Ten Things Your Kitchen Could Use
My kitchen at Black Trumpet—and my home kitchen for that matter—is pretty spartan. By modern industry standards, we don’t have a lot of the cool playthings—immersion circulators, combi ovens, tilt skillets, blast chillers, PacoJet ice cream makers—that make a commercial kitchen out-of-reach for the home cook. We basically have a range; two standard, gas-fired ovens; a large butcher block bench; and, well, that’s about it.
If, in today’s flourishing restaurant world, Black Trumpet stands out, it should be for its ability to do a lot with very little. And here I stumble on the greatest asset any home cook can have—whether it is a parent scrambling through cupboard and fridge for school lunch, or a dinner party home chef having to make a knowledgeable substitution for asofoetida. Adaptability is the key to success.
Some of the items listed here are equipment, and some may be hard to find. Most of them are not especially expensive. Others are ingredients chefs like to consider rabbits in the proverbial toque that get turned into pure culinary magic.
1. Gas. There’s a reason the old salt “Now you’re cooking with gas” was invented. There is simply no substitute for the controlled flames and high BTUs (British thermal units) that bring a proper pan to high, even heat in a jiffy.
2. Strainers. We use the following porous devices to great effect: chinois, tamis, china cap, double mesh strainer, colander, spider, drop basket, cheesecloth, slotted spoon. Depending on the desired effect, each of these basic tools possesses its own variety of talents for removing unwanted textures or liquids from soups, sauces, cheeses, purées, etc.
3. Shallots. Neither onion nor garlic, and hardly a hybrid of the two, this ancient member of the allium family has too many applications to cite here, but they all add a je ne sais quoi to everything they touch. Vinaigrettes, soups and sauces can be transformed when this one ingredient comes into play.
4. VitaMix. You have a blender. We have a VitaMix. They serve the same purpose, but the VitaMix does it better, turning everything into creamy, silky and smooth purées.
5. Mandoline. You may be thinking of the musical instrument, but both Japanese (sharp and portable) and French (sharp and durable) mandolines play active roles in cutting vegetables into even slices, and shapes as well as ensuring that the restaurant’s workers’ compensation policies are not put to the test.
6. Industrial plastic wrap. As an eco-warrior who takes great pride in minimizing food waste and my kitchen’s impact on the environment, I am mildly mortified to confess dependence on the old-school industrial plastic wrap. Brands you find in the grocery store do a fair job, at best, of clinging to food and the containers that house it.
7. Clarified butter. Our secret ingredient is in almost everything that we sauté or roast. Every morning, we clarify a few pounds of butter by heating it slowly and skimming off the milk sludge that forms on the surface. Then, we strain the butter and add pure olive oil to mitigate the intensity. The result has a good smoke point and gives a vaguely nutty, rich flavor to food that cooks in it.
8. Hood ventilation system. Yes, home kitchens have fans that blow hot stovetop air and aromas around, but they are missing the UL-certified, high-powered suction that forcibly removes unwanted smoke, grease, heat and smells that can turn a dinner party into a fire drill.
9. French carbon steel pans. These pricy, forged-steel gems last forever, conduct heat instantly, and provide a better nonstick cooking surface than Teflon or just about any other material. High-quality woks serve the same purpose and allow for a higher volume when needed.
10. Stocks. In my recent book, Black Trumpet: A Chef’s Journey Through Eight New England Seasons, I dedicate a whole section to making stocks. They are the backbone of so much good food, everyone should have quarts in their fridge or freezer at all times. Dinner can be zero to sixty in no time flat with the turbo boost a homemade stock can offer.