A Brief Dissertation on Hardware

In a kitchen, there are things you should have. I say should, because eons ago, people just tore things apart and gnawed them down, on the spot. Then they chipped and sharpened rocks (into knives) and then they burned shit. And it tasted pretty good.

Now that we’ve gotten the “life of the party” pedantic need vs want argument out of the way. Let’s get into what I’ve learned in my years around Cooks, and some Damned Good Professional Chefs; people who’ve forgotten more about cooking than most people will ever bother to learn.

It starts off with basics and then goes right down the fucking rabbit hole. Enjoy? Or cry. Both are valid responses.

A Sharp Knife 🙂

  • You’ve seen this in almost every Hardware list I’ve written. It is, to put in the words of Andrés Segovia (regarding guitars), “It’s the easiest of instruments to play badly”.
  • Buy a good-quality knife, learn it well, learn how to maintain it, and it will last you a lifetime.
  • A good quality ceramic sharpening stone (400/1000 combo grit at minimum). One will last a very long time, unless you end up like me and go down a rabbit-hole on the subject for 25+ years. Since people will no-doubt ask “which one?”, I recommend Shapton, Norton and King. All are Japanese, which I prefer, because their QC and chain of custody are second-to-none.
  • A ceramic honing rod or strop block (I have both, and prefer the strop block).
  • Using a sharp knife should feel like an act of meditation and magic. You guide it through effortlessly. One set cut, one draw (or thrust) cut, and it’s done. If you cannot do this 99% of the time, the knife, or your skills, or both, require sharpening.
  • I cannot overstate how much you can learn from Japanese knife-skills. Or Chinese cleaver-skills for that matter. Study them.
    • Yes, there are amazing Western Chefs who are great with a knife, but those who took up and mastered Asian techniques, are vibrating at a different frequency.
    • Of course, figure out what works for you. And that may very well change over time. But take the time to figure that out. it makes the difference between something being a joy or a chore.
  • And of course a good cutting board (oh my, it appears I’ve stepped on a land-mine, or is that dogshit?): I’ve used all kinds, and by far the most versatile is the Epicurean compressed fiber board. Dishwasher safe, trivet-ready, use as a service tray, sanitary and can be sanded back to smooth.
    • Sigh, of course end-grain is best, but are you willing to hand-wash and oil it? Also, Plastic HDP are cheap and pro kitchens use them, because they bleach or Quat them to death or throw them out. If you use glass, I will find you.
  • Ceramic Knifes? Don’t. (I’ve used several. They all chip. The technology just isn’t there yet.)

Cookware

  • Many hundreds of millions of people alive today get by using just one carbon-steel wok, a spatula, a ladel (hoak) and a strainer (spider). Study how Asians use this equipment. They’ve mastered many modes of cooking over 5000 years with it.
  • Okay, more practically for the western home-gamer:
    • 8qt steel stock pot (with pasta strainer and lid preferred), or earthenware dutch oven, or cast iron dutch oven (cast iron can mess with acidic food flavors)
    • Large sauté pan at least 4qt, preferably 6qt (with lid)
    • 2qt Sauce pot: good for sauces and gravies.
    • Carbon wok (yes, you should still get one).
  • With these three to four, you can get a incredible amount of work done.
  • Me? No, I have an obscene amount of hardware. But if you want to keep it simple follow the above.

