Essential Kitchen Tools -Tools of the Trade

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A Restaurant Chef’s Home Kitchen Essential Tools

          Teaching my son to cook has given me great insight about how far I’ve come and the many influences I’ve had from my restaurant experiences. The other day, as we were making dinner, my son asked me, “What is your favorite thing to cook with in the kitchen?

          I have been cooking for years professionally and really had to think long and hard about it. Feeling the pressure to have an immediate answer for him, I told him “A good sharp knife.” I thought some more and changed my mind to a microplane. My trusty microplane has been with me over 15 years and I probably needed to replace it, but out of my love of the tool, I still use it and can’t bear to part with it.

          While we moved from prep work to the cooking stage, I changed my mind again and replied, “A good silicone spatula.” I still had my red spatula from Williams Sonoma that I purchased during my college years (shall we say 20 (rounded down) years ago?) when I really started cooking for myself…and it’s still in good condition!

          My mind started wandering more to what was more versatile and I said, “Chopsticks!” Having grown up in a Asian household, eating Asian food every night for dinner (yes, lots of bowls of rice), one gets very handy using these two sticks. Nowadays, teaching children how to use chopsticks, we have these tricks and gadgets that turn them into mini-tongs. I used to take chopstick wrappers and a rubber band to turn restaurant chopsticks into tongs for my son when he was 3. I can’t even remember how and when I learned to use them..maybe I was born with the skill?

          Eventually, as we were finishing up and breaking down the kitchen before dinner was served, I told my son, “Honestly, the best tool in the kitchen that no cook/chef can live without is their HANDS.” Getting your hands into food, whether its a yeasty dough, dumpling mix, meatballs, burger patties…it’s a sensation that just makes me happy.

          Merriam-Webster defines tool as a simple hand-held device for performing work. So by that definition, your hands would definitely NOT be a tool. If you are just starting to cook for yourself or need a starting point for teaching your young children how to cook, these are a few of my basic kitchen essential tools you should have on hand.

7 HOME KITCHEN ESSENTIAL TOOLS

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My Masamoto Knife Collection

1. Chef Knife

I’m partial to Japanese knives. My first knife was a Wusthof. A solid starter knife, but I found out later that for my comfort, it was too unwieldy in my hand. Japanese knives are lighter and I feel allows more precision in your cuts. A knife should be an extension of your hand/arm, so it should feel “connected” to you.  Currently, I’m using a Masamoto Chef Knife which is finally available on Amazon.  

Just owning a good knife won’t make you a better cook, but using it day in and day out will. I won’t get into the myriad of knives out there, (maybe a later blog) but find one that FITS you. Like buying a car, you should find a knife that is comfortable for YOU. Just remember to always keep your knives sharp and keep your free hand fingers curled. A dull knife can cause accidents when it cannot do it’s job properly.

*A good paring knife is also a good addition to your kitchen arsenal. Easy to use for smaller jobs.

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2. Vegetable Peeler

Looking back on my prep cook days, I remember peeling A LOT of potatoes. Growing up, my mother had an old-fashioned steel swivel peeler. I remember peeling my fingers by accident more than once.

Then they came out with these heavy handled peelers and even ergonomic handled peelers. I’ve used them all, and by far the best ones are I’ve come across are the Japanese Y-shaped peelers with the potato eye remover. They are easy to maneuver around any kind of food and can be used by right or left-handed persons. Usually made of plastic, they are inexpensive and once the blade goes, just buy another one! No need for fancy-schmancy 4-in-1 peelers, that’s why you have a knife.

Due to the amount of use in a restaurant setting, they never lasted very long, but the speed at which you can get things done was worth it.  My son has gotten really fast at using it and makes quickwork of any potatoes I throw at him. 

