Essential Tools

Adam Sachs' 5 Essential Tools for Home Cooks Anywhere

December 31, 2014

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.

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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. 

  

2. Thermapen 
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. 

5. Squeegee
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!

18 Comments

Nancy C. January 23, 2018
I have an unreliable probe thermometer, and want a Thermopen. I have a new Fagor multi pot that I haven't gotten used to, have one silicone fork/scraper (green) want at least one more. Handiest tool ever. The last mortar & pestle I have split down the middle, turned out that it was cheap bonded marble. Last weekend I was making garam masala brownies, found my supply short. I improvised with more cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg. If I had had a m & p, I could have ground some more cardamom, coriander, cumin, and charnushka and had a good simulation, but whole pods. and seeds weren't right. Still, the brownies turned out awesomely good. I have some satisfactory inexpensive knives from Good Cooks via Safeway, but would like some carbon steel blades that take an edge. Add some Staub pans, some good sauce pans, and I'd be happy as a pig in mud.
 
Claire W. November 4, 2015
Old, grungy looking on the outside carbon steel wok. Multiple sets of measuring cups/spoons. Agree on serrated knife; adding good quality paring knives. My stand mixer (Sunbeam not kitchenaid)
 
cookinginvictoria January 7, 2015
Okay, the Thermapen is now on my wish list. I discovered on Christmas Day with a pork rib roast already in the oven that my old style probe thermometer had died and could not be resurrected.<br />I am also with Adam on his love for his mortars and pestles. I got my first one last year, and I can't believe that I waited so long to acquire such an essential kitchen tool. I now routinely make so many things (like pesto and salsa verde) in my mortar and pestle, and it is indeed satisfying to slowly pound and crush, creating something lovingly by hand rather than relying on a machine. :)
 
BurghKitchen January 4, 2015
My bench scraper.....use to scrape, cut, gather up stuff.<br />
 
Jessica S. January 3, 2015
Adam, I would have enjoyed pictures. Like your picks and others mentioned. One thing not mentioned and useful for us multitasks...kitchen timers
 
Peony January 1, 2015
My mandolin! I use it all the time for salads and sandwiches.
 
Beth L. January 1, 2015
My microplane zester, my wooden reamer, my cuisanart food processer....and hopefully it will arrive tomorrow...my new smoking gun
 
Leeann W. January 1, 2015
The Le Creuset dutch oven that our lives seem to depend on, my bench scraper, big stainless steel bowls, 2 great knives and one cheapie, and jars-lots of jars!
 
Alley's R. January 1, 2015
I couldn't cook without my stainless steel copper bottom pan, I use that thing every day! Then a good sharp chefs knife, kitchenaid mixer, and garlic press... when I got my garlic press last year I couldn't believe I had been slaving away mincing for so long! Love that thing! :)
 
amanda_kate_donovan January 1, 2015
Oh my great grandmothers Griswold cast iron skillet! I rarely cook anything without its involvement in some level. Wusthof chefs knife, sharp as hell. Mason jars for storing, shaking, fermenting, infusing, etc. Instant Pot programable pressure cooker for slow cooking, stock making, yogurt incubating, and rice cooking. Wooden and silicone spatulas and spoons. Salt cellar for easy access. Immersion blender for mayonnaise, soups, sauces, dressings. Bamboo cutting boards for knife-friendly cutting up. Le Creuset for so much cold weather braising and stews. Yay!
 
Neil G. January 1, 2015
Chemex and for most mornings Technivorm Moccamaster. Upgraded daily fix.
 
Lila H. January 1, 2015
It's the little tools that can make a huge difference. I love squeeze bottle by my cooktop for oils and love my global knives, microplane graters and flat wooden spatulas.
 
Nicole S. January 1, 2015
I agree with the little serrated knife. Been using mine for years. Soup spoons and my battery operated measuring cup scale.
 
I U. December 31, 2014
My dog...
 
Susan W. December 31, 2014
Definitely my Shun knife and my 3 in 1 Cuisinart slow cooker. I love being able to brown meats and veggies and slow cooking in the same pot.
 
Panfusine December 31, 2014
SO in agreement with the mortar and pestles.<br /> I've been tempted many a time to use my bench scraper, but refrained so far, the squeegee idea sounds perfect!
 
EmilyC December 31, 2014
Completely agree on the Thermapen. I got one for my husband last year and now I wonder how we lived without it! Before the Thermapen, we went through multiple probe-style thermometers, finding their lifespans to be around a year. The peace of mind and precision you get with the Thermapen make it so worth the price tag.
 
Nicole O. December 31, 2014
My life is made easier with my Vitamix, extremely sharp knives from Wusthof & Shun and the cheese grater attachment on my food processor. You could also throw in my bread machine(,I know...,) and Kitchenaid mixer for good measure.