One of the best places to shop for practical stuff is the local hardware store for kitchen stuff.
So the next time you're on a cooking project and lack basic supplies, make a beeline to the nearest one rather than shopping online or driving to the mall. Small hardware stores often carry exactly what you need and an assortment of items that you wouldn't expect. The list of kitchen equipment is expansive, ranging from practical items, such as canning jars and twine to specialized tools like propane torches.
In between the jars and torches is kitchen gear that every cook should own, but these items are often overlooked until problems arise. Replacement lids, gloves for food preparation and wooden matches are just a few items readily available. Here's a brief primer on what you can find and why you need it.
1. Rubber mallets
All photos: Enrique Gili
Tough ingredients need tough tools. A sturdy chef's knife and a rubber mallet can save a cook's hands and wrists from wear and tear. For example, a rubber mallet is the perfect tool to pound out cuts of meat and to cut squash when brute force, rather than finesse, is required.
2. Protective gear
Capsicum, the chemically active compound found in the seeds and flesh of hot chili peppers, should always be handled with care. Recipes that call for the use of chili peppers require a few precautions, and the general rule is to wear protective gear. Gloves, goggles and a mask can prevent the discomfort associated with handling hot chili peppers barehanded and possibly even chemical burns. Hot chili peppers numb lips and sear taste buds, and the last place you want to feel similar sensations are on the more sensitive parts of your anatomy.
3. Funnels and sieves
Boozehounds with a passion for infusing liquors need tools, too. Sieves strain out bits and pieces of ingredients used to flavor spirits and funnels ensure that the transfer of liquid from one container to the next is smooth. No spilling means less mess to clean up and more alcohol to consume.
4. Propane torch
The secret to crème brulee is to caramelize sugar under high heat. A pastry chef typically wields a kitchen torch designed for that purpose to achieve the desired effect. However for home cooks, a propane torch used to solder metal works just as well. Fire that bad boy up and you're good to go.
5. Twine and parchment
A length of twine is one of the most versatile tools to be found in the kitchen. With string you can truss a turkey, tie off links of sausage and hang smoked meat to cure. The simplicity of twine allows for multiple uses. As for parchment, it's invaluable. If you haven't attempted this technique already, cooking en papillote is a blast. Vegetables, a little bit of broth and a pat of butter, wrapped in parchment paper turns ordinary ingredients into something delicious in less than 20 minutes.
6. Canning jars
Ever since pickling and preserving fruits and vegetables came back in vogue, glass jars have undergone a rebirth. Perhaps the renewed interest has to do with thrift, but canning jars have penetrated into every aspect of DIY culture. If cool stuff is called "the jam," then jam jars must be really special.
7. Brushes and basters
How do you add the finishing touches to pastry crust or prevent meat from drying out while cooking? With the judicious application of brush strokes or dousing with a baster dipped into simmering fats and melted butter, of course! Whether it's painting an egg wash on empanadas or the need to mop up slow-cooked brisket, there's a suitable brush for the job.
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