Beyond Functionality: Your Favorite Kitchen Tools
Sometimes our kitchen tools do more than make dinner.
A few weeks ago I asked for your favorite kitchen tools and just as I was gathering up your responses, Mark Bittman's New York Times article, "A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks," appeared. (Times subscribers can click on the link below for the full 2007 article.)
This is a useful piece in which Mr. Bittman shows us how to decently outfit a kitchen for less than $300. There was nothing on his list with which I disagreed, although I'd squabble with his point that some of the more pricey brand names are automatically excessive. To me the same rule applies to all purchases: for the basics we use all the time, buy the best you can afford and base value on an item's per-use cost. Sure you can make an excellent meal with a $25, 14-inch steel pan bought at a Bowery kitchen supply store; I know, because I have one. But I also have a 14-inch All-Clad and given the choice, I always -- always -- reach first for the All-Clad. With an aluminum exterior and steel interior, it simply cooks better and more evenly. The other pan is fine and I use it when I need two at once, but All-Clad's higher price isn't all show and marketing. And don't anyone dare take my 10" Wusthof chef knife away from me and try to give me a cheap model that has to be replaced every year.
I embrace Mr. Bittman's message that the cook makes the tools instead of the other way around. Still, there's nothing wrong with falling in love with something extravagant or single purpose. I knew someone who made the most extraordinary Grand Marnier soufflés. She would beat the egg whites by hand, using a beautiful copper bowl, and swore her recipe wouldn't work without it. She was right. I watched her make it and she was generous with the recipe. But I have no copper bowl and my efforts have always failed.
Nearly every city home cook I know seeks a way to make their cooking personal and many of us achieve this by having one or two tools we secretly feel are only ours. Perhaps it's one with a history or a story. Or it once belonged to someone else whose cooking you loved. Or it's a tool that's necessary for a particular recipe that's a signature dish for you. The fact is that many of us have something in our kitchens that's less a talisman and more like Dumbo's magic feather.
Some of you wrote to me about chef's knives, tongs, vegetable peelers, thermometers, Champagne stoppers, tea towels, small plastic cutting boards, a 30-year-old Mouli cheese grater, an OXO hand chopper that saves cuts and tears when chopping onions, a pressure cooker (sorry, Mr. Bittman, but some home cooks consider these essential), and melon ballers.
But you also wrote:
- From Louise: "This is the opposite of a desert-island tool, but it's one I especially enjoy: a plastic orange peeler, a straight rod with a sharp hook at one end that cuts through citrus peels without puncturing the fruit itself. The opposite of indispensable, to be sure -- but for some reason I get a ridiculous pleasure out of using it!"
- From Steven: "A Kumadori carbon steel 4.5" fruit knife from Japan Woodworkers. Check it out. They're the most beautiful, handcrafted objects you can imagine. It stays sharp forever and cuts everything and anything."
And my favorite:
- From David: "It's a tiny portable turntable, designed for DJs to carry in their backpack, to bring to record stores and be able to listen to LPs easily. It runs on batteries and fits in a little corner of our kitchen. It has a very tinny speaker, and I play old jazz and opera records, many of which I've found at stoop sales for pennies in Brooklyn. It cost about 80 bucks, and it is just an amazing addition to our kitchen. When we have guests over, they immediately gravitate to it. There's something about that sound, it makes the cooking experience so happy."
Now that's a city cook.