Cookware, kitchenware and miracle products
All these THINGS that we are meant to use for cooking. Cookware, kitchenware, miracle products and buy one now and get the second one free. How are we meant to keep up? Where are we meant to keep them? How do we choose which ones to buy and which to ignore? Then there are all the things that we are meant to do. Techniques, processes, flourishes…the pressure!
I have my own ideas about all of this. I trained in restaurant kitchens in a time of simplicity, or scarcity (or shall we say minimalism?) and I have carried that ethos forwards. Gadgets and devices are supposed to save effort, right? But if I have to put down the implement I am using and hunt out another one, I usually think I could probably just carry on using the current one, which in nearly every case is a knife.
I think this is 50 per cent philosophical, and 50 percent efficiency, possibly even laziness. If I can do a job in a simple way, then I am unlikely to complicate it. And if I can make a dish in a homely way, then I am not the person you’ll find studiously imitating professional techniques in my home kitchen.
It might be dotted in a couple of places, but I see a pretty clear line between professional cooking and home cooking. It is situational – firstly, home-cooking is for a small number of diners, and the meal is just done the once, so there’s no need to do vast amounts of prep in advance, in order to produce multiple servings of the dish, one after the other, for a 4 hour stretch. Thank heavens. Secondly, and somewhat sadly, my kitchen just doesn’t seem to contain a brigade of chefs at my beck and call.
What special things can I be bothered with? This’ll have you shaking your head:
Making spice paste from scratch in a food processor – no. Pounding spice paste from scratch using mortar and pestle – yes, absolutely. The main reason is that my mortar lives handily on the benchtop, while the processor is tucked away in a cupboard. I did say it could be laziness.
Retarding bread dough – yes yes yes. As a lifelong procrastinator, what could be more rewarding than a bread dough that is actually improved by popping it in the fridge and leaving it until the next day? Sourdough is my friend.
Gadgets, gizmos and gimmicks – generally speaking – no. If I can do it using a knife, then that’s how I’ll do it. If I can do it by hand, then that is probably how I’ll do it. However, I have a few gadgets that I swear by: one of those ultra-sharp Swiss steel vegetable peelers (T-shaped), a pincer-action lime press, and my nostalgia-meets-efficiency, old-fashioned glass lemon squeezer.
That’s not all. A stick blender is exactly the right tool for whipping up a quick batch of hummus, and even though that is almost the only job I do with it, I still keep it in a priority position, because sometimes I just need hummus. Silicone spatulas –I love them.
I’ve got my eye on one more little helper – it’s a version of the Swiss peeler, this time with vicious teeth. It shreds things superfast, so it is perfect for making green mango or green papaya salads, as well as for shredding carrot for coleslaw, or shredding cucumber, potato – anything that is disappointingly pulpy when grated. Although I never grate carrot for coleslaw – yes, it’s a knife job. Don’t say I’m not dedicated. Speaking of grating: microplanes. Marvellous things.
Non-stick pans. I used to think they were a cop-out, but now that I have some very good ones, there is a place for them in my heart and more particularly in my kitchen. But it is a particular place. I don’t use them willy nilly: how about those tv chefs who use them for everything, stirring away with metal spoons that must surely wreck them in the first 10 minutes? I can hardly watch… I do think you can non-stick panfry a pork or veal cutlet to perfect, (oil-free) browned tenderness, and you can do that gently over a medium heat, without having to use a very high heat to achieve browning. Non-stick pans do a good job of fritter-y things like fishcakes and hotcakes, too.
Copper pans – nothing beats them for responsive temperature control, and I don’t ever want to do without the copper omelette pan, in particular. It is very lucky that I live with someone who likes polishing the copper, though. Polishing the copper could potentially sit in my “can’t be bothered” column.
Sous vide machine for ‘the perfect poached egg’? Oh, come on. That is for restaurants.