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As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities -- but we also have to rely on our tools. Which is why we're asking the experts about the essential tools we need to make our favorite foods attainable in our own kitchens.
Today: Adam Sachs, the Editor-in-Chief of Saveur (which has just published The New Classics Cookbook), may not be a restaurant chef, but these 5 tools help him -- and, he argues, can help cooks everywhere -- feel confident in the kitchen.
Left: Adam Sachs with Piglet 2014 winner Louisa Shafia at last year's Piglet party.
Disclaimer: I am a magazine editor not a chef. Might these tools guarantee the achievement of excellence in the kitchen? Who knows! What I am qualified to tell you is that these are the things that make me feel like a suave cook, that give me pleasure to handle and use everyday, that help to dampen the (many) imperfections in my technique and give me confidence to carry on as though I knew what I was doing.
1. Mortars and pestles -- lots of them
I am never happier in the kitchen than while bashing things with a food-hammer (pestle) in one of the many bashing-bowls (mortars) I’ve collected for this purpose. There is something nice about the texture you get in a hand-bashed salsa verde or aioli or tapenade, but really it’s just the process of the bashing that’s so damned pleasing. The classic duo of mortar-and-pestle does what no quick whizzing in a food processor can: allows you to pound and crush your way to culinary greatness, while releasing tension and aggression and feeling smugly superior to the modern world and its time-savers. And I happen to think a wide assortment of various sized mortars and pestles makes a kitchen look great.
For big projects, I’ve got an oversized, creamy white ceramic set with wood-handled pestle I dragged home from Dean & Deluca years ago. For seeds or spice grinding, Japanese suribachis are really useful, especially little ones that work great when you just need to dispatch a small amount of sesame seeds or toasted peppercorns or whatever. But my current favorite, based partly on its utilitarian good looks, I bought at Labour & Wait in London: A heavy, smallish set in dark, mottled iron, it’s got an ingenious little handle that doubles as a place to hold your thumb while using it and a pestle-rest when you’re not.
Listen, I would love to be suave enough around the grill to intuit the doneness of a roast just by glancing at it -- or to understand that cheffy trick of putting a sewing needle to your lips or whatever it is. But no matter how much I poke a steak, I’m just not a very good a judge of these things. And sometimes you want to know the exact internal temperature of various extremities of a roasting bird or the center of a charring ribeye. And this is when you need a Thermapen. Unfold, stick the little medical-style prong in the protein and -- hallelujah -- instant, godlike total knowledge.
More: 7 tools (thermometer included) to help you master meat.
3. Otoshi buta
In our Saveur 100 special issue, Ganso-chef Tadashi Ono has some great advice about the many uses of an otoshi buta, a traditional Japanese pot lid made of cedar. The idea is you rest the lid directly on what you’re cooking: The light pressure holds a whole fish, say, in place, and coaxes the cooking liquids around it.
4. The cheap do-everything plastic-handled serrated knife
Like any self-respecting food nerd, I own my share of aspirational kitchen tools I don’t need. (Angled Japanese poultry blade? Yep, right there in the drawer next to the clam knife.) But the thing I find myself turning to all the time -- for cleanly cut tomatoes, slicing baguettes into thin rounds, and working around the bone of a porterhouse -- is a simple plastic-handled serrated number from Victorinox. These are the folks who make Swiss Army knives, but this one is decidedly no frills and totally indispensable.
Maybe everyone who’s ever worked in a professional kitchen knows this trick, but I picked it up from Wylie Dufrense and it sort of blew my mind in its self-evident good-ideaness: Find a big, cheap squeegee -- the kind they lend you to self-clean your windshield at the gas station but available for a couple bucks in kitchen supply stores -- and scoop away your kitchen counter mess. There is something very satisfying about wiping up huge swaths of flour-dusted, batter-splattered surfaces this way, and if anything can encourage me to clean as I cook, I’m all for it.
What tools make you feel like a boss in the kitchen? Share with us in the comments below!