Creating a starter kitchen

November 25, 2007 at 2:09 pm 9 comments

My sister recently moved to a new place and wanted to know what to get for the kitchen. This is not that easy of a question to answer. Not everyone cook the same way. Martin Yan’s kitchen probably looks a lot different than Julia Child’s. Before answering the question, I had to understand her kitchen, the type of food she cooks, and her philosophy on food.

How is cooking a philosophy? How do you see food? Do you enjoy food or do you feel that it is just something to keep your body going? If it’s the later, I would not spend money on good cookware, since it would not yield you pleasure in return.

What type of a person are you? Are you the type of person who must have the exact right tool for the job, or are you a minimalist who adapt using what you have? Most people are somewhere in between but sway toward one side. In the case of my sister and I, we both sway toward minimalism. We both have limited kitchen space and budget. We rather try to get a tool that have multiple use than not. I would recommend getting what you need rather than buying a large set and have a lot of stuff you don’t end up using.

Form follows function. The type of kitchen you own and the type of food you cook will determine what tools you should get. Some items you will always need. You need knifes to cut stuff. You need something to stir and turn over food. However, a sauce pan isn’t all that useful if you don’t plan to make sauce. A round bottom wok isn’t going to be all that useful if you don’t have a gas range.

My sister’s stove is a smooth top electric range, which appears to be a sheet of glass over electric burners. According to her manual, the cookware needs to be metal, have smooth bottom, and has a diameter roughly the size of the elements (the circle on the range top). Ridged bottom pots and pans can apparently create hot air pockets that can crack the glass. This mean standard uncoated cast iron will work, but may scratch up the glass if you move it around. Enameled cast irons are OK since they are smooth on the bottom.

Her cooking tend to be stir frying and then putting the item in the oven. This means pots and pans that can take high heat and have handles and lids that are oven safe. Here’s my take on what’s need in her kitchen:

Knifes and cutting items

Unless you plan to eat mashed potato every day, every cook needs a knife. I actually have a full set of knives, but I find that I normally only use two knifes:

  • A Chef Knife 8-10 inches.
  • A paring knife

With these two knives will cover just about every cutting situation in cooking. If you eat a lot of bread, you may consider getting a serrated bread knife, which works well on stuff with a tough crust and soft insides. Good brands to look for are Global, Misono, Henckels, and Wusthol. With the exception of Misono, all of the brands can be easily found everywhere.

Always keep your knife really sharp. A lot of knife accidents actually occur from slipping blades (Example: You try to cut an onion, but the blade is not sharp enough, so instead of cutting into the onion, it slides into your finger), which having a sharp blade will prevent.

As for cutting boards, get one that is large enough to cover the counter space and have deep channels along the side so juices don’t flow over the edge when you cut into meats. Ideally, you should get a separate board for meats and non-meats for sanitation reasons.

The jury is out for plastic vs wood for sanitation. One advantage of plastic is that you can put it into the dishwasher and use the high heat drying cycle to eliminate germs. Just make sure you get the harder polyethylene or polypropylene plastic boards. The cheaper boards are often too soft and may impact bits of plastic into your food.

Store knives in a block so they don’t get dulled in your drawer or use one of the magnetic knife hangers.

Pots and Pans

My personal cooking style involves very high heat. At these temperature, Teflon coating will start disintegrating. This is why I like cast iron so much. In the case of my sister, I would recommend not getting cast iron since she has a smooth top range because it may scratch the surface.

I would recommend getting the following:

  • A 10-12 inch stainless steel skillet
  • A 8 inch Teflon coated aluminum skillet.
  • A 8-12 Qt Stock Pot. Stainless steel or anodized aluminum.
  • A 5 Qt Dutch Oven
  • A 3-4 Qt Saucepan

The stainless steel skillets is used to sear and cook food. This is ideal for stir frying where you need high heat. The plus side to stainless is that it is light. The color of the pan is silver, so you can see the browning. The disadvantage is that it is not as non-stick as cast iron.

When shopping, get a skillet that’s relatively heavy, has a metal handle (so you can put it into the oven) and have a copper or aluminum core. Most of the brands are pretty good including All-Clad, Viking, etc. Just make sure you try lifting up the skillet at the store. I don’t like the All-Clad brand because I find the handle uncomfortable.

