Tools & Utensils

Kitchen Toolbox, Part III


[Looking for Part I and Part II?]

Sharp things

I am not a knife geek, so you won’t find any opinionated, my-knives-are-holier-than-thine talk here. The three simple pointers I can share are: 1- you should first and foremost choose knives that feel comfortable, hefty (but not heavy), and well-balanced in your hand, 2- a high price doesn’t necessarily equate a high performance (see edifying rating here), and 3- less is more. Here’s my basic kit:

– A 20-cm/8-inch chef’s knife (couteau de chef), to cut, slice, mince, chop, and dice. My first was a stainless steel Dumas. Years later I won a Füri knife (with dimples on the blade) at a festival, and I’ve been quite happy with it ever since (although I wish the company hadn’t felt the need to get a celebrity chef endorsement; I find it mildly embarrassing).
– A 12-cm/4.5-inch paring knife (couteau d’office), for when the item to work on is small or handheld and more control is needed. I started with a basic one from Dehillerin‘s own line, until Maxence came home one day with a Wüsthof; we like it.
– A knife sharpener to keep these two knives happy. I use a diamond-shaped stone that looks like this one, bought at Dehillerin and used according to the salesguy’s instructions — I soak the stone in water first, set the knife at a 15° angle, and swish the blade away from me.
– A 25-cm/10-inch serrated bread knife to slice bread and cakes without making a horror movie scene out of them. Mine is, again, from Dehillerin’s line.
– A swivel-bladed vegetable peeler. I use it to peel vegetables (how very creative of me), but also to cut shavings of hard cheese or chocolate (chill the chocolate first). It is worth investing in one that has a good, sharp blade; I am very happy with my OXO peeler. It is in fact the second one I buy, since the first one disappeared one day: it either ran away with the lobster cracker or, more likely, I threw it in the trash along with the potato peels it had helped produce. Such is the saddening fate, I hear, of 90% of vegetable peelers throughout the world.
– A four-sided box grater, for cheese and vegetables; my favorite side (of course one has to have a favorite side) is the large hole one. Again, make sure it is sharp as a whip (I can recommend the Gefu brand), otherwise the merest carrot to grate will be such a hassle you will stop eating grated carrot salads and that would be a pity, wouldn’t it, because grated carrot salads are rather nice, not to mention good for your complexion.

Not indispensable but nice to have:

– A mandoline, to slice vegetables and fruit quickly and in thin, regular slices. It can also be used to cut matchsticks or crinkled slices, which is pretty neat, and chunks of your fingers, which is pretty painful (be careful with that thing). Depending on your budget, you can go all out and get a professional model (mine is a Bron) or buy a cheaper plastic one outside any Parisian department store: the latter may not have as long a life, but it will work acceptably well.
– A microplane zester to grate citrus zest, cheese, ginger, chocolate, etc. finely and effortlessly.

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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.

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Kitchen Toolbox, Part I


I have recently received several emails from readers who were asking if I could share my ideal set of kitchen equipment. I can’t think of a more fitting time of year to do so, as some of these tools may make good items to add to your wish list if, like me, you are usually stumped when people ask what sort of gift you would like to receive.

The following list, which will be published in three installments, is a very personal one I’ve established based on 1/ the content of my own extraordinarily messy cabinets and drawers, and 2/ what I actually use — I’m sure some of you are aware of how different these two concepts can be.

These tools can be found in cookware stores (in Paris, you should visit E. Dehillerin, Mora, La Bovida, and A.Simon, as well as Eurotra), but also online, in thrift shops, or at yard sales. And if you have friends, neighbors, or coworkers who cook, ask if they’d be up for a swap or a loan: one person’s neglected kitchen gadget is another’s treasured acquisition.


