Kitchen Essentials 3: Utensils


In the first two posts in my Kitchen Essentials series I talked about the basics of choosing pots and pans and good kitchen knives.  In the third installment we are going to cover the basic utensils you will need to begin cooking like a pro.

“You only need four utensils to be able to cook like a professional.”

Just like with pots, pans, and knives there is a lot of options and a lot of redundancies.  Most of the instruments that come in pre-packaged sets you will find very limited use for.  They are simply not needed, or needed in such a minor capacity it is not worth having them clutter up your draws and countertops.  Of course, as you progress as a home cook you may find more use for some of the specialized utensils, but you don’t need them to start.  You only need four tools to be able to cook like a professional.

Tongs: The first utensil I think is absolutely a necessity is a good pair of tongs.  I almost exclusively use
tongs in most of my dinner preparation.  They are great for stir frying things, pan searing meat, transferring food from one place to another.  The are superior to pasta stirrers when cooking noodles.  Their usefulness almost knows no end.  Invest in a good pair or pairs of tongs, you won’t regret it.

Slotted Spoon:  The next tool that you will find you need quite a bit is a slotted spoon.  It will allow you to stir soups, remove veggies or other things from boiling water, mix ingredients, etc.  I don’t thing there is a need for a non-slotted spoon since you can always use your soup spoon from a table set in a pinch, but a slotted spoon does serve some purpose.

Ladle:  You will need a ladle if you plan on making soups or risottos for both serving and incorporating liquid slowly and safely.  A good heavy ladle can also serve as a meat tenderizer, nut crusher, or any other tool that is basically a kitchen hammer.  Some ladles even have 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup lines added to the inside of them, making them useful for measuring liquid.

Fish Spatula:  A fish spatula is superior to a regular spatula since it is longer and slotted. This allows for delicate proteins like fish to be picked up and supported by one tool.  It does everything a regular spatula does, but the reverse isn’t true.  It is also a little more delicate than a regular spatula, allowing for more dextrous moves, and easier mastery.

With these four utensils and a spoon from you dinnerware you will be able to cook just about anything you can imagine.  There will be other tools you will most likely want to add along the way, especially if you begin baking a lot.  Things like silicon spatulas, icing spatulas, whisks, juicers, graters, and rolling pins should be on your short list of second tier utensils.  They will make your life easier, but aren’t necessary.  Although I am not as evangelistic about it as Alton Brown, I do generally agree with him that uni-taskers, kitchen items that serve only one purpose, should usually be avoided.  They take up space, are not used very often, and usually there is a tool that does what they do along with other things, keeping your kitchen budget trimmer.

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One final note on utensils.  If you have non-stick post and pans you cannot use any metal utensil on them ever.  Not only do all the brands of non-stick post and pans they all say that using metal when cooking with them will void the warranty, the metal will wear off the non-stick surface, adding it to your food.  Since I advocate for metal pots and pans, I also want to advocate for metal utensils, too (except for the obvious exception of a silicon spatula).  In my opinion, metal is superior simply because it is more durable.  Your not going to melt your metal tong if you leave it in the frying pan.  It is going to be much harder to snap your metal spatula than your plastic one.  Stick with good quality metal utensils and you’ll have them for a lifetime.

What utensils would you add to the must-have list?