Be Bobby Flay, Not Chef Boyardee
Find out what your first kitchen needs tonight at MET
After a long day of classes, a student rushes home to her first off-campus apartment for dinner — but instead of finding a hot meal waiting, she faces what can be the daunting task of cooking for herself. Welcome to life without a meal plan. For the first few weeks, new apartment dwellers will likely get by fine with a can opener and a microwave. But frozen dinners can satisfy hungry tummies for only so long. There comes a time when the charms of ramen and Spaghetti-Os fade, and students will have to put together a working kitchen for the first time.
But there’s no need to fret, says Chris Kimball, host of the PBS series America’s Test Kitchen and editor of Cook’s Illustrated. Off-campus living can be fulfilling, as long as students have what they need. And while learning to use a kitchen can be difficult, he adds, equipping it is not.
In the seminar The Kitchen Detective with Chris Kimball, he will speak about kitchen must-haves, including specific brands and products, tonight, February 26, at 6 p.m., in the Fuller Building at 808 Commonwealth Ave. Admission is $25 and is open to the general public. Contact the Metropolitan College Food and Wine Seminars at 617-353-9852 for more information.
BU Today asked Kimball what every first kitchen needs, and what can be left at the store.
BU Today: What are a kitchen’s bare essentials?
Kimball: You’ll want a 12-inch skillet, a 3-quart saucepan, and a 6- or 8-quart Dutch oven. You should also consider an eight- or nine-inch nonstick skillet. You’ll need an eight-inch chef knife, and I recommend buying a Forschner Fibrox. It will cost you about $28, and it’s almost as good as a $100 knife. You’ll want a couple of baking pans, an 8 by 8 and a 9 by 13, a cookie sheet, and a cooling rack. And you’ll want a heat-proof spatula and a big roasting pan. You’ll also need a kitchen timer — West Bend makes a lot of good models — and if you’re a new cook, you’ll definitely need an instant-read thermometer. You can use it for everything from steak to bread to custard. A Thermapen will run $80, but it’s the Lexus of thermometers, and you can buy cheaper models. I recommend Taylor Digital Pocket Thermometer. Just be sure to buy digital and not analog.
What’s the most useful piece of cookware?
The Dutch oven is the most useful piece of cookware because it makes soups, braises, and stews. Tramontina makes great Dutch ovens that typically run between $90 and $125. A food processor and a standing mixer are also essential items, although they can be pretty pricey. I recommend going with KitchenAid for both products. The food processor will cost you about $130, and standing mixers run anywhere from $200 to $400.
What’s the most useless kitchen gadget?
I hate bread machines. Although a bread machine does a decent job of kneading bread, it does a crappy job of baking it. It makes loaves like cake — it’s just awful. The oven is vastly better for baking, and if you don’t want to knead the dough, you can very quickly knead it in a food processor. Please, don’t buy a bread machine.
I think people tend to buy too much of things they don’t necessarily need. For example, everyone wants a fancy knife set, but two-thirds of the knives are useless because you’ll never use them. Personally, I’d rather spend more money on fewer quality items.
So where should you spend your money?
Get a really good 12-inch skillet. If you want something that’s going to make you a better cook, this is it. The quality will make all the difference in the world. Buy something substantial; you’ll burn your food if you don’t have a heavy saucepan or skillet. Also, be sure that the handles are ovenproof. Very often you put skillets from the stovetop into the oven, so you never, ever want something with plastic handles. I recommend buying an All-Clad stainless steel skillet. They run about $190, but they’re worth it. If you don’t want to spend that much money, Calphalon offers a 12-inch skillet for $65, and Farberware Millenium has 12-inch skillets for $70. Honestly, though, even if I were struggling financially, I’d get the All-Clad.
A knife sharpener is also essential. Knives get dull really quickly, and there’s no other way to sharpen them unless you send them out. I recommend Chefs Choice Model 110 and Chefs Choice model 130, which run about $130.
When choosing an apartment, should you look for a gas or an electric range?
An electric oven is fine, but you want a gas stovetop. It’s much harder to adjust the heat quickly on an electric stovetop, and when you’re cooking, you want to be able to adjust the heat quickly. It is possible to learn how to cook on an electric stovetop, but it’s not nearly as convenient. You can see and adjust a gas flame by eye, and the reaction time is instantaneous.
If you live in the dorms and have to cook in a microfridge, what can you make?
Back in the 1980s, there was a hope that microwaves would replace ovens, but realistically, a microwave is for reheating. It’s not a cooking instrument. I guess microwaves make okay bacon. You can also make a decent polenta, which is a cornmeal mush, in about eight minutes. So if I were a starving student and I wanted to make something really good in my dorm room, polenta would be it.
Vicky Waltz can be reached at email@example.com.