4 or 5 liter pot with a lid is invaluable for boiling large amounts of water for pasta or making a soup that will last all week or even making stock if you ever get that adventurous.
You can get by with one large frying pan but I have a selection of them in various sizes ranging from cheap and battered to posh cast iron ones. All are useful. Cast iron needs a little care when it comes to seasoning and washing them but the weight and therefore even heat distribution comes in handy when you are doing certain things like making pancakes or crepes.
For draining water from pasta, spuds, veg and straining the water from tinned veg. Plastic or metal is fine but I prefer metal because of the melty properties of plastic. I once plonked a plastic colander on top of a pot I had inadvertently left on the heat and destroyed both colander and pot!
Can be used for draining veg as well as sifting flour should you need to. I also use mine for washing veg and rice.
By now you might be getting to know me. I have loads of these in various materials and sizes but you need a minimum of one, preferably heatproof glass or metal. Can double up as a serving bowl.
No explanation necessary!
For cheese or chocolate or veg or lemon rind. I have a couple of these, the one I use most often is ancient and not very sharp but it does the job. My new one is razor sharp and has been left untouched since I shredded my fingertips on it. Those microplane things are very ‘on trend’ these days but I fail to see the point of them when an old-fashioned one does the trick.
Yes, you can whisk eggs reasonably well with a fork, but a whisk is very useful when making omelets or even scrambled eggs as it gives them a lighter, airy texture. If you don’t have a machine you’ll need it to whip cream. Pro tip; I worked in the kitchen of a cafe years ago and one day the cream refused to thicken up even using an electric whisk, we subsequently discovered it was just too damn warm in that kitchen. So, put the bowl, whisk and cream in the fridge to cool everything down and your job will be a lot quicker and easier.
Spoons and Spatulas
Wooden, plastic, and metal, slotted, solid or with teeth, these have as many uses as there are types of them. Collect them as you need them. They are cheap. A spaghetti spoon is useful for fishing out a strand from the boiling water to check if it is ‘al dente’ or cooked but still with a firm centre, and for serving of course. There are few things less appetising than soggy, overcooked pasta or ‘pasta, not al dente’ as one wag commented.
When you need to be accurate with liquids.
For the mashing of potatoes or other things that need to be mashed.
A good deep one for serving soup or other liquidy things and for adding glugs of stock to your risotto and suchlike.
For manipulating things like sausages or steak in your frying pan.
Kitchen shears or a good pair of scissors
From cutting open packaging to snipping bacon and veg, you’ll find these invaluable.
Makes life much easier than just using a knife. Can be used for making swanky vegetable ribbons too.
Nothing beats freshly ground black pepper. The pre-ground stuff you can buy just doesn’t compare.
The digital ones are cheap nowadays and much more accurate than ye olde ones.
When you get used to a particular recipe you will never need a scales but if you are baking or unsure about quantities in a new recipe, a scales is indispensable.
Corkscrew and bottle opener
Because sometimes you just need a drink while you toil away in the kitchen. As the late great Keith Floyd once quipped, ‘I love to cook with wine, and sometimes I’ll even put it in the food.’
The above are my bare essentials but other very useful things to have are listed below.
Mats of some description to protect your kitchen’s surfaces from heat damage when you put something down straight from the hob or oven.
Because some things need to be timed and sometimes you just forget you have a pizza in the oven. I used to have one built into my oven but that oven died so now I am using my phone which is not satisfactory to me. I must pick one of these things up!
For when things need to go in the oven, essential if you want to make cookies and the like.
A deep tray for roasting chicken or other lumps of meat in the oven.
Bakeware, oven-to-tableware, call it what you will. Oval or round or rectangle, metal, earthenware or glass ovenproof dishes for various uses. Rectangular is the most practical as making a round lasagne is more of a chore than it should otherwise be. Potato gratins, cottage pies, casseroles, loaves of bread, buns, bakes, and cakes. Your oven can be a wonderland.
I generally don’t bother using mine as they are fiddly to clean but they are great when you need lots of minced garlic. Some are better than others, I’ve thrown one or two away or they’ve fallen apart. Buy a good hefty one if you buy one at all.
For peeling fruit or veg or maybe you just aren’t comfortable with a larger chef’s knife… yet.
For that authentic stir-fry feeling. Head to an Asian market if you have one near you, they will be good quality and cheaper than most other places. A large frying pan will always work if you don’t want to invest the money or storage space in a wok.
I have never been very good with rice. These simple little machines allow me to get it right every time.
Sometimes called a lazy man’s knife but I have to disagree with that. Cleaning these things is a pain in the arse so I only drag mine out when I really need to. From chopping or grating large amounts of veg, grating large amounts of cheese, pureeing things, chopping nuts, making bread crumbs or home-made mayonnaise and bread mixes or cake mixes, food processors are very versatile machines. If you find yourself in the humour to make your own pesto, that’s reason enough to own one of these things.
You could use a bottle to roll out your pastry or threaten your spouse, or you could use a rolling pin.
I find myself using this high sided frying pan with a lid quite a lot. It’s like the lovechild of a large saucepan and a frying pan.
Totally not essential but a nice thing to use when you need to bash meat into submission.
So you don’t burn yourself when getting things out of the oven!
Can be useful for smoothing out soups or sauces that require such treatment without having to move them to another machine.
A rarely used item that lurks in my cupboard. The processor handles most of the chores this thing used to do. Good for cocktails!
Casseroles and pulled pork work well in this underused item. Great for working folk who can throw a bunch of stuff into it the night before, switch it on in the morning when they leave for work and come home to a hot meal in the evening. Uses about as much electricity as a light bulb.
Pestle and Mortar
Sometimes you might want to grind your own spices or make a pesto by hand or crush some nuts or something along these lines.
Carving Knife and Fork
You can carve your roast with your chef’s knife and a plain old table fork but these add a little ceremony to a Sunday roast.
A large serrated knife for cutting bread. A friend of mine won’t cut bread with these as he claims they create too many crumbs and he just uses a sharp chef’s knife. This little observation of his got under my skin and I rarely use my own bread knife now!
Crockery and tableware
Things to eat your lovingly prepared food off. Eating out of a pot just isn’t done sometimes.
I remember Jamie Oliver once saying that food always looks better presented on a plain white dinner plate. While there is evidence to suggest Jamie lives in a deluded, vaguely hipstery, privileged, foody world, (leg of lamb as a ‘budget’ meal option… get a grip!) I agree with him on this one. I find over decorated or strongly patterned plates a bit distracting from the food which should be the star of the show.
But who am I to judge? Buy whatever makes you happy, that’s all that matters.
So, large dinner plates for big feasts, smaller plates for a more modest meal. It has been suggested that using smaller plates helps you to eat less and there is some logic to this. With a bigger plate, you are naturally inclined to put more food on there to make it look right. Children should also have smaller plates and portions. It is insane to give a ten-year-old child the same amount of food you would give an adult. Childhood obesity is becoming a huge health issue in the westernised world and a bit of common sense in the home might go some way towards avoiding a plague of fat kids.
Deep dishes for pasta and rice are very useful for keeping unruly food where it should be.
Small serving bowls to put veg and other side dishes and nibbles in.