So you’re getting married, moving into a new house with your betrothed and people are asking: “What should we get you?” You can register at a store like Williams Sonoma or Bed, Bath & Beyond but when it comes to the kitchen you don’t know where to begin.
That’s the very situation my future sister-in-law, Tali, finds herself in now that she’s marrying my brother. She recently asked me what she should register for and I said: “Tali, why would I tell you that over the phone when I can blog about it for all the world!!!” There was an uncomfortable silence and she said, “Ok, that sounds good.” What follows, then, is my advice to Tali and anyone else who needs to equip their kitchens.
First things first, don’t overdo it. A co-worker at Food Network had a bridal shower recently and she got TWO food processors: one big, one small. That’s overdoing it!
Look, the truth is that a good, efficient cook can cook with very little equipment. I think it’s better to have fewer, higher quality gadgets than a million cruddy gadgets that you’ll never use. So here’s what you should ask for:
(1) A really good skillet/saute pan, preferably All-Clad. I have two pans: one non-stick, one all-metal. Each one was approximately $150 and I use them ALL THE TIME. They’re fantastic and really can do anything. Use the non-stick to make scrambled eggs or to sear scallops (see recipe below). Use the other for anything from making pasta sauce (tossing the pasta in there at the end of cooking) to braising monkfish. Two really good, high quality 10-inch pans are better than a cheaper set of pans of all sizes, most of which you will never use.
(2) A big pot and a small pot. It doesn’t really matter what brand you get or even, really, the quality. I think I got mine from Target in the late 90s. I still use it all the time and I never say to myself, “I wish I had a nicer pot.” Probably because I don’t use it to brown anything or to sear anything, I just use it to boil liquids–a process that doesn’t require sophisticated gear. If you think you’re going to take cooking seriously, you may also want to get a stock pot–serious cooks make stock.
(3) Instead of a knife set, register for three really good knives: one large chef’s knife (approximately $100), one really sharp, high-quality paring knife and one serrated knife. Those are the three knives I use most often; I also frequently use kitchen shears, but it’s not worth getting a knife set just for the shears. Get those separate. The point is that three high quality knives are better than 15 mediocre, not very sharp knives. As far as brand, I recommend Wusthof or Misono. But ask the people at Williams-Sonoma, I’m sure they can recommend others…
(3-a) While we’re on knives, get yourself a rubber cutting board. They sell them at Williams-Sonoma and they are big and pliant and easy to clean and, most importantly, they don’t hurt your knives when you cut. It’s what Bubba recommended to me in Chapter Three of my book…
(4) A roasting pan. It doesn’t need to be fancy or super expensive. I got mine on sale for $50, but a roasting pan you will use again and again for chicken, leg of lamb, or any other large meats that need lots of space and love in the oven.
(5) A Le Creuset Dutch Oven. It may be pricey (I forget how much mine was–I got it online from Canada) but you will use it ALL THE TIME. You will use it to braise, you will use it to deep fry. In fact, I can’t image making a stew or fried chicken without it. Mostly, though, it’s sturdy and reliable and heats evenly and will produce magical, wonderful food that your guests will rave over for the rest of your married life.
(6) Generally: two cake pans (9-inch), one springform pan (also 9-inch), one loaf pan, a cupcake/muffin pan that makes 12 muffins, two cookie sheets (preferably without sides for flatter, more evenly cooked cookies), one with sides for roasting vegetables, a hand mixer if you’re just starting out baking (see below for more serious cooks), a flat rolling pin (no handles, which forces you to put pressure on the middle), measuring cups (preferably OXO brand), measuring spoons, a nice wooden spoon, a nice whisk, a sifter, mixing bowls, a strainer, a cheap juicer (doesn’t need to be electric, unless you’re really into juice), a microplane (for zesting citrus), a grater (for cheese), a thermometer (for testing meat) and a pastry brush.
That’s all you need to equip a standard kitchen for a standard, casual cook. If you want to go further; if you’ve been cooking for a while, and you want some nice gear and/or to take advantage of the kindness of your friends and relatives you should get:
(1) A KitchenAid Mixer. This is the big kahuna, the gadget that will elevate you from hobbyist cook to gourmet titan. Its uses are endless–beat egg whites, assemble cookies, knead bread–and, like adding RAM to a new computer, you can upgrade your mixer with pasta-making and meat-grinding components that’ll make you a titan among titans. I love my mixer to death; it’s probably my favorite kitchen gadget because it makes the most laborious kitchen work a cinch. Plus I love to bake.
(2) A food processor. I don’t think you need a food processor if you’re just starting out; most of what can be accomplished in a food processor can be accomplished by hand. But if you do decide to get one, I don’t think you need a super high quality one. I have a crizappy food processor, also from Target, that’s 80 years old and is cracked on the top. It still works, still gets the job done. It’s a great tool for making hummus and other spreads/dips; it also shreds carrots and cabbage for coleslaw quicker than you can say “yo mama.” If I had to do it all over again, I’d get a Cuisinart. If you’re getting married, take advantage….
(3) A salad spinner is nice to have.
(4) So is a pasta maker (if you don’t get the attachment for your mixer.)
(5) A coffee grinder guarantees flavorful potent coffee and also serves to grind spices.
(6) A hand blender is awesome for making soup (much better than transferring the boiling liquid to a blender and risking your life when you push the button).
And that’s it! I think I covered the bases. They key, again, is choosing fewer, higher-quality items than giant sets that offer too much for too little. If you have any specific questions, please ask them in the comments and maybe my generous readers can chime in too. I think kitchen equipment ultimately comes down to the passions and particulars of the cook; Alton Brown’s kitchen probably looks very different from Marcella Hazan’s. But equip yourself with the basics, get yourself started, and soon you’ll be able to advise your own future sister-in-law with your own idiosyncratic list.
By the power vested in me, I now pronounce your kitchen fully equipped.