Do you have the proper equipment? No, not that. When you’re apartment shopping and wondering how you’ll ever cook for yourself with just a hotpot and a plastic fork, don’t even worry! It’s a common misconception that you need state-of-the-art tools and a kitchen full of nifty gadgets and appliances if you want to be a great chef. But this is not the case.
Most chefs agree that you only need a few tools to whip up a slew of gourmet dishes. And while a groovy avocado slicer might help you make pristinely chopped guacamole, who really has the money and space to store all of those gadgets?
Pots, pans and skillets… Oh my!
Truth be told, you only need two or three pots and pans. While they come in all shapes and sizes, and are usually packaged in eight or 10-piece sets, it’s not necessary to invest in a whole set if you’re strapped for cash. Even with the bare minimum, you’ll still be able to make meals to rival Giada’s or Bobby Flay’s.
Your pot and pan essentials
- A large stock pot. Bigger is always better. Go for at least a 6- or 8-quart pot. This is your all-purpose pot: It’s got you covered for boiling water for pasta, making soup, steaming vegetables and making oatmeal – the list goes on. Whether you’re just cooking for yourself or a crowd of 20, a large stock pot will always come in handy.
- A covered sauté pan. You’ll want this one to be 10 inches in diameter, heavy-bottomed, non-stick (so that clean up isn’t such a bitch) and oven-proof. I recommend buying a covered sauté pan instead of a skillet because it will allow you to make a wider variety of dishes and also cook things faster. This pan will be responsible for sautéed vegetables, meat, fish and even dessert (homemade apple pie, anyone?). It’s also a useful mallet for chopping nuts, flattening pizza dough and making chicken cutlets.
- A non-stick skillet. This skillet is only essential if you like to make egg dishes, like omelets, scrambled eggs and just plain ol’ sunny side-up eggs. You can definitely make do without it, but your eggs might be a little thinner than you wanted.
How many kinds of knives does a person really need?
Most serial killers will say that you can never have enough knives. In my opinion, a good knife is the most important part of any kitchen. Yes, knives are expensive, but a good one will last you a lifetime. So invest: Any serious chef will tell you that a good knife is your best asset. Just two or three will make you a culinary rock star.
Your knife essentials
- A chef knife. I literally swear by my chef’s knife. It was a Hanukkah present (I know, lame) a few years back, but it is without a doubt the best present I’ve ever received. This knife will satisfy almost all of your chopping needs in the kitchen, from chopping vegetables and slicing meat to mincing garlic and other herbs. Chef knives come in all shapes and styles; it’s up to you which you choose. Your standard chef, the petite chef, the Japanese chef and the cleaver chef will all do the job. You just want one with a heavy, no-slip handle; a wide and well-balanced blade; and a sharp and pointed tip.
- A paring knife. Paring knives come in handy for slicing small fruits and vegetables, removing bones and fat from meat and fish, and scoring potatoes and pastries. Although you can do these things with a chef knife, the smaller blade of a paring knife slices with greater precision. I actually don’t like paring knives (maybe because I’m a little too obsessed with my chef knife), but I know many chefs who love them.
- A serrated knife. Serrated knives have notched, saw-like blades. They are ideal for slicing foods with a thick, rough or flaky skin, such as pastries, bread, mangoes and tomatoes. It is also a great tool to chop and shave chocolate.
I think you’re ready for… The List
While I’m not an expert by any means, here’s my list of what every cook needs to get started and be on their way to being the next Food Network star:
- A large stock pot
- A covered sauté pan
- A chef knife
- A serrated knife
- A microwave. Because, seriously, what college student can live without a microwave?
- A baking sheet. You can use this to bake cookies, roast vegetables and basically cook anything in the oven.
- Olive oil. It’s one of the most versatile foods: Use it to sauté practically anything, add flavor to vinaigrettes and sauces, or eat it plain with bread.
- Kosher salt. It’s thicker than iodized salt, which means it’s easier to control how much you add to dishes. Plus, I think it tastes a whole lot better.
- Garlic. It can wonderfully flavor almost any savory dish. Whenever you think a dish is lacking, just add some garlic.
Now go be a culinary god!