Choosing pots, pans and knives

So far in our grouping system for small kitchen equipment, we’ve covered three areas: measuring equipment which includes cups primarily used to measure liquid, but which can also be used fairly accurately to measure some solid and powdered ingredients; also, measuring spoons which are predominantly used for smaller quantities of measurement and can be safely used for liquid as well as solid.

Scales are yet another type of measuring equipment and the one which I consider to be the most accurate when it comes to weights and measures.  Scales are available in spring or digital forms and with imperial or metric systems. We also looked at thermometers which are reserved for measuring from sub zero to extremely high temperatures for oils and candies and are available in Farenheit or Celsius.

Sifting and straining is another area that was covered. Sieves and strainers are principally used to pass wet or dry food through a porous centre to remove impurities, as well as to aerate or lighten commodities and products. We also looked at mixing bowls, their sizes, the material most suited for use according to what is being mixed and, of course, their safety in the kitchen.

By now, I am sure that you are raising your eyebrows at how easy it is to accumulate equipment in the kitchen, but you will need to stay focused for just a little longer, as we move on to what I consider the three most important groups of small kitchen equipment. They are: (i) storage equipment; (ii) pots and pans and (iii) knives.

Storage equipment must be chosen very carefully and with good knowledge not only of what will be stored in them, but where they will be stored –– that is, in dry storage, the refrigerator or freezer — as these factors will help to determine which storage type should be used, either containers or wrapping.

In the case of containers, there are the more popular plastic or polyurethane ones, or those made from glass or stainless steel. It is critical that these containers are fitted with a tight lid to prevent contamination by vermin or even air which can transport bacteria, eventually causing spoilage.

Storage containers should ideally have a flat base for ease of stacking and are even more efficient if equipped with measurements on the side. Of course, they come in a variety of sizes and, if stackable, provide economy of space when they have to be packed away. In addition to being sanitized and wiped dry before use, especially for any length of time, close attention should also be paid to temperatures at which they will be stored.

Butcher’s paper can be adequately used for meat or other items to be stored in the refrigerator for a short period of time before use; plastic zip loc bags, also good for this purpose, can be used as well for storing frozen items for the short to medium term.

Turning our attention to pots and pans, this group can be made really complicated if you pay attention to the number of commercials advertising these products. What you need to know, though, before selecting your pots and pans, are specifics such as the number of persons for whom you will be catering, the types of meals that will be prepared, as well as the cooking methods and types of heat that will be applied.

This information is vital in order to determine whether you will purchase coated or uncoated equipment, equipment made from copper, aluminum or stainless steel or equipment with handles and knobs fashioned from stainless steel, plastic or any of the fancy materials so commonly seen these days.

When choosing pots and pans, it is also important to pay attention to the thickness of the material and if this thickness remains consistent from bottom to top, as this will maximize the heat being used in cooking which, in turn, leads to cost control. A thick bottom pot or pan is always preferred as it gives a more even heating base which reduces scorching.

Always select pots and pans based on the amount of food being placed in them, as too small a pan can cause uneven cooking, while one that is too large can lead to the burning of the item being cooked, as well as an increase in cost because of the excess heat being used.

The final group of small kitchen equipment that we will examine today is knives and cutting equipment, which includes items like can openers, food processors and grinders. When choosing knives, there are a number of things that should be considered; first and foremost, the job that is to be done and if it requires a small knife in the case of peeling or shaping vegetables or fruit.

There is the medium or utility knife which is for small slicing or dicing jobs and general use. There is also the French knife, also known as the chef’s knife, which is the most used knife in the kitchen and can be utilized for the more demanding jobs, such as the cutting of meat and the chopping of vegetables.

Also available are meat slicers, as well as serrated edged knives, which are used for slicing cakes and pastries and even soft fruit or vegetables with tough skin, like tomatoes.

If you want to be specific, one knife from each of these categories should be selected and this set accompanied by a peeler and a steel for sharpening, are all you will need to get you through your daily tasks in the kitchen. Be aware that the quality of steel is important when purchasing a knife, regardless of the category from which it is chosen. Ensure that the steel is not one that becomes tarnished when it comes into contact with acids and that the quality is such that it will retain an edge for sometime after sharpening.

Also essential is the comfort with which the handle sits in your hand when using a knife. A comfortable fit improves efficiency and assists in relieving pressure which can lead to strains or stresses in the muscles of the fingers, wrists or forearms; hence the reason that you will see a wide range of handles on the knives displayed in the store.

Now that you understand that handles are not just there for style, some time should be spent gripping and balancing the knife before purchasing, to ensure that it sits perfectly well and that you are comfortable with the grip because once in the kitchen, you will be spending a significant amount of time using and manipulating these knives.

That’s our look at small kitchen equipment. In an upcoming edition, we will concentrate on its cleanliness and care. Meanwhile, if you are interested in cooking classes, please give us a call at the Caribbean Cuizine Culinary Institute at 629-0075/76/77 for details, including the Sugar and Rum class taking place during the month of March.

(Peter Edey is a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation, a graduate of l’École Ritz Escoffier, Paris and a Certified Caribbean Hospitality Trainer. Email: peter@dcbarbados.com)

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