If you're like me, you probably can't walk into a cooking store without buying something. If you're like me and have a shoe-box sized kitchen, you're probably coming home with your latest purchase only to find yourself engaged in a game of Tetris with your pots, utensils and pantry foods. Each addition to my kitchen has the potential to throw my cupboards over the threshold, leaving me in a pile of Tupperware and coffee beans. So my list of kitchen essentials is a well thought out, practical list that won't include anything I don't use very frequently (even though over the years I seem to have collect a good amount of the impractical too).
1. A Good Chef's Knife
Cooking with a bad knife is like playing tennis with a badminton racquet. It makes cooking so unnecessarily difficult that after a certain point, it makes no sense. Good knives tend to be expensive, but all you really need is one good knife. As long as you care for it (honing and sharpening regularly), you'll never need to replace it. Here's the one I use: Wustof Classic 8-inch Cook's Knife. It's one that is affordable but still top-of-the-line and I consider mine a lifetime investment.
2. A Dutch Oven
A heavy enameled cast iron pot retains heat well and is essential for searing meats, making stews, braising meats, frying foods, just about everything. Le Creuset is a very good but expensive brand. But I use this pot all the time, so it's worth the investment. Plus they're gorgeous and come in a million colors!
3. Mortar & Pestle
A globetrotter's kitchen needs a mortar and pestle. It's necessary for making all those spice blends and rubs. Look for a very heavy stone mortar and pestle as it makes grinding easier.
4. Cast Iron Skillet
I'm cheating here and advocating for two cast iron skillets: one flat surface and one grill surface. I love the grill pan for summer eats: grilled veggies, steaks, bread, shrimp… pretty much anything you'd throw on a BBQ for a quick grill. Cast iron is incredible for retaining and distributing even heat and has a memory– it retains all the flavors of past dishes, imparting a depth to future dishes. Because it is made of iron, you need to season your pan or buy a pre-seasoned one and care for it properly. I stick to scrubbing the pan with a stiff wet brush and wiping it out with paper towels. There's also the plus side of its cheap price and durability. Cast iron skillets last for generations!
5. Rice Cooker
I hate big bulky electronic kitchen equipment, but I cannot live without a rice cooker. In fact, I don't even remember the last time I made sticky rice without one. For me it is a must have and I use it all the time. There's the additional benefit that it is very forgiving with mis-measured water and rice! If you cook a lot of rice like me, a quality rice cooker is a must-have.
6. Spider Strainer
You'd be surprised how often I need to fish something out of boiling water or hot oil– and fast! I am constantly using a spider strainer, from blanching vegetables to frying french fries to boiling dumplings.
7. Lemon Squeezer
Sure, upon first glance a lemon squeezer seems as though it should be tossed into the useless heap of tools like avocado slicers and olive pitters, but I use mine frequently. If you plan on making any Mexican, Central American or even South American foods, a good lemon squeezer is a must– take it from someone who consumes massive quantities of Mexican food! Trust me, it will save you so much time. And how else are you supposed to make all those margaritas from scratch!?
8. Salad Spinner
You can't make a good salad without one. Okay maybe you can, but it becomes a real pain waiting for the lettuce to dry. A salad isn't a salad without dressing and if your lettuce is still wet the dressing slips right off. A salad spinner accomplishes this in about 10 seconds! Plus there's something about spinning salad that makes me feel like a kid again. My favorite: OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner
9. Microplane Grater
I use my Microplane Grater all the time for flavor boosting like zesting lemon and grating nutmeg or Parmesan.
10. A Good Pair of Tongs
No, not thongs, although a good pair are equally indispensable! Get a pair of tongs with a lock on the top so they stay closed when you're not using them.