Entertaining Essential: Utensils

Posted by on January 7, 2013

Contractors and handymen are famous for saying, “use the right tool for the job.” And so it is in the kitchen as well: having the right utensils to prepare and serve your favorite recipes helps reduce stress and oftentimes makes the difference between a recipe turning out well or not so well.

I have to say, I got extremely lucky and had a mom who was in the housewares business for a while. She put away a set of commercial quality stainless steel kitchen tools and bowls for me even though I was in the fifth grade at the time. I still have—and use!—these utensils, plus some that I inherited from her, some three decades later. The point is, buy the highest quality you can find. Stainless steel is the most durable, but wood and silicon also have their place in the modern kitchen.

Here’s a handy of list of essential kitchen items that every home entertainer should have. Check off what you already own and add what you don’t have to your wish list. Acquire these items over time as you need them and as your budget allows, remembering to buy the highest quality.

  • Wooden spoons
  • Stainless steel spoons
  • Measuring spoons
  • Silicon spatula
  • Slotted spoon
  • Whisk
  • Colander
  • Strainer (with a long handle)
  • Cutting boards (assign one board for vegetables
  • and another for meats)
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Stainless steel ladle
  • Cookie/pancake spatula
  • Offset spatula
  • Can opener
  • Citrus reamer
  • Microplane® grater(s)
  • Box grater
  • Potato masher
  • Locking tongs (long and short)
  • Kitchen shears
  • Dry measuring cups (stainless)
  • Liquid measuring cups (glass; at least one 2 cup measure to start)
  • Rimmed baking sheets, non-stick or stainless
  • Parchment paper
  • Small, medium and large mixing bowls, tempered glass and/or stainless steel (Tip: Cream whips best in a chilled glass bowl; neither cream nor egg whites will stiffen when beaten in a plastic bowl.)

Keep cooking utensils in a stoneware crock within easy reach of the stovetop, so you’ll have exactly the right tool when you need it.

Above all, make sure that the utensil is appropriate for the cookware you are using. Stainless steel cookware can handle nearly any utensil, but surfaces such as non-stick coatings, anodized aluminum and enamel-coated cast iron generally require wooden or silicon utensils for optimal wear.

 Basic knives:

  •  3 inch paring knife
  • 8 inch chef’s knife
  • 8 inch serrated bread knife
  • Sharpening hone

Thanks to my mom I also received quite an education in cutlery at a young age. Here again, go for quality knives. As you can see, the list of essentials is quite short, and nearly every chopping, slicing and dicing task can be done with just three knives. Yes, there are many specialty knives, like one just to filet fish. If you do a lot of that sort of thing, by all means purchase the specialty knife. But for starting out or replacing an aging knife collection, begin with the basics.

A stainless steel blade is a must. The handle material can vary; I prefer wooden handles personally, but some of the newer comfort handles are also very popular. Look for knives with a full tang—meaning, the metal part of the blade should run the length of the handle—and three rivets attaching the blade to the handle. The knife should feel balanced in your hand. When cutting with the chef’s knife, hold the knife with your thumb and index finger grasping the blade just above the handle. (Watch how the chefs on TV hold their knives.) This provides more stability and is easier on the wrist.

Learn how to use the hone to sharpen the blades (straight edges only; serrated blades need professional sharpening). A sharp knife is actually a safer knife as it requires less effort and force to cut the food. If you feel afraid around sharp knives, take a knife skills class at a local cooking school or university enrichment program. It will change the way you dice an onion or seed a tomato, and give you more confidence in the kitchen.