Ten things I cannot do without in the kitchen (part 1 of 2)


So… I thought it would be a nice addition to the blog to list those items that I use most in the kitchen. By and large, I haven’t listed the really esoteric stuff (and while I do use a food processor from time to time, the H hasn’t yet convinced me that my future lies in embracing it. Mostly because it’s a lot of hassle to clean…). I’ve provided links to amazon, not to endorse stuff, but mostly because short of taking pictures of everything it was the handiest way to show you what my appliances look like (I’m very peculiar about some stuff, as you’ll see).

(and yes, I haven’t been cooking enough to provide a recipe and needed a cooking post. How did you guess?)

1. 13-inch wooden chopsticks: very handy for anything from beating eggs to fishing blanched carrots out of boiling water. There’s much, much larger models for deep-frying and wok cooking, but I’ve always found them rather unwieldy for everyday cooking.

2. Garlic press: I know there’s a big debate on whether it’s a good idea to use a garlic press. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no debate at all. I need chopped-up garlic almost every evening, and I don’t need to make the taste of the garlic milder (who’d want to do that?). I could use item #3 on my list (mortar and pestle) to make a purée, but when I just have a few cloves to mash it’s just easier to reach for the press, which is much lighter and cleans more easily. I got my garlic press from the Chinese district in Paris for a ridiculously low amount of money, but if I had to buy one again, I’d pick one where the grid of small holes detaches (makes it way easier to clean up), and make sure that it’s sturdy enough and heavy enough. Mine looks a lot like this except not at that price point.

3. Granite mortar and pestle: handy for mashing ginger (which I do for about one meal in three or one meal in two), puréeing large amounts of garlic, or grinding spices. I used to have an olive wood one and basically never touched it; for some things you just need stone. I was told that the sound of the pestle hitting the mortar was one way families picked out their future daughters-in-law in Ancient Vietnam: it had to be regular, thereby proving that the owner knew how to cook. Makes sense, seeing how useful the thing is for everyday cooking! Mine is a 5″ model (I think it’s the outer diameter?), which is a nice compromise between being light enough for me to lug it to the sink, and large enough to handle what I put in it. Though if I had to buy another one, I might go for a 6″ model. Looks exactly like this (and probably was imported from the same place).

4. Chopping knife: my weapon of choice here is a 15cm-Santoku knife. The H and I differ quite wildly in our handling of kitchen knifes: he’s used to a chef’s knife, but for some reason the Santoku just sits more easily in my hand (I suspect it’s more congruent with both the shape of my hand as well as what I expect from a knife). I have a metal one; have to admit that if I hit jackpot sell my novel, I might very well invest in a high-quality ceramic one.

5. Angled measuring glass: someone sold me on the 2-cup Oxo angled measuring glass a couple years ago, and I haven’t looked back. Compared to my old measuring glass, it has three advantages. One is that the angle makes it much easier to see what you’re measuring from above as well as from the sides; the second is that it’s handily graduated in imperial and in metric (my old glass, like many French glasses, was by weight of what you were measuring, like flour or chocolate or sugar); the third is that the metric scale indicates the first 10 mL (which is really useful for small amounts of liquid and avoids me juggling with tablespoons and teaspoons). I see, though, that the version for sale on amazon.com doesn’t really seem to have #3 on my list, which is odd?

And that’s all for this week–tune in next week for the next five items on the list 🙂

What about you? What items couldn’t you do without in the kitchen?

(part 2 of this list is here)


  1. My mom uses chopsticks for almost everything, including the egg beating and stir-frying. We don’t do the 13-inch ones here, but she’s often commented that chopsticks are versatile and will get things done just as well as a whisk might.

    On the other hand, she’s also used the handle of a cleaver for a pestle, so…

    I agree on the knife–I should probably go all Chinese one day and use a cleaver for everything, but so far a good knife is a kitchen supply I’ve found essential to good cooking. Also, a good cutting board that’s easy to wash.

    We keep a lot of empty plastic containers in our kitchen, too–they’re good for storing food/ingredients for cooking instead of bowls.

  2. He, the chopsticks are super handy for the eggs, aren’t they? (I used to find my grandma odd for using them, until she demonstrated…).
    Vietnam doesn’t do cleavers, thank God (the things just freak the living daylights out of me). Cutting boards we have a variety of from olive wood to bamboo; they’ve been invaluable.
    For storage, we use saucepans with lids on them; saves having to use plastic containers (it’s a small kitchen and there is just no room for everything I’d want to put in it!)

  3. My aunt showed me how to use them for eggs a few years back! I still haven’t gotten the exact hang of it, with the holding them apart and using your shoulder, though.

    My mother loves the cleaver, though they freaked me out at first too! But I do think once you’re not as scared they’re pretty sweet too.

    Heh, the amount of plastic containers in the house is overwhelming. We probably need to start recycling some, since it sometimes get tricky to close the drawer.

  4. I have a pair of super-long chopsticks, but don’t use them. Too unwieldy. But they poke out of a jar full of spatulas and ladles, and visitors often ask what they are. I use regular chopsticks for sautéeing, mixing and blending, and they’re great for flipping grilled foods.

    I tend not to be a gadget person, so despite having gone through various rau muống shredders, corn kernel strippers and garlic presses, I always return to my basic: a good set of knives. For the garlic, I just smash it with the flat side of a chef’s blade, then chop it up quickly.

    My other can’t-do-withouts are a chopping block, granite mortar and pestle, stainless steel pots and cast iron pans. Oh, and an Asian style spatula – I find the rounded end, shorter blade and over-all shape more practical than the Western style rectangular blade.

  5. @Isana: I mostly have the hang of it for the eggs now! (my husband looks at me oddly when I do this, though; or maybe it’s the spoonful of fish sauce I add to the eggs 🙂 ).
    @Chris: glad it worked this time (but have no idea what went wrong the first time you tried to post…). About the only thing I find that chopsticks can’t do is gathering all the food in one place, and flipping something fragile (grilled foods are fine, but for thin slices of fish the spatula is easier). I also use an Asian style spatula (not sure if it’s the same kind as yours–it’s as long as a Western-style blade, but it’s much flatter and a bit curved. Very handy).

  6. I couldn’t be doing without my wife’s Welsh bakestone. We bought it because we wanted to make genuine Welsh cakes, but it has since delivered amazing English muffins, pizza, pancakes, chapatti and flatbreads of all descriptions.

  7. He, that sounds nice (but probably yet one more kitchen gadget I don’t really need…). Thanks!

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