Classical Gourmet: Essential Kitchen Companions

When we’re not listening to or writing about recordings–or, actually, sometimes when we are–Dave Hurwitz and I can usually be found in the kitchen, cooking, cutting, baking, frying, curing, proofing, stewing, or, well, you get the picture. For the past 15 years we’ve used our own kitchens as virtual test kitchens, trying all sorts of pots, pans, knives, and other utensils and putting them through hundreds of tests in our own recipes, on our own stoves and cutting boards, and in our own ovens. We’re very particular–but we’re not foodie gadget fanatics.

Our main concerns are: utility, durability, convenience, and reasonableness of cost relative to quality and functionality. We know that there’s a certain correlation between quality and price–but we also know that just because something’s really expensive (certain cookware, for instance, or knives, or coffeemakers) doesn’t mean it’s better than something less costly. The items we recommend are things we use everyday–and we’ve not found anything better. We don’t make any money off of these recommendations–the website links are just for your convenience. Of course, you’re free to go somewhere else for price comparisons.

Rösle 12″ locking tongs (approx. $30)

Tongs are the most underrated utensil in the kitchen–after knives, the truly indispensable tool for almost every serious cooking procedure. Most of these things require two hands to operate–but this fabulously engineered design from Rösle features a weighted handle that needs only tipping one direction to open, and the opposite to close–both requiring only one hand. Yes, you may think it a little pricey for tongs, but the quality is exceptional and you will use these forever. (I was very happy to find these after looking to replace my favorite tongs made by Hoffritz–which cost only $9.99 from Zabar’s–but Hoffritz must have decided that too many people liked their tongs and so stopped making them–a demented practice I’ve discovered over the years with many manufacturers, including makers of shoes, shirts, and countless food products.) Whether you’re a casual or everyday serious cook, you will be very happy with these in your kitchen–and in your hands.

Breville Compact Smart Oven (approx. $180)

So-called toaster ovens are almost literally a dime a dozen. Most of them are, in a word, junk. Cheap glorified toasters that suck power and, well, generally suck as ovens. If you want a supplement to your regular oven or a quick and easy way to broil, bake, heat frozen items, etc., this is by far your best choice. In a word, it’s “fabulous”. In another word, it’s “perfect”. There’s simply nothing else out there for the price–or maybe even for much more money–that delivers the convenience and utility that this excellent countertop oven does. It’s easy to use, the controls are logical and adjustable, and unlike most of these contraptions, it’s amazingly easy to clean! It also has a distinctly solid, heavy-duty feel–nothing chintzy about this product! There’s a bigger size version–but I strongly recommend this one. And I hope the engineers or marketers at Breville never decide to discontinue it because of its popularity.

Zojirushi Zutto 5-Cup Coffeemaker (approx. $75)

Coffeemakers have gone way out of control. Who needs these store, grind, and brew machines that dump out the most mediocre coffee this side of Dunkin’ Donuts or rancid cans of Maxwell House? With minimal effort and some premium coffee beans (purchased these days from almost any fine food store) you can brew first rate coffee without the “off” flavors of pre-ground, pre-historic dreck. But you need a coffeemaker that can handle the job, and this Zojirushi machine is more than capable. The reason I like it: it does one thing, and it does it well. It has none of those fancy features like grinding or programmed brewing. It does one thing: brew coffee. It’s so easy to use: you fill the basket/filter with ground coffee; you fill the water reservoir with water; you press the button. Voilá! Coffee! Cleaning is a cinch; and drinking is even easier–and more fun!

Global 5-inch Utility Knife (approx. $75)

You’re a home chef. You think you need an 8-inch (or larger) chef’s knife. You don’t. I guarantee, if  you buy this 5-inch knife, you will rarely ever touch that big chef’s knife you thought you needed. I have two very expensive, beautiful 8-inch chef’s knives–and I love them, and I wish I used them more often. But the truth is, I hardly ever touch them because of this 5-inch workhorse. Size definitely matters–and in this case, smaller is the way to go.