Kitchen Toolbox, Part III

Blades

[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.

Appliances

- Mixers, food processors, etc. You have a minute? For years I used the most basic (1-liter/1-quart) model of food processors by Moulinex (today’s equivalent costs about 50 euros) to mix batters and chop stuff. It also had grater and slicer attachments that came in quite handy when I had a large amount of onions to slice or cheese to grate. What it didn’t do, however, was whip egg whites and cream (it said it could but it lied) or knead dough. This food processor has been relegated to the darkness of a hard-to-reach cabinet since I splurged on a stand mixer last spring: this one mixes batters, whips whatever you want it to (to a certain extent), and kneads dough without hop-hopping across the counter. What it doesn’t do, however, is grate or slice (you need a special attachment, but so far I’ve made do with my mandoline and box grater), or chop. For my chopping needs I use my immersion blender, which I’d initially purchased to purée soups directly in the pot. It came with a set of larger blades and a chopper bowl that have proved immensely useful; I use this blender one way or another several times a week. (The model I have seems to have been discontinued and replaced by this one.)
- A digital timer, preferably magnetic, so it can live on the fridge door.
- A digital scale, to measure your ingredients accurately. Look for one that works in ounce and gram modes so you can use recipes in both measurements; make sure it works in 1-gram/0.05-ounce increments and has a reset-to-zero button.

Not indispensable, but nice to have:

- A rice cooker for perfect rice you don’t need to babysit. (The best deals on those can often be found at Asian supermarkets.)
- A yogurt maker. (The best deals on those can often be found at yard sales, or at your grandmother’s apartment.)
- A fondue pot. We only use it a handful of times each winter, admittedly, but these occasions are always so convivial and fun that I find it worth allotting the pot a bit of storage space.
- An electric citrus juicer, because a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice is what winter mornings are all about.

~~~

On an unrelated note, let me wish my sister a very happy birthday: Joyeux Anniversaire Céline!

  • http://www.cforcooking.com Jeff

    My wife stays away from all sharp things in the kitchen after cutting her finger

  • http://www.theperfectpantry.com Lydia

    If you have room in your kitchen, I’d definitely add a good, large food processor to the must-have list, in addition to a good stand mixer (I too have a red Kitchenaid!). With a food processor, you can make tart dough, grate huge quantities of potatoes or carrots, chop lots of onions without tears…. Thanks for sharing your batterie de cuisine. It’s always good to think hard about what is absolutely essential, and what’s just a gadget.

  • http://www.mytiroo.com Natasha

    When I trained at Cordon Bleu (I did the six week basic techniques course – Im no chef or nuffink) the head chef there told us that the best knives to get were the victorinox (www.swissknifeshop.co.uk) as they were really reasonably priced but also the metal as quite soft so they were easy to sharpen.

  • http://www.ripelondon.com Jess

    I’m a Global knife girl–was converted upon reading Kitchen Confidential. I’ll be in Paris for New Year, maybe I’ll finally get that mandoline…

  • http://blue-kitchen.com Terry B

    Regarding knives and sharpening them, the single most important thing I learned in a knife skills class I took was how often to sharpen them: every time you use them. I don’t follow it to the letter, but I probably sharpen a knife three out of four times I pick it up. You won’t notice a huge difference right away, but over time, you’ll see your knives are sharper. For me, the big breakthrough was when a knife sliced effortlessly through a ripe tomato again and again, producing beautiful, clean slices, instead of meeting resistance from the skin and having the seeds squish out.

  • cocoaloco

    I would add a third indespensible cutting companion: the serrated bread knife for not only bread but tomatoes, pound cake and the like.

  • http://fooddiary.blogsome.com eliza

    i’d love to have a digital scale that measures both grams and pounds, definitely in my list for next year.

  • http://inpraiseofsardines.typepad.com/blogs/ Brett

    Clotilde, your Menu for Hope prize is very cool. I can’t wait until your cookbook comes out! It’s looking like my restaurant will unfortunately not be open in time to invite you there to celebrate during your book tour. But you never know. Let’s keep our fingers crossed….

  • http://www.chocolatenerd.blogspot.com Imani

    Congrats on your book! It looks awesome:)

  • Per

    You should try one of these cheese planes (as they seem to be called in english). Excellent for hard cheese shavings or slices. Perfect if you want to make a nice sandwich using a more interesting cheese than the ready sliced ones in the store.
    Just as me, they come from Sweden, although this particular one is a danish design.

    http://stelton.com/ProductView.aspx?id=54

  • Sherron

    What? No corkscrew!

  • http://www.france-property-and-information.com/easy-french-food-recipes.htm Doug Stewart

    Everyone seems to have stainless steel knives now. I will admit that iron knives are a pain as one has to grease them after cleaning or they rust. A chef friend (here in France) tells me that for this reason iron knives are not legal in French kitchens.

    However, at home, he has a set of them. I have two iron knives and I swear by them. They take a much sharper edge than stainless steel and seem to keep the edge much longer. One is an old knive that I bought in a market, and I use it when I need a special sharp edge (for example, cutting herbs).

    The other is one I bought in Japan, which has an amazing edge but is very brittle. I make the mistake of keeping it in a knife drawer with the stainless steel knives and the edge got badly knotched. Should have kept it in a knife block.

    Anyway, my point is that if you need a supersharp edge, it is worth having one iron knife.

  • http://www.deglazing.com Nicky

    Thanks for the great post! I, too, am inclined to think about what is essential to my kitchen. I have to admit sometimes I think something is just a gadget, but find it becomes indispensable when I get it home. That was definitely the case when I got my microplane home.

    I really enjoyed this post and thought it would be an excellent primer for new cooks.

  • http://www.ForkandBottle.com Jack

    I like a lot of your favorite kitchen tools, but the OXO peeler is not one of them. I find it practically unusable to peel a red pear, for example. Haven’t found one I love, yet, and have tried quite a few.

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