Love Your Leftovers: Through Savvy Meal Planning Turn Classic Main Dishes into More than 100 Delicious Recipes author Nick Evans shares his top 5 picks for must-have tools for your kitchen.
If you’ve strolled by the equipment section of your local department store, you might have the impression that you need tons of gadgets and gizmos to cook a great meal at home.
It’s true that some equipment will make your life easier, but a lot of that stuff is just fluff you don’t need. I guarantee you won’t find a banana or avocado slicer in a chef’s kitchen. Because you know what slices those things perfectly fine? A knife.
If I assume you have pots, pans, knives, and a few other kitchen basics like spatulas, there are still some tools I love to have in my kitchen that might fall in the grey area. The thing all these tools have in common is that they do multiple things extremely well. Guaranteed, they will make your cooking life easier.
Microplane zester: I saw this as unnecessary for many years—until I was given one. Now it may be the tool I use the most in my kitchen. Need to zest some citrus? Done. How about a fluffy coating of Parmesan cheese for that pasta? No problem. Who doesn’t love a little fresh nutmeg in their coffee or hot cocoa? This tool can do it all.
Mini food processor: You can pick up one of these for around $30, and they are incredibly useful. Even if you have a larger food processor, the mini version is easier to use for small-batch stuff and also much easier to clean. From salad dressings to pesto to processing a small handful of nuts, this tool can make your life easier. Sure, you can get by without it. But ever since I’ve had one, I’ve used it multiple times per week.
Thermometers: If someone says they can judge when something is done “by feel,” be prepared to eat something that’s overcooked or undercooked. While it’s possible to judge some things by feel, it takes years and years of cooking to get that comfortable with food. In the meantime, please use thermometers. I have a small digital meat thermometer and a deep-frying thermometer. When it comes to temperatures in the kitchen, best to leave your ego at the door.
Wire mesh strainer: A colander is a common kitchen tool, and many people think this tool is the same thing—but it’s so much more. While you can use this as a strainer, you can also use it to rinse canned foods (beans, etc.) or strain homemade stocks and sauces. Once you have one, you’ll wonder how you lived without it. These days, you can actually buy a pack of two or three different sizes of strainers for a few bucks.
Mandoline slicer: Okay. This one is definitely on the fringe, and debatable, but it’s a tool I use all the time that is not common in the average kitchen. Once you have it, though, and learn to use it safely, you will no longer fear recipes that require a lot of slicing. That beautiful French potato au gratin? Done in minutes. Freshly cut potato chips or French fries? Easy. Having a mandoline slicer means you can even buy cheese in bulk—and slice it to even thickness, right in your own kitchen.
Of course this list is fairly subjective, but these are the tools I find myself turning to again and again and ones that I would recommend before you splurge on that banana slicer.
Nick Evans is the author of Love Your Leftovers: Through Savvy Meal Planning Turn Classic Main Dishes into More than 100 Delicious Recipes (Lyons Press, 978-0-7627-9142-2; $22.95 paperback). He has been writing about cooking for the last five years through his cooking blog, Macheesmo.com. Nick graduated from Yale University with a degree in philosophy and lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife and official taste-tester, Betsy, their dog, Porter, and their cat, Tipsy.