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Kitchen must-haves from knives to chopping boards

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In the kitchen: kitchen must-haves

Seeing as we’re all spending more time than ever in our kitchens (for better, or for worse!), we asked Executive Chef Steve Wilson for his top 10 pieces of kitchen kit. From pots and pans to knives and whisks, read on to find out his kitchen must-haves.

1. Good quality chef’s knife
Invest in a couple of good chef’s knives, they will last you a lifetime if you look after them. I think every chef I’ve worked with over the years has been very protective of their kit: there is an unwritten rule in the kitchen DO NOT TOUCH ANOTHER CHEFS KNIFE…EVER! Many professional standard knives differ in material and weight, so look around some cook shops and ask to see some – when you feel them in your hand you’ll know which one is right for you. A really good quality knife will start about £100 and go up to £1000 – it all depends on what your budget is and how often you will use it. Just don’t forget to keep it sharp!

2. Good quality wooden chopping board
Buy a board that is a good inch thick (at the very minimum). Good boards are made of mostly walnut, hickory or oak. But why wood chopping boards you ask? I say this because:
1) Wood is extra kind to knife blades – the gentle give in the wooden cutting surface keeps the knife as sharp as possible and avoids bending the blade
2) Wood is the safest material because bacteria have a much lower survival rate than on plastic chopping boards
3) Wood is rather gorgeous and adds to the look and feel of your kitchen

I’ve had an oak chopping board for almost 20 years – they really do last a lifetime. You just need to treat it with a bit of care and clean it properly:
1) Use lots of water and scrub the board thoroughly. This will have a bigger impact than your choice of detergent on killing bacteria and removing trapped food particles from the board.
2) Wipe excess moisture from the board with a towel and allow it to air dry naturally, and away from direct sunlight.
3) During drying, stand the board on its end or lie it flat on a raised rack so that as much of the board as possible is exposed. This will help the board dry evenly and reduce warping.

NEVER wash wooden chopping boards in a dishwasher. The combination of rapid increase in temperature and saturation of water will warp and splinter the wood and void warranties given by most manufacturers.
NEVER fully immerse a wooden chopping board in water or let it stand submerged in water for any length of time. The wood will eventually absorb this water and warp.
NEVER use bleach on the board, even if it’s smelling of rotting food matter. The bleach will stain the wood and cause it to dry unevenly.
NEVER put a wet wooden chopping board flat to dry. This causes the board to dry quicker on its exposed side and will cause the wood to warp.
AND LASTLY, the first time you season your board, you should aim to really saturate it in oil. The oil penetrates the wood and saturates the wood fibres, leaving no room within the board for unwanted liquids (blood, bacteria etc.) and moisture.

Ok, maybe that’s enough on chopping boards!

3. Rice cooker
One of my absolute must-haves in a kitchen, I only really discovered rice cookers when I moved out to Asia for work, and I have never looked back. But this is the one bit of kitchen kit I do get resistance from here in the UK, perhaps because it’s seen as an unnecessary bit of kit, as chefs have always cooked rice in a pot or in an oven to braise. But after using the rice cooker they soon change their opinion rather quickly!

Rice is a staple of any frugal cook’s larder and a rice cooker is the best and most energy efficient way to cook your rice—whether white or (my preference) brown—to absolute perfection every single time. Just think about the number of times your rice has boiled over, cooked for too long and burned, dried out without enough liquid, or taken up valuable burner space so you had to wait to cook another part of your meal. Rice cookers remove every single one of these obstacles.

4. Rubber spatula
Having a good set of rubber spatulas in at least three sizes will save you time and money in the kitchen, as food won’t be wasted. My biggest pet hate in a kitchen is chefs not using a spatula to scrape all the batter or whipped cream from a bowl or container.

5. Large metal or plastic colander
I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t use my colander. This is a fast and efficient tool when it comes to draining pasta and vegetables, or even sliced potatoes for homemade fries.

Don’t think you can just keep a lid on a pot and pour out the excess water without using your colander! The “hold the cover and just pour the water” method is not only ineffective, but you can burn yourself badly with the steam that escapes as well. It’ll take you far more time to deal with a burn or injury than if you had just used a colander in the first place.

6. Large heavy-bottomed pot
Your heavy-bottomed pot is the one you use for cooking pasta, blanching vegetables, making soup etc. and should distribute heat evenly through the multiple metal layers in the bottom. A good 8-10L pot will set you back £60-70 from a professional cook shop (a lid might be extra).

7. Heavy-duty baking tray
The more you hang out in the kitchen, the more you’ll use your baking tray, from making cookies to roasting veg and the thing you put your cheese toastie on when you want to pop it under the grill. This is such a handy thing to have, but be careful of what one you buy – the cheaper ones tend to buckle when you heat them up. Look for something 1-2mm thick, made from heavy carbon steel.

8. Balloon whisk
Trying to whisk something with a utensil that is not a whisk can be demoralising. There’s a reason that the word for the action and the object are the same: nothing whisks quite like a whisk. When it comes to making gravy, mixing pancake batter, or getting really fancy and whipping your own cream, you simply need one of these. I like to have two balloon whisks in 10 and 12 inches.

9. Microplane
instead of having a bulky box grater, get yourself a couple of hand held Microplanes. The Microplane’s smaller holes are great for granulating hard cheeses, zesting fruits, or grating spices like nutmeg; the larger-holed flat grater helps you shred cheddar and potatoes. There are quite a few types of Microplane, so it all depend on what job you require them to do.

10. Cast iron skillet
Now for one of the most important bits of kit in my book: the infamous cast iron skillet. No non-stick pan can retain heat as well as cast-iron, and you need serious heat to cook a good steak. But, the heat does not dissipate evenly – mostly there will be hot spots under where the gas ring is. The most important thing is that when it’s hot it stays hot, so to get a nice sear on the meat and to retain the temperature, it’s cast iron all the way.

I know people say they’re difficult to maintain—they can rust easily or crack—but buying a new cast iron skillet is akin to having a baby and you must pamper it and be gentle with it. But the reality is cast iron is tough as nails! There’s a reason why there are 75-year-old cast iron pans kicking around at car boot sales and antique shops – that stuff is built to last and it’s very difficult to completely ruin it. Most new pans even come pre-seasoned, which means that the hard part is already done for you and you’re ready to start cooking right away.

Here are a few honourable mentions that didn’t quite make my top 10:
A good quality pepper mill
A measuring jug
A hand-held stick blender – for soups and sauces
A spider – for draining pasta, gnocchi and small volumes of veg)
A good peeler – not just for potatoes!