As I mentioned last week, I’ve become a fan of the television show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. The episode last Friday night was pretty inspiring. In it, Jamie made a bet with the ever-so-skeptical local talk radio host that he could get 1,000 people cooking healthfully in a matter of five days. Jamie worked hard to get people cooking and in the end actually won over the radio host, turning him into his 1,000th cook! What was amazing was that people from all over Huntington, West Virginia (where this all takes place) participated — young, old, business folks, college students, teachers, steel workers…you name it, they were there.
One reason I mention this show is that Jamie Oliver taught everyone how to make a simple stir-fry dish using either a wok or an electric skillet. The dish was quick and easy to make and everyone proudly had their picture taken once they finished cooking. So, before we move on to other kitchen tools to make your own cooking easier and healthier, I thought it would be worthwhile to mention the kinds of cookware that all cooks should have in their kitchen. Here are some pointers:
Price-wise, it can make sense to buy an entire cookware set. But only do this if you truly think you’ll use all the pieces. Otherwise, you’ll have pots and pans just taking up room in your kitchen.
If you don’t plan on purchasing an entire set, these are the “must-haves”:
- A 10- or 12-inch skillet for sautéing and stir-frying.
- An 8- to10-inch nonstick skillet for cooking sticky things like eggs. If you dislike the idea of using a nonstick skillet, purchase a cast iron skillet.
- A 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven. A Dutch oven is a large, heavy, metal pot that comes with a tight-fitting lid. It’s pretty much a no-brainer to have on hand when it comes to making stews or braising meats. Most Dutch ovens are made from cast iron (which is why they’re usually so heavy), although some may be made from aluminum. Some Dutch ovens are coated with enamel. (I think of the Le Creuset brand, which comes in many bright colors; Martha Stewart has one, too.). This is a versatile pot because it can go from stove top to oven to table.
- A 2- to 3-quart saucepan. You’ll need this to make soup, rice, oatmeal, and sauces, as well as for heating up foods such as pasta sauce.
- A stock pot. This pot is usually taller than a Dutch oven and is not quite as heavy. But it’s important to have this on hand for cooking pasta (get a tall stock pot if you cook a lot of pasta), making larger batches of soup, or blanching or steaming vegetables. Some stock pots come with an inset colander that you can place your pasta or vegetables in during cooking; when they’re done, you just lift out the colander and it automatically drains into the pot. How clever is that? Because this is a large pot, make sure it has sturdy handles and that it doesn’t weigh too much; otherwise, you may have trouble lifting it from the stove to your sink.
These items are the “nice-to-haves” (if you have the space, money, and need):
- A small 1-quart saucepan, which is good for boiling an egg, heating up soup, or melting a small amount of butter.
- A saucier pan. It’s not essential, of course, but with its rounded sides, this pan is ideal for making dishes that require a lot of stirring, such as sauces, oatmeal, or risotto. The food won’t get trapped along the bottom like it might with a regular saucepan.
- A grill pan. Again, not essential, but good if a) it’s winter and snowing out and you can’t use your gas or charcoal grill; b) you don’t have a built-in grill on your stove; or c) you crave a grilled chicken breast or hamburger and you can’t find your George Foreman Grill anywhere!
- A wok. Yes, you can use your skillet, but if you’re a big fan of stir-fry, a wok can give you better results. Its rounded shape allows for better searing of food (with less oil) and more evenly cooked food. Plus, a wok is designed for tossing food without spilling it all over your stove and floor.
So, there you have it — your cookware essentials! Please share if you think I’ve missed something or if you have an “essential” that you can’t do without.