I was thinking the other night while I was writing about the Chipotle Honey Chicken that there are probably certain things that I have in my kitchen that I think are required, which you probably don’t even have. By the same token, I don’t even have a serrated knife. Some of these things get used quite a bit, like the FoodSaver, while others don’t get used as often, a Silpat. I’ll go in order of how often things get used. It makes the most sense that way.
The first thing on my list is the FoodSaver. What this does is vacuum seal whatever you can fit into the bag/canister. This prevents freezer burn on meats, and allows me to have serving sized amounts of whatever I want. If I buy a package of chicken breasts I can freeze them individually, or in pairs depending on what I want to do. This allows me to stretch my budget by buying things on sale, and having them around when I want them. Rather than buying bags I buy rolls. I can then make bags to fit whatever I want. As an example, for Mother’s Day, I made ribs. I make a dry rub and apply it to the ribs, and then seal them in a bag. The vacuum also seems to make marinades, and rubs more effective and take less time. I have had marinated chicken frozen in a bag, and “floated”* it, this gave the marinade time to work, and I ended up with a great dinner.
I have five cutting boards. Four are color coded, and the other is just larger. The color coded ones are for specific foods. Red is for raw red meat. Yellow is for raw chicken. Blue is for raw fish. Green is for foods that are safe to eat, either cooked or raw. Along with the cutting boards is a piece of shelf liner which I try to wash and throw away periodically. I put this under the cutting boards to keep them from sliding around on the counter. This is something that you really should consider. Getting cut really is no fun. Now, as far as cutting boards… (begin rant) DO NOT use glass or granite, or a plate, or your counter! These will all dull your knife making it a lot more dangerous. A poly or wood board is the best thing to use. Plastic has the advantage of being able to go into your dishwasher if you are lucky enough to have one. Glass is a really bad idea if you stop and think about it. You are going to be using a knife on a piece of glass. The knife is going to scratch the surface, and the cutting board is going to dull your knife. At some point, your old scratched up glass cutting board will come out of the dishwasher and explode when you set it on your slightly damp counter. Not to mention the tiny glass shards your are creating in your food. Plastic is the easiest to take care of. Wood you don’t want to put lots of soap on, and you need to oil it from time to time. Plastic is also cheaper if you need to replace it. (rant over)
When I want to slice something nice and thin, and also uniformly the only way to go is a mandoline. Imagine trying to make potato chips with just a knife and a potato. In the time it would take you to get a couple of chips, and cut yourself I could be through a couple of potatoes! Even the cheap ones (like mine. The nicer ones are very expensive, and kind of fussy.) are adjustable for at least a few different thicknesses, and wicked sharp! You should always use the hand guard. Carrots, potatoes, and other similarly firm vegetables are perfect uses for a mandoline.
Here’s a variation on a tool that everyone is familiar with. I have a China Cap or conical strainer. I use it in place of a colander. There is also a stand which is helpful for straining large quantities of liquid. The shape also allows you to mash things through it, like raspberries. You leave the skins and seeds behind for the most part. A fine meshed version of a China Cap is called a chinoise.
I have my own sharpening stone. This is fairly obvious. I’ve used it a few times, but it is something I am still learning to use. I have quite a few knives, and my favorite is a Chinese vegetable cleaver. This is all fine and good, except that I have yet to find a place that will sharpen it correctly. The reason for this is that it has a chisel edge, in other words, only one side of the blade is sharpened. This makes for a very sharp knife, due to the fact that the edge has a narrower angle than the knives you have in your kitchen.
Finally, I get to the Silpat! I don’t use it very often, but it can be a lot of fun. Quite simply, it is a silicone mat with fiberglass. It is able to withstand very high temperatures, and it is as far as I have seen, completely non-stick. You can melt cheese on it in the oven, pour melted sugar on it to make brittles, and candies, bake cookies, whatever you can think of. Keep an eye out for this fun tool soon. There is an awesome cheese crisp you can make, and do all sorts of fun stuff with. You’ll see!
So are these absolutely necessary? No, although if you don’t have one I would recommend the FoodSaver, and also the mandoline. You can certainly make lots of great food without them, but they give you some options that I like having. Most of what I use on a daily basis is just like what you have in your kitchen.
* Float – quickly force thaw a food by submerging it in a container of cold running water. This is the fastest, and safest way to thaw any food. The health department will knock points off of a health inspection if they catch you using any other speed thaw methods. Your other option for thawing is to refrigerate until it is thawed.