Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Let's Talk Tools

Imagine for a moment that you are young, bright-eyed, and eager. (I am!) You've skimmed the catalogues, watched the programs and are now ready to strut, coupons in hand, into your local megamart or home products store to stock your kitchen with tools. In you prance, knowing that you need it all. An egg separator! Of course, you think, and it can be used as a prop for my Halloween costume. And that apple corer will be oh, so, useful, never mind that you rarely eat whole apples, much less peel them for pies or cobblers. Stop, put down the professional style butter slicer and walk away. That's right walk away. I know, they're pretty and shiny, but most of them are unnecessary and in a few years you'll find them propping up the coffee table and cluttering up your kitchen. You need, at first, a limited coterie of tools¬- knives, tongs, and their spring loaded, stainless steel, and heat resistant brethren.

Knives are the preferred method for cutting, chopping, and peeling. This was discovered by the ancient Egyptians who turned to knives after they attempted to use cattails for filleting the crocodiles they consumed nightly. The cats refused to stay still for the task, and lamentably, their hair often made an unpalatable addition to the dish.* There are very, very cheap blades and very, very expensive ones. I don't advocate purchasing anything made in Germany or Japan until you have the First Aid experience necessary to handle them. Students and first apartmenteers need only a few basics, which can be, gasp, purchased en banc.** Look for knives that will fit your hand and have a good balance point. A carbon steel blade is wonderful… ly expensive. Go stainless, so when it's used to open your roommates red Jello boxes, for, ahem, Jello, it won't turn cherry red. Look for a kit that offers an eight to ten inch chef's knife, one or two smaller paring knives, and slicer. I would recommend a serrated bread knife, as well; I do not have one and wish I did but the chef's knife has done in a pinch.

Once the food is in the pan, you will have to move it, flip it, bop it… Wait, that's not right. You can use your fingers, but that tends to lead to visits to the burn ward. You could simply stab it with a fork and flip it like the Mid-Century Mad Man you are, but that makes all the delicious juices leak out and not stay in your dish. No, the best tools keep your precious digits from the heat and protect the sanctity of the marriage between juice and dish. I advocate a tripartite alliance between the slotted spoon, the spatula/flipper, and spring-loaded tongs. (Get a spoon too, but I suspect you knew that already.)

A slotted spoon makes it easy to pluck piping hot veggies from their kosher salted saunas or fish poached and boiled eggs from the boiling water. I recommend plastic but wood or rubber would work well too. Ultimately, you want something with a long and heat resistant handle. (See, supra, burn wards.) This advice goes for the spatula too, but I should also include that you don't want a wimpy flippin' surface. Your flippin' surface should be large enough to handle flippin' chicken breast, flippin' fish filets, or flippin' pizza slices. These tools are available cheap and disposable at your local large retailer headquartered, perhaps, in Minneapolis or Bentonville.

Tongs are among the great inventions of the world, along with the wheel, the internal combustion engine, and the Waffle House. Look for tongs that are long handled (again!) with a grip that keep the heat in the tongs and not on your hands. Oxo makes excellent kitchen tools and I personally recommend their tongs, but any that fit your hand will work just as well. These tools will take a licking, be sure to find ones that will be durable. Or at least cheap enough to replace. And keep them clean- nobody likes cross contamination and food borne illness. Once you have mastered these simply steps you can take the next steps like using book money to buy an extra sharp vegetable peeler or a food processor. But that's another post.

* Historical accuracy not guaranteed.
** Accurate use of legal terms also not guaranteed.