Top 10 Cooking Must-Haves
A common misconception is that you need to be a genius or have gone to culinary school in order to be a great cook. False. Sure, you need to have some basic food knowledge and good multi-tasking skills but, like any kind of talent, it just takes some practice. Naturally, all great chefs have a certain drive and creativity in order to create new recipes to be at the forefront of the culinary world. At the same time, however, there are some basic ingredients and tools that ever chef and cook uses or needs. Whether you are just a beginner or a world renown chef, certain ingredients reappear in nearly every recipe and without them food would fail.
I have compiled a list of my own personal Top 10 Cooking Must-Haves. Some of them are obvious and some may be surprising, but all of them are, I believe, essential. With these basic tools and ingredients, you will have a great start to any great meal.
THE TOP TEN
1. Salt and Pepper I know this one may seem very, very obvious, but you would be surprised at the amount of times I have been asked to cook at someone’s place to find no salt or pepper. Trying to cook without salt and pepper is like trying to play baseball without the ball. Totally pointless, and not to mention completely bland. Ask any beginning cook to a culinary genius; salt and pepper are the backbone of cooking. If you don’t have these already in your kitchen, get some, fast.
2. Garlic And no, I do not mean dried garlic powder or a jar of minced garlic, but actual garlic bulbs. Fresh, delicious, ever-so-important garlic. The fact of the matter is, with the exception of dessert (maybe), garlic goes with everything. Everything. It is almost as important as salt and pepper. It is great minced or whole, roasted, toasted or pan fried and can amplify a dish’s flavor ten times over. It is perfect for meats, vegetables, in bread, pastas, rice, and even eaten alone (oven roasted garlic, for example, is heavenly). The other great thing about garlic is that it is very inexpensive and stores for a long time. Make sure this is on your next grocery list.
3. Oils Olive, Extra Virgin, Corn, Vegetable, Sesame, etc etc etc GET SOME. Ninety-nine percent of the time I cook I use oil. It can be used in pan frying, deep frying, marinades, dressings, sauces and so on. I would place oil as high up on the list as salt and pepper and garlic. Even with just these three ingredients you already have a great cooking foundation.
4. Knives Now, I am not saying you need to go online and order the thousand dollar hand made kitchen knives from Japan (though if anyone wants to buy me them I would gladly except) but you do need to have at least ONE good Chef’s knife and if you’d like, one decent Pairing knife. I have two Chef’s knives, a small and a large, and one nice pairing knife. A good knife for cutting meats, chopping vegetables, or handling small precise cuts will not only make your life easier but will save you time from struggling with a crappy knife. You can find pretty decent Chef’s knives for 20 or 30 dollars, or if you feel like spending the big bucks upwards of 80 to in the several hundreds. Get one of these and you will not regret it. Also, make sure you have a cutting board to go with…
5. Butter Butter, like oil, is great for adding flavor, for pan frying, and a is staple in baking. Butter is also inexpensive and keeps for a very long time. Even if you aren’t a usual consumer of butter, you never know when you might need or want to bake, or even just put some melted butter on your pasta with some grated cheese (Mmmmm….)
6. Shallots I LOVE SHALLOTS. In the whole onion family, shallots have the best taste hands down. I use these in all my pasta and rice recipes, mixed in with cooked vegetables, or caramelized with fresh mushrooms to serve with a delicious steak or chicken breast. Shallots have a sweet onion taste with a mild touch of garlic and really bring a special flavor to any dish. For a really great pasta sauce, slowly caramelize 10 thinly sliced shallots in 2 tblsps. of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tblsps. of butter with 2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped. Toss with pasta and add salt and pepper to taste. Simple, and divine.
7. Wine Not just for drinking (though that is great too) but also for cooking!! Adding wine to to your dishes will compliment meats and vegetables with a flavor unlike any other. For example, while caramelizing shallots or cooking a steak, when the heat is on high add anywhere from 1/2 cup to a cup of wine to deglaze the pan. Continuing cooking until the wine all but evaporates completely. The alcohol will cook out but the flavor will be soaked up by the meat or vegetables. Once you taste wine cooked food, you will never want to be without!
8. Stock/Broth Obviously to make most soups you will need stock. However it has many other uses, too. For example, in combination with flour and melted butter (called a roux), stock is used in the base of many great sauces. You can also cook your pasta in it instead of just water, and can also add to the pan when cooking meats and vegetables. Whether you make your own, use bouillon cubes, or buy stock at the store, each works just fine.
9. Assorted Spices and Herbs Ohhh spices and herbs. There are so so many of you. I am not saying you need to own every spice known to man, but having a small assortment is very useful. If you can, getting whole spices and fresh herbs is best, but these do tend to cost a little more, and fresh herbs need to be bought regularly. It is worth it though, because the flavor is uncanny. Here are a few I would suggest to have on hand, as they are some I use fairly often: parsley (fresh), herbs de provence, rosmary, paprika, ginger, basil, thyme, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Of course these are not the only spices but these are a few I use on a regular basis and are just nice to have around.
10. Wooden Spoons I can’t say this enough. Wooden spoons are still one of the best cooking utensils. I think I own about 10, no joke. A close second would be the spatula (that would have been #11 I think…). Wooden spoons are great for both baking and pan frying, are sturdy yet inexpensive. They may be old school, but I would never go without!
I promise with these simple ingredients and tools, you can improve your cooking with a little practice. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge! Good luck!!
*Also, if anyone has any suggestions on favorite ingredients I didn’t list, please feel free to share!* 😀