Moving across the country really allows you to not only take stock of your life but also your possessions. “Do I like this vase enough to wrap it in bubble wrap, which will likely kill the environment, and have movers load it onto the truck at $20 per box so I can then unpack it and shove it in a closet?” My husband and I recently relocated from Santa Monica, California to Brooklyn, New York. We packed all our possessions into a moving truck which the company we hired will *hopefully* deliver to our new apartment.
After my parents recently had a less than stellar experience with a moving company last year and were subsequently left without possessions for around a month I was determined to pack a few kitchen essentials into the car to take with us just in case. Good thing I did because here I sit two weeks after leaving California on my blown up air mattress doubling as a sofa, waiting on my remaining possessions to miraculously show up. I had my stowed knives in the wheel well and whisks in the seat back pockets but at least I can get some work done while I wait.
With our recent move I have tried my best to rid myself of all frivolous kitchen tools. While I don’t think an “as seen on TV“ do-it-all-five-in-one chopper or a specific avocado slicer is a necessity, I do think everyone needs a really sharp quality knife. I recently gifted a new chef’s knife to my mother -in-law who immediately called me and told me she didn’t realize cutting things could be that easy. Below is my list of “desert island kitchen essentials”. These are things that I really do use every day and think are essential in every person’s home if you plan on cooking anything at all.
Good set of knives
To be able to expertly prep food in the kitchen, I would recommend a total of 3 knives: A chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated knife. Sure there are plenty of other specialty knives I use, but these are my holy trinity. A chef’s knife is good for most kitchen tasks – like cutting fruits and vegetables, meats and fish. It’s my “do it all knife”. I would recommend spending a bit of money on a good chef’s knife because as long as you treat it well and frequently sharpen it using a honing steel, it will last a really, really long time. A paring knife is great for cutting smaller items like fruits or making more precision cuts, while a serrated knife is good for cutting bread. It’s very hard to cut bread with the flat blade of a chef’s knife. I’m currently using this Miyabi chef knife, this set of Cangshan knives and this Shun pairing knife.
Cast iron pan
Cast iron pans evenly distribute heat and are great for searing meats and have high enough edges for frying, they just require a little bit more care. You can find a great cast iron pan for a really affordable price and they last a long time. I think a lot of people are intimidated by their maintenance. You do not wash a cast iron pan with soap and water, you either wipe it out or wash it simply with water and fully dry it and rub it down with a neutral oil. Using soap strips the seasoning that builds up and keeps food from sticking to the pan when cooking. I have the Finex 10” cast iron but Lodge cast iron makes really great options for a good value.
I love my large classic all-clad sauté pan for pan-frying and sautéing as well as my lagostina sauteuse pan with a lid (I can’t find the exact one but this Made In pan is similar). I can use it as a pot to boil things in or make sauces and soups when I am too lazy to take out my big pot. A non-stick skillet is perfect for cooking things that have a habit of sticking to the pan and creating a mess – look for one with a ceramic coating. Once it starts to show scratches, get a new one.
A good Dutch oven helps to both retain heat and distribute it evenly. Because it can go from stovetop to oven it’s great for braising, simmering and creating soups. I use my 7-quart Staub Dutch Oven for just about everything from braises, soups and sauces to roasting chicken. It’s definitely heavy (I always wonder how all those Italian grandmas move their big Dutch ovens to and from the stove and oven). For either Staub or Le Creuset it’s definitely an investment. Lodge sells an affordable one that I love as well.
Sheet pan or quarter sheet pan
A rimmed baking sheet or half-sheet pan are great for baking and roasting. I like to keep at least two in my kitchen to optimize cooking time. I use half sheet pans and quarter sheet pans since they are smaller and more manageable but full-size sheet pans are great when you are cooking for larger families or cooking multiple things at once. If your pan warps and it tilts or is rusted it’s time for a new one.
A rubber spatula is a “do it all tool” – used for stirring or getting every bit of sauce out of a bowl with it’s soft edges. I use this much more than a wooden spoon because you can get everything out of a pot or stir with it.
A metal spatula like this one is perfect for flipping eggs or scraping up any bits left in pans. If you are cooking in a non-stick pan opt for a plastic spatula so it doesn’t scratch and damage the pan.
Tongs are like an extension of a cook’s hand. Rubber tipped tongs come in handy when flipping meat, stirring vegetables or moving hot ingredients from pan to plate.
Look for a French whisk that has a good handle. A whisk comes in handy when baking, whisking eggs (which can be done with a fork in a pinch), emulsifying dressings or sauces and much more.
I use a medium mixing bowl to prep food in, throw scraps away, transfer ingredients and so much more. While a full array of bowl sizes is great, you can absolutely get away with one good medium size mixing bowl. I prefer aluminum if you can only have one since it’s durable but a set of nesting glass mixing bowls is great as well.