Kitchen Toolbox, Part I

Ustensiles

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.

Cooking

- 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.

Baking

- A fluted 25-cm/10-inch tart mold. This is a round and shallow metal pan that is used to bake dessert tarts. (I have a nonstick one with a removable bottom.)
- A 25-cm/10-inch round springform cake pan, for cakes that can’t be turned out to be unmolded.
- A 22-cm/9-inch round cake pan to bake other cakes.
- A baking sheet. Some people are partial to silicone baking mats; I find them annoying to clean and dry, and I prefer to use a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- A 25-cm/10-inch quiche pan. This is a round pan made of glass or ceramic, deeper than a tart mold, in which to bake quiches and savory tarts.
- Two baking dishes, glass or ceramic: one medium (about 1.5 liters/6 cups in capacity), one large (about 3.5 liters/14 cups in capacity).
- A tray of muffin molds, to bake mini-cakes and mini-quiches. I have a preference for mini- or micro-muffin molds; they make for cuter and more reasonable servings.
- A loaf pan, about 2 liters/8 cups in capacity.
- Cookie cutters. If you have room and budget for just one set, get shapes that do not scream “holidays” too loudly, so you can use them during the rest of the year, too. The most versatile one I have is a 6-cm/2-1/3” round fluted cutter, which I also use for scones and miniature tartlet crusts.

Not indispensable, but nice to have:

- A set of ceramic ramekins, to bake eggs, soufflés, and custards. They are also very handy to set ingredients aside as you measure them.
- A set of 10-cm/4-inch tartlet molds, to make individual versions of savory or dessert tarts. (I have nonstick ones with removable bottoms.)
- A brioche or kouglof mold.
- An 18-cm/7-inch charlotte mold; it can be used to bake small cakes and panettones, too.
- As many different silicon molds as you can possibly justify: I personally own (and use) trays of miniature tartlet molds, madeleine molds, and financiers molds, as well as a jelly roll mold.

[To be continued.]

  • Beth

    Clotilde,
    I notice that you use nonstick cookware. Concerned as I know you are about health, are you not troubled by reports of the possible ill health effects of cooking on Teflon- (or the like) coated surfaces? I recently rid my kitchen of pans with nonstick coatings and am using mostly cast iron cookware now, enameled and otherwise (effectively nonstick if properly cared for, though of course much heavier than coated pans).

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Beth – Regarding nonstick cookware, my personal rule, based on what I’ve read, is to use only high-quality items with a multi-layered non-stick coating and not submit them to extreme temperatures. Anything chipped or scratched goes in the trash. But this is just my personal take, and every cook should decide for himself.

  • http://www.syrenmuse.com/blog Francine

    I just love my Römertopf. I got it at a thrift store for five US. It takes a little getting used to but after you do, it’s incredibly versatile

    My Le Creuset dutch oven is a staple in the kitchen and, I agree, a must have for anyone.

    In addition, I’d like to add that my steamer set is not quite large enough for fish unless I do them roulade style. It’s perfect for couscous with a little cheesecloth to prevent slipping through the holes. Sometimes I use my bamboo steamers. I love my asparagus steamer though, I use it veggie steaming of all sorts, including broccoli, carrots, beans. I just throw the cut up veggies into the steamer at the last minute and poof!

  • sophie

    thank you so much for this. i’m a beginner cook and it’s very helpful to know what gear you use. lots of things to add to my list for santa!

  • Rei

    Romertopf is a great pot! I’ve just baked peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes with Italian sausage in mine this weekend. Yum! Hope Santa brings you one.

    p.s. I love your blog, Clotilde!

  • suzy

    Clotilde: Do you recommend a trip to Eurotra? It’s not far from where we’re staying next month when we’ll be in Paris. It’s new to me!

  • Rachel

    Thank you very much for this, Clotilde! I’m going to use it (and the following installments) as a reference/wish list for when, in the hopefully not-too-distant future, I’ve got my own place. (At the moment I’m sharing a flat and the only cookware in the kitchen that belongs to me is a glass baking dish, a chef’s knife and a garlic press. And about the only dish I can think of that uses all three is pommes dauphinois… ;) )

  • http://www.davidlebovitz.com David L.

    Those greasy (er…buttery) silicone baking mats can go right in the dishwasher, and they come out clean and dry.

    (That is, if you have a dishwasher. You didn’t mention it in your post. Maybe you do have one, but it’s name is Maxence?)

  • http://www.theperfectpantry.com Lydia

    Laurie Colwin wrote a wonderful essay on her batterie de cuisine — much like this — two pots, two pans, two knives, etc. You’d love it!

  • D

    Your advice about nonstick cookware seems very reasonable, but I know I couldn’t do without my cast-iron skillet for browning meats and vegetables and making reductions from that priceless fond.

  • Donna

    I agree with both Beth & D. While we have had teflon pans in the pst, I made thedecision to stop using them – even though I was careful about nicks & scrapes and keeping the temp moderate. The more I heard and read, the more nervous I got. I keep my cast iron well seasoned. I never use soap on them & dry them on the stove top (gas). And they are just as good as non-stick. My husband cooks eggs nearly everyday and they never stick a bit. I used mine to caramalize the sugar for your tarte tatin and then added the butter and baked the tarte right in the skillet! PLUS! cooking with cast iron add iron to your food! Another benefit!