Tools That Save Time

  • Microplane (fine shred): From hard whole nutmeg to garlic cloves to zesting citrus, nothing works better.
  • Paddle-style graters (for medium and coarse): Also recommend you choose a design that (generally) has as few materials and connection points as possible. Don’t recommend box graters as they are difficult to clean, which leads them to being put in a dishwasher, which is not the place for sharp things that you want to keep sharp.
  • Measures: This should be self explanatory. Plain steel spoons or glass cups, nothin’ fancy.
  • A slim form weight scale: To… weight for it: Way things. (HAHA! Fuckoff I’m tired)
  • A vertical folder rack: to hold multiple cutting boards and that slim scale.
  • Magnetic Spice Jars: Turn the side of your fridge into the spice rack.
  • Large and small mixing bowls
  • Silicone Spatula
  • Cook Tools: I prefer all-steel, restaurant style stuff.
  • Flexible Spatula (metal, for fish or cookies): I use these more than just about any regular “cook tool”, except for…
  • Metal Tongs: Don’t go cheap on this, and don’t overuse them.
  • Peeler & Julienne Peeler: Yes you should still learn how to Peel, Tourné and Julienne cut with a knife, but most of the time, these will be your go-to.
  • Mandolin: Get as good a quality one as you can afford. It should last a lifetime and can do things at a speed that most top-level prep cooks would have a very hard time keeping up with. Caveat: Learn how to use it without becoming part of the meal.
  • Flat Whisk (aka Roux Whisk): 95% of the time they are superior to round or balloon whisks. Flats can get into the pan-corners, sweep up the bottom of a pot and they clean up quick.
  • Immersion Blender: One that has multiple attachments are nice, but the primary blade attachment does 99% of all my processing needs, either in the pot, or in a tall-form beaker. The below are for larger services. I have all three. Gave away the blender, rarely use the stand mixer, and the large (10C) food processor only gets used for big/scaled recipes.
    • Food Processor (if you have the budget & room)
    • Stand mixer (if you have the budget & room)
    • Blender (if you have the budget & room)
  • Thermometer: Taylor makes a good temp. and are found in the pocket of many pro cooks.
  • Large Toaster Oven: Oh, the shit I used to give Jen about owning one. Until I realized a higher-end, larger version does all the oven shit, in half the time, and 25% of the ambient heat output.
  • Small/Mini Offset Spatula: The kind that can fit in your pocket. I know this sounds froo-froo, but trust me one this. Spread anything spreadable once with it, and thank me later.
  • Mallet: Stamped or Forged from one-piece of material (Aluminium or soft-steel recommended)
  • Silicone Mats & Silicone Jar Grips: Makes things grippy
  • Butcher’s Twine: To, um, tie shit.
  • Potato Ricer: So, you’re not really supposed to mash mashed potatoes. More on that later.
  • Mezzaluna
  • Tape measure (inch & metric)
  • Pastry cutter/forms: good for making shapes and holes in things
  • Dremel (cordless): good for making modifications to equipment and cleaning.
  • Asian Soup Spoons: good for soup, popular as a plating device, but also shine as ‘tasting spoons’, since you can buy a 10-pack of plain steel for cheap and not burn through your ‘service’ flatware.
  • Slow-cooker (aka crock-pot)

Food Management

  • Sharpie Marker: Label & Date your shit.
    • Optional but versatile: China Marker (AKA Grease Pencil), OH Pen: If you put a sheet of acrylic on your fridge door, you can write the menu and stock items. It’s a slightly more sophisticated dry-erase, that’s the size of your fridge door.
  • Masking Tape: use the Sharpie for this, the other two for writing directly on the glass or plastic container. China rubs off dry, OH Pen wipes off completely clean with water-which is why it’s better than Dry Erase.
  • Consistent Storage Sizes
    • Consider the shape and use. Rectangular stacks and packs better. Professional kitchens store their stuff in Rectangles, but they usually give you stuff in rounds for to-go/reheating. Think of the shape of your fridge, freezer, pantry, shelves: they are rectangles. Round stirs-easy, but wastes space.
    • Pick your storage weapon of choice and try to stick with it. You will eventually think in terms of “containers” when cooking and planning for leftovers
    • I prefer Pyrex Simply Store-glass because I can cook portioned meals, store them, and reheat in the same container.

So, I said I’ve learned a lot from other cooks, but I’ve taken lessons from others, too. Like Woodworkers, Metalworkers, Surgeons, Lab Techs, Artists and others…

