You really don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment to prepare delicious food at home. There are a ridiculous number of kitchen gadgets on the market, most of them unnecessary! Personally, I try to avoid MOST tools that only do one job in the kitchen (think of the As Seen on TV type of stuff), since they take up precious cabinet space. That being said, you do need a few basic tools to be successful when cooking. This post is the first of what will be a series of posts about essential kitchen tools. Since this is Part 1, I am going to start where every successful five ingredient cooking adventure begins – with food preparation!
The following five tools are essential for food preparation success:
An 8-inch chef’s knife is the most versatile food preparation tool in the kitchen. This knife will do more than 90% of your food preparation work. It is perfect for easily slicing and dicing fruit and vegetables, mincing herbs, and prepping meat and fish. The 8-inch chef’s knife is your right hand in the kitchen.
Personally, the chef’s knife that I use is the Victorinox Fibrox Straight Edge 8-Inch Chef’s Knife. It is a very highly acclaimed, professional knife with a price tag that is a bit easier to justify if you aren’t actually a professional chef. Some knives can cost hundreds of dollars! I suggest getting the Victorinox BladeSafe cover for it so you have a way to store it safely.
Unfortunately, while the chef’s knife is incredibly useful, it can’t do EVERYTHING. For example, it isn’t very good at small-scale tasks, like coring a tomato – at least not without slicing your finger off. That’s what the paring knife is for!
2. Paring Knife
A paring knife is a necessary complement to your chef’s knife. It easily does all of the small-scale food preparation tasks that the chef’s knife isn’t good at. The paring knife has a much smaller blade (usually about 3 to 3 1/2 inches in length), making it ideal for the food preparation tasks that require attention to detail. Such tasks include coring tomatoes, slicing cloves of garlic, cleaning and dicing small peppers, etc. It can also be used to peel fruits and vegetables if you don’t have a peeler. If the chef’s knife is your right hand, the paring knife is your left.
The paring knife that I recommend is the Victorinox Forschner 3.25″ Pairing Knife. At less than $7, it is a bargain for the quality.
If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a big fan of the Victorinox Swiss Army brand. They have great knives at much more affordable prices than the other top brands (I swear I don’t work for them). While the paring knife can help minimize cooking injuries by scaling down the tool to match the job, there is another important food preparation tool that protects both you and your counter tops – the cutting board!
3. Cutting Board
The cutting board is an essential food preparation tool because it provides you with a safe, clean surface for working with your knives. This protects your fingers and your counter tops, and it helps keep your knives from going dull. Cutting boards are generally made of either wood or plastic. It is a good idea to have at least two of them that you can tell apart – one for cutting raw meat and one for cutting everything else.
In my kitchen, I have a very large (like 2 1/2 feet wide – it is really heavy!) wooden cutting board that I do most of my prep work on. I also have a few smaller, portable plastic cutting boards that I bring out for prepping meat and other messy jobs. I personally prefer a cutting board that has a groove around the edge on at least one side of the board. This groove catches any juices that might be released during prep work, thus making less of a mess on the counter.
The smaller, portable cutting board that I recommend is the 21-inch Good Grips Cutting & Carving Board. This board is non-porous and resists deep scratches. It also has the groove on one side and is dishwasher safe, assuring easy clean up (which is always a priority for me – I don’t buy anything that can’t be washed in the dishwasher!).
There are many different styles of zesters and graters on the market. Honestly, the one I use the most (even more than the big box-shaped one that people typically think of when you say “grater”) is the small-holed, narrow, Microplane-style zester. I like this style the most because I find it to be the most versatile. Also, it doesn’t take up much space in a drawer. This style of zester helps makes food preparation easier by grating citrus, hard cheese, ginger, chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, and even garlic (in a pinch) into tiny little bursts of flavor that are WAY smaller than you could ever achieve with a knife.
The zester that I recommend is the Microplane 46020 Premium Zester/Grater. It is really sharp and has nice features that make it more comfortable to use, such as non-slip rubber feet that help keep it in place against the bowl you are grating into.
While the Microplane-style zester is great for getting those small little bursts of flavor, sometimes you need a way to get the skin off your produce before you can even cook with it at all. That’s where the peeler comes in.
Peeling vegetables is a tedious food preparation task that no home cook gets excited about. In fact, if at all possible, I often cook vegetable such as potatoes and carrots with their skins on just to avoid it. Unfortunately, many times you don’t have a choice. You just have to suck it up and spend a few minutes preparing your produce by peeling it first. For this reason, a good quality vegetable peeler that is both comfortable and effective is a MUST for food preparation. The peeler should glide easily and only shave a thin layer off as it goes (not too much, not too little). Your hands shouldn’t hurt when you’re finished!
The peeler that I recommend is Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler. Lightweight, inexpensive, and proven effective. It’s a different shape than most people are expecting when they think of a vegetable peeler. The c-shaped (or sometimes referred to as y-shaped) design is a lot more comfortable to use that the old straight edge style, allowing your to peel those potatoes without causing carpel tunnel.
I hope you find this list of essential kitchen preparation tools helpful in determining your basic equipment needs for successful home cooking.
Is there a food preparation tool you feel should have made the list? Share your ideas below!