– Two round skillets or sauté pans, with lids: one small (20cm/8”), one large (25-30cm/10-12”). Choose heavy ones with a thick bottom, as they will conduct the heat better. (A sauté pan has straighter and higher sides than a skillet, so you can flip the contents with one adroit shake of the pan, but in most recipes they are interchangeable.)
– Two saucepans, with lids: one small (1 liter/quart), one large (3 liters/quarts).
– A heavy pot or Dutch oven, for soups, stews, and no-knead bread. Choose a large one, round or oval, 6 to 8 liters/quarts in capacity. I wholeheartedly recommend a cast-iron cocotte, enamel-coated or not: it’s definitely an investment, but the heat conduction is perfect and it will last several lifetimes. I own one large Staub and one smaller Le Creuset. These two brands I recommend if you can buy yours in France, but they are pretty pricy abroad and I hear there are now good-quality, cheaper alternatives in other countries. Make sure the handle of the lid can take high temperatures without melting, so you can use your pot in the oven, too.
– A steamer insert, with lid, to steam vegetables and fish. I use a basic set of stackable bamboo baskets (dirt-cheap at any Asian store), which you simply set over a pan of simmering water.

Not indispensable, but nice to have:

– An oval skillet, to cook whole fish.
– A grill pan, to sear meat and give it those nice, appetizing grill marks.
– A ceramic terrine dish, with lid.
– A Römertopf dish. This is on my wish list, to make Muriel’s chicken just like she does.

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Chick Yellow Coquelle


[Chick Yellow Coquelle]

Please join me in welcoming this yellow addition to my cocotte collection! Coquelle is a line of Le Creuset cast-iron pots designed by Raymond Loewy in 1958. They come in different colors, shapes, and sizes, but all of them share the same old-fashioned futuristic look, as if they were just about to take off from your stove and fly away to some distant planet where unattended stews do not scorch enamel and milk does not boil over.

I had spotted a re-edition at a Parisian department store earlier this year, and it looked glossy and seductive, but what I really wanted was one from the original production, in good enough a shape that I could use it, but with enough signs of wear to show it had been previously loved.

I first turned to a small store in my neighborhood called Et Puis C’est Tout! that specializes in objects and furniture from the 50’s to the 70’s — Ricard pitchers, plates with disco flower patterns, and bright orange plastic lamps. The owner knew what I was talking about, he didn’t have any in stock, but he explained that he did come across these cocottes from time to time, and that I should check back. And check back I did, every week or so, until I didn’t even need to ask anything anymore. I would pop in, wearing my most hopeful smile, but he would invariably shake his head with sympathy, “Sorry, no luck so far.”

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L’Aide de Cuisine

KitchenAid Stand Mixer

[The KitchenAid]

I have given in to the demon of temptation, and I can tell you this: it is poppy red, it weighs twenty-two pounds, and it comes with a dough hook, a flat beater, a wire whisk, and a stainless steel bowl (which conveniently doubles up as a kitchen mirror).

After so many years of lusting and wishing and yearning, resisting the urge because a stand mixer is not exactly cheap and counter space is a scarce commodity, I finally caved in and ordered one from a French online store. Just three days later, my shiny new friend showed up on my doorstep in its styrofoam jewel box, and I’ve been admiring it with the eyes of love ever since.

As one might guess, my recent brush with brioches is not entirely unrelated to this lavish purchase, and was certainly instrumental in getting Maxence’s blessing — he owns half of said counter space after all, so we make that kind of life-altering decision together. I chose red because everybody knows red cars drive faster, and my kitchen looks beside herself (yes, my kitchen is a she) with pleasure from this new accessory.

So, what have I used it for so far? Well, after carefully considering what recipe would be the most suitable for its inauguration, I decided on a simple pâte brisée to make the tartlets I was testing for a magazine article. The simplest ceremonies are often the most elegant, no?

Now I wish I could take it on the train with me to my parents’ mountain house for Easter so we could make hot cross buns with it, but that sounds like a stupid and back-breaking thing to do, so perhaps I won’t.


If you would like to know how and where such stand mixers are grown and harvested, you can read all about it in David and the KitchenAid Factory — perhaps Tim B. would like to buy the motion picture rights for that?

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