We believe that the caliber of your equipment can affect the quality of your cooking. But there’s no need to go crazy—outfitting your kitchen doesn’t require breaking the bank. Our essentials: a chef’s knife, paring knife, sharpening stone, and cast-iron pan. If you’re a serious dessert person, throw in an electric mixer and an ice cream maker.
As a chef, your most important tool is your knife. You want to find a knife that’s efficient and safe, with a grip that feels comfortable and secure in your hand. Knife sets are tempting, but in reality, there’s no need for anything too elaborate: a good chef’s knife can be used for chopping, slicing, carving, and mincing. Standard chefs’ knives are usually 8 to 10 inches long, but if you find that length difficult, opt for a shorter blade. You can get knives in a variety of materials, but we like stainless steel—it’s affordable and easy to care for.
Paring knives are smaller than chefs’ knives, which means they can be used for more delicate tasks, like cutting segments off an orange or splitting a vanilla bean in half.
More important than the brand of your knife is the sharpness of its blade. What’s the point of owning a high-quality knife if it’s dull? Get in the habit of sharpening regularly—sharpening stones are affordable and easy to find. Slide the blade over the porous surface of the stone in one swift movement, pressing the blade lightly against the stonewhile keeping it at about a 20-degree angle. It takes practice, but most people get the hang of it. If you’re not one of those people, you can always have your knives professionally sharpened—try the store where you bought them.
Cast-iron pots and pans are versatile and durable, suitable for stovetop cooking and for oven-roasting. Cast-iron is also a very efficient heat conductor, which means that the temperature is even across the surface of the pan. After buying your cast-iron pan, wash it and “season” it by rubbing it with oil and heating it in a 350oF oven for 30 minutes. This will prevent food from sticking to it. To avoid rusting, wash the pan with water and wipe it dry immediately after each use (don’t use soap or you’ll wash off the seasoning). We own cast-iron cookware in all kinds of sizes, but we find that the 10-and 12-inch pans are the most useful.
We like stand-up electric mixers better than hand-held mixers. Depending on the brand, the difference in price can be astronomical, but think of it as a onetime investment. These days, the stand-up electric mixers designed for home cooks are durable and come equipped with wire whisk, paddle, and dough hook attachments. Some models are so multipurpose that you can even plug in a meat grinder.
ICE CREAM MAKER
It’s possible to drop a lot of cash on a gelato spinner imported directly from Italy, but we recommend starting small and purchasing a basic home model that can hold at least 2 quarts of ice cream. It shouldn’t cost you more than an electric blender or food processor.