  • http://www.letsgetsconed.blogspot.com jess

    Sign me up for everything you mention, plus a big ole cast iron skillet. I’m finally at the point where I can afford new pans, and I just bought a gorgeous crepe/pancake one the other day…

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Suzy – Do drop by Eurotra, especially if you’re in the neighborhood. It is more Asian restaurant oriented than the others, and has good prices on lots of quirky things.

    David – Yup, I do have a non-human dishwasher, thanks for the tip!

    Beth, D, and Donna – The main reasons why I haven’t (yet?) switched to cast-iron are the weight, the price, and the fact that they seem awfully difficult to keep clean and rust-free. But I may look into it now! What sort of bakeware do you use?

  • http://familyslowfood.blogspot.com/ Sara

    Great list! I love, love my cast iron dutch oven, preseasoned from Lodge. They are much cheaper in the US than Le Creuset and aren’t incredibly difficult to clean once you figure out the rules (clean w/a paste of kosher salt and veg oil if needed, dry over heat). I also have to have a frying pan that is NOT nonstick in addition to my nonstick ones, for anything that needs a good fond (I really use it much more often than my nonstick pans). And I haven’t had a lot of luck w/the silicon molds, but maybe I need to try them for little things? The bread pan one I have gets too “saggy” in the middle and makes an oddly shaped loaf.

  • http://homecookkirsten.blogspot.com Kirsten

    Clotilde, I just adore your site and recipes. I am so inspired by your enthusiasm and fun you have with recipes – especially baking. Sadly, I had a baking disaster last week, but with flexibility and faith, they turned into something delicious. Perhaps it was your C&Z karma passing on to your readers. If so, thank you!!

  • Julia

    Excellent! I love hearing about what other cooks use, thanks for sharing.

    Here’s mine if you’re interested in seeing another blogger’s.

  • http://www.cforcooking.com Jeff

    Madeline pan?

  • http://faerygrrrl.com erin fae

    I’ve been in a grocery shopping rut lately. I find this happens around this time of year and I would like to offer you (and my other favorite food blogs) a challenge. I’ve noted themed entries in the past. There seems to be an unspoken collective commitment to making no-knead bread, for instance. So, I am challenging you to write about your typical trip to the grocery. Do you decide what you will bake ahead of time? Do you go to specialty stores and farmer’s markets or belong to a food co-op or just go to your local large chain? I’d love to see a list or two, as well. I hope you do not find this comment to presumptuous.

    Best,
    Erin Fae

  • D

    The weight is quite a shock after using lightweight skillets, but I find the heft reassuring. It’s kind of like using a fat, overstuffed down comforter as opposed to sheets and thin blankets on a chilly night. As for price, I went to Zabar’s here in NYC and was torn between the Le Creuset enameled skillet for ~$100 and the Lodge cast iron for $20. I asked a salesperson, who advised me to go with the Lodge.

    I had used cast iron skillets before–in the kitchen of an actual lodge at a summer camp, funnily enough–so I was aware of the upkeep, which is really not tricky at all. After using the skillet, simply rinse it out (avoid using soap–more on this in the link below) and dry it on the flame of the stove. For any extra cleaning, as Sara says, a paste of salt and oil will do for scrubbing. If the surface looks a bit dry, put a bit of oil on a paper towel and apply just a thin film around the inside, once the water droplets have evaporated. And that’s it!

    Here’s a good roundup: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cast_iron_cookware

  • http://www.forkroad.com/ georgie

    Thanks for your blog Clotilde, I love it.
    I recently moved to Frankfurt, Germany (from Australia) and we have no kitchen utensils at all, so this list comes at a great time. I do have a wish list of my own which gets longer everyday, so between that and yours I shouldn’t miss a thing!

  • http://travelingmcmahans.wordpress.com/ Dana

    This would make a perfect Christmas list – I can just print it out and pass it around!

    We brought back two beautiful copper pans from La Bovida in Paris in October to begin our *serious cooking* kitchen collection. I love them!

  • http://foodbeam.blogspot.com fanny

    Hi Clotilde,
    I love that ‘pot a ustensiles’ you’ve got.
    It looks so divinely kitch and cute.

    - fanny

  • Sonya

    Great lists! I was happy to see a salad spinner on there. Over the last few years my salad spinner and imersion blender have become the two items that surprised me by how often I use (and abuse) them. Oddly, I hardly ever use my salad spinner for salad – I use it for washing and drying berries in the summer and defrosting frozen shrimp quickly, and cooling down my hard boiled eggs.

  • http://www.bethjewelry.com Beth G

    For Clotilde and anyone else interested in the Romertopf clay pots–I was at Ikea (in Massachusetts in the US) recently, and saw that they’re selling very similar clay pots for around $30 us. That’s much cheaper than the Romertopfs I’ve seen around here, and there was only one size but it looked perfect for the NY times bread recipe. Sadly, I didn’t get one because I had just purchased a cast iron dutch oven so I could make that bread, and two utensils for the same recipe seems a bit extravagant! It’s called the STIL clay pot, I couldn’t find it on the US website but it was on the UK one.

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