Daiso (Japanese 99cents store) is my go-to store for this tool, but if you don’t have a Daiso near you, Amazon has plenty to choose from.  I would recommend the Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler 3-Pack Red/Green/Yellow

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3. Microplane

Basically a zester or rasp. Why do I love this tool? When you are looking for subtlety of flavors, this is the tool to use. I love using ginger in my cooking. This is the best thing to use for Asian recipes. I used to watch Yan Can Cook religiously when I was little. What he was able to do with a cleaver was mind-blowing to me. The way he smashed ginger and garlic for his dishes I tried to do unsuccessfully with my Mother’s cleaver.

For my Won Ton Dumplings, I use my microplane for the ginger in the dumpling mix so that the ginger is there, but not overpowering. To get that nice citrus flavor into savory dishes and desserts, this tool is ideal to get those hints into the dish without someone biting into a piece of citrus peel. My preferred tool for cheese as well. Parmesan comes out light and fluffy like snow and is great for an elegant presentation on a salad instead of thick pieces of cheese.

To be honest, I haven’t tried the other brands that make zesters, but I’ve had my Microplane for over 15 years now, so that durability of the brand speaks for itself!

4. Silicone Spatula

How great was this re-invention? It can withstand heat upwards of 550 degrees Fahrenheit and its not just for desserts and scraping batters anymore. The flexibility in being able to use this over a stove and not just in baking, has won me over as an essential tool for the kitchen.

For Christmas, my husband bought me a slew of different colored Sur La Table Silicone Spatulas (2 of every color!) and what might be odd to some, it was my favorite gift that year.

When I work the sauté station in a restaurant kitchen, this was always glued to my hand. Gentle enough for making perfect over-medium eggs, flipping pancakes, sautéing vegetables, any kind of wok cooking, won’t scratch up your cookware, and overall best tool for anything in a hot pan.

5. Can Opener

In restaurants, a good can opener is important as most of our deliveries are in bulk; huge cans of oyster sauce, hoisin, ketchup, etc. Some restaurants even have heavy-duty behemoth can openers that are attached to stainless steel tables.

For my household, OXO good grip can openers has been the best can openers for ease of use and longevity. I have both the OXO smooth-edge can opener and the OXO soft-handled can opener. The smooth-edge can opener cuts from the side so the lid comes off without any sharp edges, basically you have an instant lid for your canned product. AND it’s safe for children to use in the kitchen.  I find for asian canned goods, the smooth-edge can opener doesn’t work as well, so we use the regular can opener for things like coconut milk, pickled vegetables, and red bean paste.

6. Balloon Whisk

A whisk is magic. How it transforms eggs is mesmerizing to me. When I first showed my son what it does to egg whites, his reaction was adorable..it was like I performed a magic trick in the kitchen. Not just a tool for homemade whipped cream and meringues, a whisk is perfect for emulsion sauces like hollandaise, sauces, dressings, and vinaigrettes.

There are many different whisks in different sizes, but one is definitely all you need. Recommend the OXO good grips 11” balloon whisk if its your first whisk. The soft handle is easier on the hand/wrist than the metal ones. The 14” whisk, I feel is too big, makes a bigger mess if you are just whisking a few eggs, and smaller ones feel like you are working too hard.

7. Tongs

Tongs are essential tools in a professional kitchen. Each station in a professional kitchen would have around 3-4 tongs for dinner service. The restaurant grade tongs would go through so much abuse that their lifespan went the way of the vegetable peelers.

For home use, I prefer the OXO 12” tongs with the scalloped pincers. If you are an avid home griller these tongs are just long enough so your hands aren’t being grilled alongside your meats. I purchased smaller tongs for my son to use so he has more control when he is on the stove.

Tongs are perfect for browning chicken, flipping pan-seared pork chops, and frying. For certain applications, I do prefer using chopsticks, which are basically wooden tongs. The biodegradable chopsticks (Reduce Reuse Recycle!) that you get from Asian restaurant takeout can do the trick when you are handling something smaller, like frying Chicken Karaage. For bigger proteins, definitely go with the tongs.

Hope you enjoyed my list of Kitchen Essential Tools from a restaurant professional perspective.  If you have any questions send me a message!

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