Kitchen Toolbox, Part II

Kitchen Toolbox, Part II

[Part I can be found here.]


– A slotted turner, to lift and turn food in the skillet or sauté pan. Choose a heat-resistant one made of silicone or nylon so it won’t scrape your pans.
– A pair of locking tongs, to grab, flip, and arrange food in the pan as precisely as if you were using your fingers, minus the burns.
Wooden spoons, to stir and mix. It’s nice to have at least two of these. Choose them with a long handle (about 30cm/12”) so your hand will be far from the heat source as you stir.
– A slotted spoon, to lift the solids from a pan and leave the liquids behind. Very handy to serve stews, too.
– A ladle, to transfer and serve soup.
– A heat-resistant silicone spatula, to scrape bowls to the last drop, and smooth out the surface of cake batters.
– A wire whisk.
– A set of measuring cups and spoons. I personally use the same set of cups to measure liquids and solids, and I am still alive.
– A nesting set of mixing bowls. Three is enough; don’t get tricked into buying one of those rainbow-colored sets of ten, however good-looking. Choose plastic or stainless steel; make sure they are stable and don’t tip over too easily. If you’re short on space, get glass or ceramic bowls attractive enough that they can also be used as salad bowls.
Cutting boards. Wood and plastic are both fine; I myself am partial to bamboo boards. (Note: to avoid cross-contamination, our friends the food safety experts say you should assign three different boards to work with produce, cooked products, and raw animal products.)
– A cooling rack, to speed up the cooling of baked goods so you can eat your cookies sooner.
– A fine-mesh sieve, to strain sauces and marinades. I use mine to sift the flour for cakes.
– A large colander, to drain pasta and set vegetables aside as you chop them.
– A salad spinner to dry your salad greens. It does a good job with fresh herbs, too, no real need to get the miniature one.
– A pepper mill. I love the one Meg gave me, which you operate with one push of the thumb (although, when the reservoir is full, my thumb is not quite strong enough).
– A can opener, preferably one that also has a little metal lip to open jars of jam (and, incidently, bottles of beer).
– A nut cracker. I use a simple yet sturdy vintage one that Maxence’s grandparents gave us.

Not indispensable, but nice to have:

– An oven thermometer, to make sure your oven is not lying to your face. Hang the thermometer inside the oven and rely on it, rather than the thermostat, to know when the temperature is right.
– A lemon juicer. If you don’t have one, stick a fork in the flesh of a halved citrus: hold the fork in one hand, and squeeze the fruit over a small bowl with the other hand. Remove any seeds from the juice with the fork.
– A garlic press, to extract the pulp and juices from a clove of garlic without having to peel it, thus dodging the smell of garlic on your fingers. The garlic press can be an annoying animal to clean, but I use my potato brush with good success.
– A mortar and pestle to make pesto the old-fashioned way (it does make a difference in taste), and grind spice mixes, nuts, or herbs. I have a large marble mortar and a small wooden one, and use either depending on the volume of the stuff I have to grind. (In his Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook, Justin Spring suggests using a sturdy bowl as the mortar and a flat-bottomed spice jar as the pestle.)
– A rolling pin. If you don’t have one, use a clean, tall, straight-sided bottle, such as a bottle of Bordeaux wine (remove the label).
– A pastry brush to apply egg wash, melted butter, or glaze on baked goods. If you don’t have one, use the back of a small spoon.
– A flexible baking spatula and cutter. This is a thin, narrow, and long-bladed spatula (about 20cm/8”) that my friend Alisa gave to me as a gift, and it is incredibly handy for all manner of things: loosening and lifting baked goods from baking sheets, lifting a loaf of bread from the pot it has baked in, cutting and serving cakes, spreading icing… I’m still looking for things that it won’t do.
– A mini-torch to caramelize sugar on crèmes brûlées or tart crusts, and remove all traces of feathers from a freshly plucked poultry (okay, I’ve never actually done that, but it is what butchers use and they seem pleased with it). You can buy it from a cooking utensils store, or just buy a small regular blowtorch at a hardware store.
– A sugar thermometer, for jams, caramel, and candy.
– A chocolate dipping fork.
– A potato ricer.
– A meat cutting board with a trench that runs all around it, to save the juices.
– A meat fork to keep the roast/poultry in place as you carve it.
– A set of metallic serving circles (mine are 8cm/3” across) to create stacked desserts and vertical platings.

[To be continued.]

  • What a treasure chest you have…but I believe your drawer to be neater than this…surely, this is just for the photo and to reassure us messy cooks that we are okay ;)

  • Andrea-Michelle

    Lovely! Are ‘essential knives’ going to make Part III of the list?

