Dear Eric: I’m a bachelor (again) and moving from a house into a condo. Wondering what basic cooking equipment I’ll need. Any advice?
Dear Darren: I’ve not been a bachelor for more than 30 years, but I have been a chef and food writer during that time. When reviewing the myriad recipes I’ve created in those roles, I’ve frequently leaned on certain pieces of equipment to get the job done.
Below is a list of some of those items that should allow Darren to cook just about anything he likes, whether in single servings or larger batches. No room to mention and compare brand names here, but if Darren does some online research and shopping around at stores well stocked with kitchenware, he’ll be able to make informed choices on what to buy.
Large cast iron or other ovenproof skillet: When people ask me: “What’s the best thing to buy a man for the kitchen?” I always tell them a large (25-centimetre or wider) cast iron or other heavy-duty, ovenproof skillet, such as those made with stainless steel. He can use it to fry bacon or sausages, make a stir-fry, pan-sear a steak or roast a chicken. He can also start a dish on the stove, then finish it off in the oven. You can buy cast iron skillets pre-seasoned and ready to use, eliminating the need to do that work yourself.
Eight-inch non-stick skillet with a stainless body: This size of skillet and its non-stick surface is perfect for frying eggs or making an omelette, a man’s go-to meal when the cupboard is bare. You can also use it to make a grilled-cheese sandwich or fry a piece of fish. Choosing a skillet with a heavy stainless-steel body will ensure proper heat distribution, allowing foods to cook more evenly.
Dutch oven or oval-shaped slow cooker: I listed these items together because they can be used to cook the same types of foods, so if you have limited kitchen space, you would not have to buy both. A Dutch oven is a large, deep, heavy cooking pot with a lid that you can use on the stove and in the oven.
An oval-shaped slow cooker with at least a five-litre capacity also has a large, deep, heavy cooking pot with a lid. Both can be used to make large-batch recipes a bachelor could make on a day off and freeze in single-serving portions, such as chili, beans, pulled pork, saucy meatballs and stews. The down side to a slow cooker is that, unlike a Dutch oven, for some recipes you’ll need to brown things such as meat in another pot before dumping them into your slow cooker. The upside to a slow cooker, though, is that you can turn it on in the morning, leave the house and do things for several hours, all the while knowing a future meal is slowly and safely simmering at home.
Small, medium and large stainless cooking pots: A bachelor does not need a full set of pots, especially if he has the implements noted above, but I would recommend he have these three sizes at the ready: a small one-litre or so pot can be used to boil eggs, heat up a can of soup or make a small quantity of sauce. A medium three-litre or so pot can be used for boiling vegetables, making mashed potatoes, or making a batch of meat sauce for pasta. A large and tall five-litre or so pot can be used to cook pasta or make a stock or large batch of soup that you’ll freeze.
Sturdy aluminum baking sheet: Because of the volume of recipe testing that I do, I own several sturdy aluminum, I’ll-last-forever, 18-inch long, 13-inch wide and one-inch tall baking sheets. However, a bachelor would likely only need one. He could use it, of course, for baking such things as cookies or pizza, but, if the boys are coming over to watch the game, he could also use it to cook a batch of chicken wings, nachos or ribs on. For easy clean-up, I most often line my aluminum pan with parchment paper before setting on the food.
Two cutting boards: For a bachelor, I would recommend he have a sturdy won’t-move-around, large-as-possible-for-your-space, I-can-wash-it-by-hand wooden cutting board to use for everyday food preparations, such as chopping vegetables, cutting fruit or slicing bread. For food safety and the ability to wash it in a dishwasher, I would recommend he also have a sturdy plastic cutting board that’s used only for preparing fish, poultry and meat.
Kitchen knifes: A good chef’s knife, paring knife, boning knife and serrated knife are the four knives a bachelor can use to accomplish most tasks in the kitchen. A fellow chef once wisely told me that selecting a knife is kind of like selecting a golf club: You’ve got try it out first. That’s most true for a chef’s knife, the most commonly used knife, with a tapered shape. Some cooks like a lighter knife; some like really a heavy one. If you have a small hand, you may prefer a chef’s knife with a shorter blade. If you have a giant hand, you may prefer one with a longer handle. So Darren, check out a bunch of different knifes to ensure you get the one with the best fit.
Immersion (hand) blender: I have both a blender and a food processor, but I find that these days, I’m using my immersion blender the most. This hand-held tool won’t take up much cupboard space and a bachelor can use it to blend up a smoothie, puree a soup, make a batter or even whip up homemade mayonnaise.
Other stuff: I don’t have space to get into much detail here, but some other items I would also recommend for Darren include a heat-proof spatula, stirring spoon and lifter, tongs, timer, grater, colander, 13x9-inch baking pan, measuring cups and spoons, vegetable peeler, garlic press, mixing bowls, kitchen shears and a meat thermometer.
Eric Akis is the author of The Great Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook (Appetite by Random House). His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.