OK, young chef! Let’s say you already have your bases covered when it comes to big ticket kitchenware staples like a cast iron skillet, a chef’s knife and a food processor. Good work! Those simple tools will allow you to create thousands of delicious meals at home for a fraction of what you’d pay in a restaurant.
Now it’s time to add a few essential accessories to handle those specialized tasks that seem to creep up in every recipe. You know, stuff like juicing and zesting and so forth. Don’t worry, we’re not steering you toward a drawer full of junky mango slicers and onion peelers. Everything mentioned below is guaranteed to be a workhouse in your culinary arsenal.
Unlike investment pieces like skillets and pans, all of these gadgets can and should be purchased for well under $25 each. Budget around $100 for the whole lot, spend the rest on a solid but affordable bottle of wine (perhaps a tasty $20 muscadet from the Loire Valley) and you’re good to go!
ON A PLANE
If you enjoy eating pasta, a Microplane zester is a must-have. Not only will it finely grate your Parmigiano Reggiano (use the real stuff, not that powdered crap made with cellulose) like a dream, it will also do wonders for adding some lemon zest to your pan sauces, which is an easy way to add tons of flavor. A Microplane is also perfect for quickly pulverizing garlic and ginger for your stir-fries.
As VIP chefs like Mario Batali can attest, every dish, from grilled fish to rich pasta, benefits from a hit or two of acidity. Here’s the rub: Fresh lemon juice (forget that bottled crap) will greatly enhance any dish you cook up, but squeezing lemons by hand sucks. Not only do you run the risk of getting seeds in your food, that excess juice can turn a little cut into a kitchen nightmare real quick. Rather than suffer, invest in a $12 citrus juicer. Bonus tip: Before your morning coffee, drink some warm water with a squeeze of lemon juice and a shake of cayenne. It’s a great way to wake up your system before the caffeine hits.
Box graters are kind of scary. But what they lack in approachability, they more than make up for with their versatility. What other kitchen gadget can grate cheese, slice veggies and shave chocolate, all while giving you total control over the size and shape of the final product? This workhorse is a must-have, but approach with caution if, like me, you enjoy a little smoke or drink while you cook. Remember: Cheese is cheap but fingers are expensive.
Whether you’re frying up some homemade tortilla chips or just stirring up your pasta, there’s no better tool for transporting large solids into hot liquids than a spider, which is just a fancy term for a slotted basket with a handle. We highly recommend getting one with a longer handle so that you can safely take things in and out of your pot. Bonus tip: These things are also awesome for gently smashing boiled potatoes before you fry them up.
An old-fashioned peeler is great for obvious stuff like taking the skins off potatoes and carrots, but it can also be used to prep veggies that are traditionally served with their skin on, like cucumbers. To impress your guests, simply use a peeler to score the skin on your soft-skinned veggies, which creates handsome rows of elegant stripes. And if you prefer drinking over cooking, a peeler will come in handy for creating impressive lemon and orange peel garnishes for your hand-crafted cocktails.