    Thanks for the timely lists.

  • I’m kind of proud because I already have a lot of these utensils.

    I even have a mini-torch, which was the first thing I got when we came back from France this year.

  • I find I never actually use the lock on my tongs *shrug*

  • I’m wondering about the measuring cup you use? The one I bought in Dijon with metric shattered to pieces in my suitcase…any recommendations?

  • Kate

    Nice list so far—I recently got married and relied on my mother (a brilliant cook) to help me navigate the registry maze. We seem to have a fairly similar set of tools, though I’ve got to disagree on one point: the set of 10 stacking bowls. I got the heat-resistant glass set from Crate and Barrel as an engagement gift and I use all of the bowls all the time. The small ones are great for mise en place, the middle sizes are great for storing various leftovers and serving salsa, etc., and the biggest ones are my mixing bowls!

    The one registry item I really, really wanted/needed and didn’t receive was a scale—what brand do you like? Salter seemed to be my best bet here in the US.

  • Pat

    Oh no, not the fork-over-a-lemon trick. Why don’t you use the lemon-in-a-clean-dishcloth trick instead?

    Split a lemon. Put it face down on a clean cloth. Wrap the cloth around the top of the lemon, then squeeze it through the cloth, over whatever needs some acid. No seeds, no pulp, and much faster.

    Just a suggestion. Otherwise, a great list, except I don’t share your love of non-stick surfaces.

  • I can’t help but wonder how you get all that into a wee kitchen space….do you have any recommendations about, um, storage?

  • Tongue in Cheek – Actually no, that is a picture of my drawer, as is. Every once in a while I tidy it up, but it gets messy again very quickly after that — suits me fine.

    Andrea-Michelle and Kate – Knives and appliances are in part III!

    Cara – I still use the very basic metal set of four I bought at my local Safeway when I started cooking in the US. Nothing fancy, but they do their job quite nicely.

    Pat – And what do you do with the cloth afterwards?

    Andree – Well, all of the above utensils fit in one drawer and one utensil pot on my counter (spoons, spatulas, etc.); the pans and bakeware are all stacked up in one cabinet. For specific space-saving tips though, you can turn to Justin Spring’s very resourceful book.

  • john

    I find tongs–spring-loaded so their “default state” is “open,” but without a lock–so useful that I have three pair (in case one or two are in the dishwasher), plus an extra-long pair (maybe 40 cm.?) for use on the grill. As you say, they’re like heatproof fingers, and very inexpensive at the restaurant supply places. Indispensable.

  • a.

    clotilde – i live paris and i was wondering if you knew of any particular places where i can go to buy cutlery? i am going back to the u.s. for christmas and would like to bring my mother some uniquely french knives. i went to printemps but wasn’t very pleased with the (lack) of selection. i’m not looking for anything fancy. just a nice knives set. someone told me about the laguiole knives but i didn’t see very many there either. thanks!

  • I am so embarassed that I don’t own a nutcracker: it is on my Christmas list!

    I am in love with the microplaner, but then again, who hasn’t needed a bandaid after that one?

    Couldn’t live without a pair of scissors in my kitchen: love them for cutting herbs, pizza, ends of beans.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • oscar

    A fork works ok as a lemon reamer, but a better trick is to wedge it deep into your open locking tongs and squeeze the handles with both hands.

  • J’adore la photo !

  • Pat

    Well, I reuse it if I have more. Or if I have no more lemons to squeeze, I toss it in my laundry, giving the whole load a nice citrus burst. Cheesecloth works well, too, if you’re looking for something more disposable.

  • Wendy

    I do not think one silicone spatula is enough; I have about 6, and it is barely sufficient.

  • When we moved to France we dispersed with all of our household belongings except for some memorabilia…gone are the wonderful heavy gauge skillets and sauce pans, gone are the collection of gadgets and gizmos, gone are the oven racks and cake pans…I’ve started over now. It’s like I lost good friends and am making new ones.

    Your list helps me to remember what I’ve forgotten…

    Meilleurs voeux!!

  • a,
    you could have a look at that shop near le Printemps where they sell knives (Laguiole, etc…) and cissors : it is rue de Provence (or maybe rue de l’Isly), between rue du Havre and Boulevard Haussmann.

  • Meg

    Clotilde, I am absolutely tickled that my pepper mill made your list – it’s so hard sometimes to judge what is going to be a useless gadget and what is a useful one! Thanks for the smile…!

  • kiwarashu
  • kiwarashu

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