When it comes to cooking, using the right equipment will make your life incredibly easier. I have already discussed the construction and materials of different pots and pans. Now I will touch on what I think are the absolute essential pieces you must have in your kitchen? Of course, this will vary from person to person, but just very slightly. If you are like me and live in the a metropolitan area, you probably have no room for that huge pasta cooker with colander attached or for the tagine that we all lust after; and to be honest, you don’t really need it.
The following are the pots and pans that I find to be absolutely essential to the home cook.
Professionals advise that you have two sizes of frying pans, 5 inch and 9 inch. I completely agree. We cannot get away from frying, sautéing and reheating food that’s why non-stick pots and pans are one of the best inventions in the world. My 5 inch pan is a non-stick, I am a huge fan of eggs and yes, I eat them every morning. For these guys I use my non-stick. I also have a 9 inch cast iron skillet. This one is great for Spanish omelets and anything that has to go in the oven.
Sauce pans in two sizes are absolutely essential. I chose to go with a one-quart and a four-quart sizing and have found that I have no need for other sizes. I use my sauce pans for everything from boiling water, making hardboiled eggs, making rice, fruit compotes, making polenta and reheating foods. When choosing a sauce pan, it should have tall, straight sides and a round base. Make sure to get the matching lid and that it fits tightly. I like long handles and preferably, the welded or riveted types in order to keep your hands away from the heat. Stay away from non-stick on these guys. You want the stuff on the bottom when making a fond.
It’s completely ok to bring a large wok into the kitchen. Woks conduct heat quickly and are perfect for stir frying, sauce making, deep frying, smoking, making soups, stewing and sautéing. Once you have learned to make your own fried rice, you will never order takeout again. I promise. Woks work better on gas stoves (I cook only on gas stoves). When you first get your wok, make sure to season it. This is pretty easy to do, just be careful so you do not hurt yourself or burn your house down. It works much like seasoning a cast iron pan. Pick up some lard and a heat proof brush. Open your windows. Heat the wok over your oven flame. When your wok is hot, brush on the lard to cover the surface of the wok. Tilt the wok from side to side so you can get an even seasoning. Turn off the heat and let the wok cool. When the wok is cool, wipe the extra lard off the surface. Turn on the heat again and repeat the process without adding additional lard. You will see a little smoke coming from your wok. Brush on a little more lard and keep repeat the process, let the wok cool completely before repeating. Once your wok has a oily looking surface that doesn’t look dry when it has been heated your wok is set. (You can of course buy a pre-seasoned wok and make your life a whole lot easier).
If I were to pick the one piece I just could not live without, it would be my Dutch oven. This two handled pot is good for making a large amount of soups, sauce, and used for slow and wet cooking methods. It is one of the best kitchen equipment worth investing with. Mine is a 9.5 quart dutch oven made of enameled cast iron. It works great on the stove and even in the oven. Ever since I purchased my first I have never messed up a roasted chicken. In this case, the equipment makes all the difference. After use, let these cool all the way before putting them in water. If you have gunk that has stuck to your dutch oven, I find that Bon Ami is a great non-abrasive cleaning agent.
You can usually get along with the six pieces mentioned above, but the next few items will transform your cooking experience:
A sauté pan is perfect for, well…sautéing, frying and pan searing. I use mine to make sauces as well. I chose a copper core sauté pan with a lid. They tend to be a bit heavier, so make sure to take care when getting use to these.
A sister pan to the sauté pan is a saucier. They have a rounded base (and sometimes sloped sides) they are great when you have to stir or whisk. This is my pan of choice when I am making my bacon and pea risotto.
Now this may be an essential in my kitchen because I am Latin, but I use my caldero every day. With this baby, any Latin cook can figure out a way to make every dish in the planet. I use my caldero for rice, paella, soups, beans (you get the idea). These are made of cast aluminum, so things will burn from time to time. Again, if you are Latin (or have Latinos in your life) you will be well acquainted with “cocon”; this is the part of the rice that burns to the bottom and the entire family fights over. Just not possible without a caldero.
If you are just getting started in your kitchen, if you are going into your first apartment, make the investment into a good set of pots and pans. The nine I have mentioned above should make for a hassle free kitchen. Have your friends and family give you amazon gift certificates. Check out discount stores like Home Goods (they usually have some great cast iron pieces at great prices). Hit up the William Sonoma outlets. Buying good quality pots and pans will mean that you will spend the money only once and make amazing meals for the rest of your life. Oh, and please do not put your pots and pans in the dishwasher. Treat them with love and respect and they will love you right back.
If you have a favorite pot or pan that I have left out, let me know in the comments section.