This is a list of things I have, use often, and can vouch for their durability. This list is now, and will always be, a work in progress!
When I say “necessary,” I mean “really hard to get along without, and generally worth buying the best one you can get.” You can cook with one pan and a fork, so don’t let not having stuff on this list stop you from trying anything you want to make!
Pots and Pans
Non-stick frying pan
I think all kitchens should have one non-stick pan. I like this one because it’s super durable and the non-stick coating doesn’t come off in our food (the technology may have gotten better since I had a cheaply made one). You don’t need a whole set of these, just one will get enough done and it’s really great for things like omelets that take a ton of butter if you try to make them in a pan without a non-stick surface. This is not a cheap pan – it’s over $100 at Amazon. But I’ve had mine for several years and even with less than world-class care, it’s still going strong. I think these are dishwasher safe (we don’t have one…someday), but I recommend not putting good pots and pans that you want to keep a long time in the dishwasher anyway. It’s only a couple minutes to hand wash and worth the trouble.
If this pan is too much $$, here is a link to a less expensive non-stick pan. I don’t have this and haven’t tried it personally, but it comes recommended by Cook’s Illustrated* as the best nonstick frying pan for the money: T-Fal Professional Total Nonstick 12-1/2-Inch Fry Pan, Black
Stainless frying pan
This is the stainless pan we have – technically, it’s not a frying pan, it’s a saute pan, which means the edges come up much higher and are straight instead of gently flairing out. If you already have a non-stick frying pan, it’s nice to have a pan in this saute style too, and it can double as a frying pan in almost every instance you’d need it to (for browning meats, etc.). Why do you need a pan that doesn’t have a non-stick surface? Well I’m glad you asked! You need it because when you cook delicious things like steaks, or onions, or mushrooms, or mirepoix…or almost anything…using this kind of pan will leave a beautiful residue behind that you can then deglaze, which adds so much to whatever it is that you are cooking. I think deglazing is one of the secret ingredients to really delicious cooking. Once you get comfy with cooking in your non-stick, you’ll probably get curious about why the heck I told you to get this stainless thing and want to start using it. I don’t look down on any cooking (especially if someone else it doing it for me – love other people’s cooking!), but being able to use a stainless pan, in my mind, is kind of a skill level delineation. While there are times when you definitely want a non-stick (omelets!), using a non-stick pan exclusively is kind of like riding a bike with training wheels; you’re riding, but you’re not getting the full effect yet.
Again, this pan is expensive, but the husband brought it into the family seven years ago (I don’t know how old it was before then, but I’d say it’s at least 10) and it’s still going strong. I fully expect it to outlast us. So this one is a really good investment. But if you can’t swing it, here’s a link to a less expensive stainless pan: Wolfgang Puck Bistro Elite Stainless Steel 8 Omelet Pan. Again, this one was highly rated for value by Cook’s Illustrated, so it should be a good pan. But honestly, go for the All Clad.
We have both of these, but we also have a small person (me) and a big person (the husband) in the house. If you’re one person, or if you are similarly proportioned, then you probably only need one of these. I like the 8″ because it just fits nicer in my hands. I use the 10″ sometimes for certain things, but I instinctively reach for the 8″ (mind you I’m 5’4″ and my hands look normal on my body). Whichever knife you choose, this is a very important kitchen tool.
It’s also important to have one of these:
Knives get dull. And to be effective – and safe – they need to be sharp. So get one of these steels and learn how to use it. I have one that came with a knife set and it works just fine. Every once in a while, you’ll want to have your knives professionally sharpened – if you cook a lot, do it maybe once a year. If you don’t cook so much…you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Once a year is good for pro sharpening. If you want to get really hardcore about sharpening, you can get a stone and learn how to do that yourself. I’m not there yet.
3-1/4-Inch Paring Knife
We love this knife so much that it’s on the home page. This is one of the most versatile tools you could own. When you have a nice one (essentially, a new or relatively new one), you can do almost anything with it. You can slice with it. You can peel with it. You can…uh…cut stuff up with it! Its size makes it deft, and when sharp, it just handles really well. It’s not a bad idea to have a few of these on hand (they are less than $10), but have at least one. You’ll be happy with it, I promise.
This is very similar to the wooden spatula that we have, and the one that we have is from Joyce Chen. You don’t need this one (although I’d love it if you bought it here!), but it’s a great thing to have. A wooden spatula is more rigid than a plastic spatula, and basically functions like a really big scraper-spoon. I use it when I’m sauteing, for dishes that require constant stirring (it’s really great at moving stuff off the bottom of pans when you’re looking to keep your dish from burning on the bottom and you’re looking for consistency), for breaking chunks of stuff up in the pan…for a lot of different things. It’s comfortable in the hand and just seems to get better with use. When you choose one, pick one that is at least somewhat slanted at the edge. You’re going to love this tool – and it’s less than ten bucks!
We don’t own this particular brand of silicone spatula, but I really like Le Creuset in general and the silicone spatula is a must-have in the kitchen. It’s heat-proof (you can leave it sitting in a hot pan or pot and it will not melt), it won’t scratch any cooking surface, and the one we have has an edge hard (the spatula is fairly flexible overall) enough to break stuff up in the pan (which basically means that if you throw a pound of ground beef in a pan, and it starts to cook all together, you can take this thing and use the tip edge of it to break it apart). We have several silicone spatulas, spoon and non-spoon versions, in our tiny kitchen, but you really only need one to get by. Be careful with it when you’re using a blender or a food processor though; the very thing that makes this spatula so nice to your pots and pans makes it vulnerable to blades.
By “nice stuff” I mean that these tools are really fantastic to have and I love them. You don’t need them, though, and if space (or funding) is at a premium, put them on your “someday” list (there is an entire tab here for my “someday” list!)
You do need a couple of really good knives. These below are amazing tools, but you can get by without them if you have the two recommended above and you keep them SHARP!
This is a very nice bread knife. It’s great for cutting homemade bread (almost esesntial, really), but if you’re a baker, it’s also great for splitting and leveling cakes (non-bakers, don’t laugh. The reason you have beautiful cakes presented to you is because bakers are perfectionist freaks). This isn’t a use every day tool, but when you need it, it’s quite fine to have around, and it only takes up a little more space on your knife bar.
We have a set of these that we use for steak knives – they are the best! My parents brought them back from Germany as a set of six, so I’m not sure how much they cost that way. This one here is a link to a single knife; if you want these as a set, you might be able to find them someplace else. They are called “tomato knives” I assume because they are intended for tomatoes (which they cut through beautifully – having one small knife like this just for that is a wonderful thing), but we do use them primarily for steak/pork chops, etc. and love them. Again, not a must-have, but it’s a really nice-to-have.
Books are necessary in the kitchen, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable saying “you need this book.” Cooking is a matter of taste and learning is as well; as a more-or-less self-taught cook, I have a few books that I wouldn’t ever want to be without because tossing them would be like throwing my best teachers in the can, but what worked for me will not necessarily work for you. Below is a list of books that I recommend (both cookbooks and books about cooking or cooks) with a brief explanation of why I love each one of them – I hope you find it helpful and informative. And I will say that if you choose one or more of them, you won’t be sorry!
My birthday wishes came true! My beautiful husband gave me this book and even though I’m only up to chapter five, I’m enjoying it very much. It starts a bit slow, but once to chapter three, Hamilton lives up to the promise of her Splendid Table interview and tells the story of her life with humor and grace and without self-pity or regret. I am enjoying this one very much and will report back when I get to the end.
There is a lot more to come here, but I’ve gotten hungry and need a break. Back soon!