The 8-inch Teflon skillet is for cooking eggs and other really sticky items. I actually don’t use Teflon pans often because I like to brown food and then deglaze them with some liquid. With Teflon, there is often no brown bits to deglaze.

Teflon pan is where spending a lot of money does not make sense. While you should get a pan that has heavy gauge aluminum so it heats evenly, you should not spend a lot of money on supposedly lifetime coating. Often, the more expensive the pan, the less non-stick it is because they are trying to make the coating more durable, which makes them less slippery.

The 8-12 Qt pot is for broiling water for pasta, blanching vegetable, and making soup. The items can be made out of various materials, but it should be fairly heavy gauge. I suggest a stainless steel or anodized aluminum. I would not go for plain aluminum since it reacts with acidic foods. It should also have a tight fitting lid.

The 5-Qt dutch oven is use for stews, but you can cook a lot of different things in it. In my college days, the only cooking item I own was a 5 quart cast iron dutch oven. With it, I could stir fry, cook soup, bake, even cook eggs. Obviously, it was not the ideal tool for the job, but it worked and was cheap and indestructible. The only downside was the weight and that you had to clean it carefully.

I really like cast iron for dutch ovens, but you can’t use uncoated cast iron on smooth top stoves. Look instead for enameled cast iron like Le Creuset, stainless steel, or anodized aluminum with a tight fitting lid that is oven proof. Before you buy, lift the dutch oven. Cast iron pots are heavy, if you can’t lift it when it’s filled, you should look at something else.

A 3-4 Qt sauce pan can be use to make sauce and saute smaller stuff. It should have a tight fitting lid and have oven proof lid and handles. The pan should be made of heavy material so it heats evenly, but it should be light enough to lift.

Other Kitchen Gadgets

You’ll also need the following:

  • Spatula – I tend to like wooden or heat proof plastic. They don’t scratch the surface of the pan.
  • Silicon scrapper – they are an improve version of the rubber scraper but are more non-stick and heat resistant.
  • Whisk – I tend to like metal or silicon coated metal ones.
  • A set of mixing bowls. The bowls interior should be round so it will be easy to scrap out the batter or eggs. They should be made of Pyrex so they can go into the microwave. One of the bowls should be large enough to sit on top of your pots so you can use it as a double-boiler.
  • Colander to drain vegetable and pasta
  • Fine mesh strainer.
  • A salad spinner if you plan to eat salad. My favorite is by Oxo.
  • Garlic press – best is by Zyliss.
  • A food processor – which can handle the taste of chopping up vegetable and nuts into little bits and sort of work as a blender.
  • A pair of oven mitts. Beware of the lobster like silicon ones that make things hard to grip.
  • A set of measuring cups and measuring spoons.
  • A small grater for cheese and fruit peels (I like the one from Microplane).
  • A vegetable peeler – you could use your paring knife, but I am not good enough to peel with knife without taking out large chunks of vegetable.

All of the above should be enough to get a kitchen started. You may notice that I did not recommend any baking material. This is because I personally do not bake and so don’t really have opinion to offer. As you cook, you will discover what you will need and buy what is necessary.

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Entry filed under: Cooking, Food.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. suwa  |  November 19, 2009 at 2:41 am

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  • 2. Claudia  |  March 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Good list! But I do have a couple of comments.

    If you get a flame tamer, you can use cast iron cookware on a smooth top stove without worrying about scratching the glass surface. (She can just leave it on the burner she would use the cast iron cookware on the most.) I have a 12″ cast iron skillet that I use for almost everything, including pancakes. Seasoned properly, it’s pretty much nonstick, and should be the only skillet you need.

    They used to use birds in mines to test the air quality before sending people down the shaft. Bird owners are warned not to use Teflon, because the fumes from a hot pan will kill the birds.

    Instead of a food processor, I would suggest a box grater (the one from Microplane is pricey, but nice) and a Bamix immersion blender (so you can puree soup in the pot) with a grinder attachment (for grinding spices and coffee).

    I don’t feel comfortable exposing plastic or silicone to food at high heat, so I use bamboo spoons and spatulas.

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