When I get into the kitchen and begin to organize ingredients, I have several (let’s say many…!) essential and indispensable tools that make life easy, making cooking extra fun, and make food delicious. They’re often simple things, but they’re essential to my style, and they can become essential to yours too. Some you can pick up immediately at any cooking shop; others you’ll look for in second hand stores. Wherever you find them, the hunt is half the fun.
All of my essential tools are in easy reach, because I don’t want to spend time going through drawers looking for them. They hang on antique supports for glass shelves from an old epicerie, or grocery shop in Louviers, which end up being the perfect thing for everything from the fish bone pullers, ladles, and the spider that I use twenty times a day for scooping things from boiling water or syrup, to an old fashioned strawberry huller that’s a must in the spring and a wide vegetable peeler that makes the task of the peel easy and quick. As for the copper pots, they’re a must in my kitchen and I clean them after each use, which is as easy as sprinkling some Bartender’s Helper all over them, then wiping them clean. Or, use vinegar and salt.
Silicon spatulas are another vital tool for me. They’re relatively new in my life, but I find that I use the miniature ones all the time, the large ones too. I suggest arming yourself with a variety of sizes, in multiples.
You may not think of them as essential kitchen tools but tasting spoons are so handy – these sit near the stove and go into sauces, soups, stews, custards, jam…anything that needs a quick taste to get it right. My favorite are wood spoons handmade in Konya, in Turkey. They don’t absorb flavors, they do get just the right amount. Any soupssoup spoon do, though.
I love pastry brushes . They make me feel artistic (!), but more than that, they’re indispensable for brushing egg glaze on a tart, brushing butter or oil on fruit or vegetables before they hit the grill, brushing flour off of pastry before filling it, brushing bread with oil before toasting it. Get yourself many and wash them carefully after each use.
As for the Peugeot pepper grinder, it’s a must for it grinds well, is easily adjustable, and lasts a lifetime. The pepper inside? Voatsiperify, from Madagascar.
Chopsticks and miscellaneous wooden utensils come in handy all the time. Somehow, a chopstick is the perfect tool for stirring chocolate, mixing spices into rice, breaking up pasta in water. And all those spoons I use for mini tastes or for serving tapenade or aioli, dukkah or a variety of mustards. As for the wooden spreaders, they’re ideal for making sure that jam is smooth on the bottom of the tart, or the chicken liver pate is perfectly presented, or the aioli looks just right in the bowl.
Learn how to use these tools, and dozens of other techniques, in a cooking class in Louviers or Paris.
Scrapers…I could write an ode to and about them, for they end up being my favorite tool. I never travel without at least one in my bag, and I set one next to each mise-en-place in class for no other reason than to create a (happy and healthy) dependency on them. They’re good for transporting ingredients, cutting pastry into strips, cleaning a work surface.
Finally, a big mortar and pestle is indispensable in my kitchen. I use it to make pesto, aioli, hummus, spice mixtures for marinating meat and poultry, nut butters. I love looking at it too, it’s regal.
If you have a mortar and pestle, here is a great pesto recipe from Nuts in the Kitchen (William Morrow, 2010).
- 1 clove garlic green germ removed if necessary
- Generous pinch sea salt
- 1-1/2 cup top-quality black olives such as Lucques or Olives de Nyons,, 8 ounces;250g
- pitted coarsely chopped
- cup ½ walnuts coarsely chopped, 50g
- 1/4 cup pine nuts coarsely chopped, 30g
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves 15g
- 9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 140ml
- Fine sea salt - optional
In a mortar, pound the garlic with the salt until it is a fine puree. Add the olives, the nuts, and the basil and mix until the mixture is homogeneous but still has much texture. Slowly mix in the oil. Season to taste with salt if necessary, and serve.