I’m moving to a home with a small kitchen and limited storage. What’s the most essential kit?
“Most things are frills – few are essentials,” wrote Laurie Colwin in her essay The Low-Tech Person’s Cookware. But even “essentials” require thought. Colwin continues: “Pans are like sweaters: you may have lots of them, but you find yourself using two or three over and over again.”
As with clothing, versatility is key. For Carla Lalli Music, whose latest cookbook, That Sounds So Good, is released this month, a 25cm cast-iron skillet (or saute pan) is invaluable, “for all your pan-frying, all your searing, most stir-fries, and it goes from stovetop to oven, so you could also roast a chicken in it”. Then, you’ll want a small (about 20cm), nonstick pan and a Dutch oven (a cast-iron casserole with a lid): “I use this for much more than embers; it’s great for soups, for stews and for making pasta sauces.”
Amy Poon, co-owner of Poon’s in London, meanwhile, packed her daughter off to university with a medium-sized wok with a lid and a steaming rack. Stir-frying aside, you can “batch cook bolognese and stews in it, fry bacon and eggs, steam vegetables and even make stock”. It doubles as a mixing bowl for large salads, too. Also on Poon’s kit list is a rice cooker, whether that’s for making porridge, poaching fruit or using “as traditionally intended”. A midweek staple round Poon’s is clay pot rice: “Throw everything in, press a button and get on with other business while it cooks. You can use any variety of toppings: chicken with Chinese mushrooms, pork belly and shrimp paste, or abandon Chinese flavors and use canned tomatoes and peas with bacon or sausages.”
When it comes to knives, three is Lalli Music’s magic number: a serrated one for bread, a 15cm utility/veg prep knife “for smaller jobs, smaller ingredients”, and a 20-25cm chef’s knife (“depending on the size of your hand”). Get yourself to a decent shop and see what style takes your fancy – “You might prefer a German one or a Japanese santoku,” she says.
You will also want a couple of chopping boards, a Microplane grater, and, adds Lalli Music, wooden spoons, a slotted spatula, some tongs and a mesh spider. “I probably use that every day; it’s great for moving things from one place to another – pasta, poached or boiled eggs, anything you have to drain.” Poon, meanwhile, keeps a mandolin (“for fast, uniform slicing without the bulk of a food processor”) and wooden chopsticks in her arsenal. “They’re great for mixing, stir-frying, prodding stuff to see if it’s cooked, as a trivet, to keep pot lids ajar, as a rest inside a steamer to stack dishes on and, of course, to eat with.”
Measuring spoons, scales, mixing bowls and a cake tin or two are also useful things, but when space is at a premium, it’s worth thinking about what you cook and to equip yourself accordingly. Case in point: when chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes opened Native in London, his blowtorch was invaluable for getting those charred, smoky flavors without a barbecue or grill. “It’s great for cooking vegetables and getting a crisp topping on lasagna or cottage pie.” After all, that’s the best bit.