Eclectically Yours, Jimi

Other Useful Tools

  • Pyrex Labware
    • Tall Form Beaker
    • Griffin Beaker
    • Beaker Tongs
    • Erlenmeyer Flask
    • Boiler Flask
  • Silicone “Food Huggers” (Ad-hoc caps for various beakers and vessels)
  • Test Tubes (Pyrex & Plastic)
    • Food-safe Silicone Stoppers
    • 12g Shot-shell bandolier will hold these
  • Magnetic Stirrer
  • Vibration Table
  • Hemostats
  • Syringes
  • Scalpel
    • #10, 10a, 11 blades recommended
  • MAP Torch (Creme Brûlée Torches are toys)
    • TS8000 Head
    • Searzall
  • Gloves (Mechanix)
    • Welder’s
    • Fabricator’s
    • Flame Resistant
    • Cut Resistant (level 1)
  • Fire Resistant Shirt
  • Safety Glasses/Goggles (and/or Face shield)
  • 3M Half-mask canister-respirator with P100 filters
    • Don’t go on a date with a Carolina Reaper without one
  • Artist/Makeup Artist Brushes
    • Fan
    • Blending
    • Retractable Kabuki
  • Watercolor Brush (the kind that has a storage tube in the handle, for stuff like yuzu, lemon, shoyu, etc.)
  • 12V Cordless Drill (bits cleaned with alcohol and oiled with mineral oil)
    • Paint mixing paddle
    • Spade Bits
    • Drill Bits
  • 3, 5, and 7 Gallon Buckets: All take the same lid size and stack with each-other
    • Gamma Seal Lids
    • Spigot-Taps
    • Bucket Dollies
  • Corona FS-4350 Thinning Shears
  • Fiskers Ratchet Pruner
  • OLFA Craft Knife (Kiridashi) Model 34B (XB34 Blades)
    • Custom Handles can be found for this.
  • Various Picks, skewers and pointy things
  • Archeologist’s Hammer (something light, like 8-10oz)
  • Small Dead-blow Hammer (light, 6-10oz)
    • Although, you could use a 10-16oz as a food mallet
  • 2″ Adjustable Pipe Wrench (when “pretty please” doesn’t work)
  • Natural Leather Chamois
    • Strip it of cod oil in several vinegar/water baths. Nothing, and I mean nothing wipes a blade or even a smart-phone screen cleaner than chamois.
  • Small hatchet: I mean… sometimes you just need one-thing to become two-things, quickly.
  • Hacksawzall: Milwaukee makes a mini version. Not as messy as a hatchet.

Yeah, but what should I get? What brand specifically?

You, probably.

I don’t typically like to name-drop because I want people to pick what works for them. But, I also know than fam/friends/internet people will just pin me down for what exactly to get.

So, in the spirit of full-disclosure, I don’t get paid by any of these fuckers. They don’t send me shit, and they don’t even know who the fuck I am. I’m a nobody, telling you what works for me when I cook at home, and when I used to do a lot of cooking for large groups on the road.

  • Cookware
    • All-Clad
    • Le Cruset
    • Various restaurant-supply stores (ex: Wok)
    • ANOVA Sous Vide
    • Mostly all-steel restaurant utensils
  • Knives
    • Takeda (Aogami/Aogami Super Blue Steel)
    • Shun (Classic and Blue / VG and Aogami Blue Steels)
    • Global (Typically their Forged and San-Mai)
    • Travel: Spyderco, ESEE, Microtech, TOPS (1095, Elmax, S35vn, vg10 steels)
    • Other odds and ends because I have a knife-addiction and we don’t need to talk about that right now.
  • Sharpening
    • Shapton Glass Ceramic Water Stones (500-30,000 grit)
    • Ken-Onion Worksharp Belt Grinder
    • Actual Japanese Underwater-Cave-Mined Water Stones
    • Other odds and ends, that are also embarrassing in scope.
  • Small Appliance
    • KitchenAid
    • Breville
    • Zojirushi
  • Labware
    • Pyrex (Eisco or Karter are “ok”)
  • Travel Gear (Food & Gear Transport)
    • YETI (Ramblers and Soft coolers)
    • Pelican (Hard Cooler and Hard-case Equipment Transport)
  • Travel Heat
    • Iwatani (Portable Hot Burners)
    • Zojirushi (Rice and Hot-pot)
    • ANOVA Sous Vide
    • Bayou Burner (can’t beat nearly 200,000 BTU’s at your disposal)

And that’s not all! Seriously, it’s the stuff I can remember. More will probably be added over time. Yes, it is a lot. Possibly too much? Probably too much.

Neurotically Yours, Jimi

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