The right knife
While all of the equipment listed below is considered essential to the kitchen, there is one indispensable tool: an excellent chef's knife. A good knife makes the difference between cooking as a chore and cooking as a pleasure. Here is a list of knives every kitchen needs, with the first two taking priority.
Chef's knife: available with 8-inch (20 cm), 10-inch (25 cm) and 12-inch (30 cm) blades.
Paring knife: a small knife used for cutting fruits and vegetables; it is useful to have two on hand.
Serrated knife: for cutting breads, cakes and tomatoes.
Slicing knife: differs slightly from a carving knife in that it has a rounded tip and a scalloped edge and is used for slicing hams and other cooked meats, raw fish, fruits and vegetables.
High-carbon stainless steel is the optimal material for a knife since it will stay sharp longer and not rust. Choose knives that feel heavy and well balanced. Choose a knife with a riveted wood or moulded plastic handle with a blade that extends through the handle to the butt. Wash knives by hand; do not put them in the dishwasher because that dulls the blade and may even damage the handle. Store knives in a wooden knife block or on a magnetic rack.
It is also worthwhile to invest in a 12-inch (30 cm) medium-grained sharpening steel with a protective guard at the top of the handle. Position your knife by grasping the steel firmly in one hand, pointing it upward and away from your body. Tuck your thumb safely behind the protective guard. Hold the knife in your other hand with the cutting edge facing you. Set the heel of the blade at the base of the steel, at a 20-degree angle to the steel. Draw the blade from its heel to its tip in one diagonal stroke, pressing lightly and moving the blade across the steel and away from you. Repeat for a total of five times under the steel and five times over so that both sides of the blade are equally aligned.
Have a set of graduated dry measuring cups (metal or plastic), at least one set of graduated measuring spoons (slim metal spoons are preferred for ease of spooning out of bottles), and a set of graduated liquid measuring cups (usually glass). It's handy to have more than one set of each, in case you've used the 1 tbsp (15 mL) measure for something wet and then need it to measure something dry. A scale is also very useful.
Page 1 of 3 – What stovetop equipment do you think is most useful? Compare your answer to the Test Kitchen's on page 2.
Saucepans: The foundation of any kitchen, saucepans come in many different sizes. Don't feel obliged to buy a set. Buy the best quality you can afford as they are a lifetime investment. Choose those with a heavy base, a tight-fitting lid and ovenproof handles. Stainless steel is a good choice as long as the base encloses a thick pad of aluminum or copper for better heat distribution. Saucepans are usually sold by capacity, either in litres or quarts or both. You'll generally need two or three, ranging from 1 to 4 quarts (1 to 4 L), each about 4 inches (10 cm) deep.
Dutch oven: Used both on the stove top and in the oven, Dutch ovens are good for everything from preserving to stir-frying to braising. Choose a heavy-bottomed one with a 6-quart (6 L) capacity. Both stainless steel with an aluminum pad and enamelled cast iron are reliable choices.
Skillets: Having a few in different sizes, differentiated by diameter, is useful; they range from small (6 inches / 15 cm) to large (10 or 12 inches /25 or 30 cm). Also, having them in a variety of materials is useful: cast iron, nonstick and heavy bottomed stainless steel. For nonstick, use plastic or wooden spatulas to avoid scratching the coating. When The Canadian Living Test Kitchen calls for a large skillet, use a 12-inch (30 cm) skillet, measured across the top. A cast-iron skillet is perfect for searing steaks and chops and cooking small roasts, and it is the ideal skillet for a tarte tatin.
Stockpot: Use a large, narrow, tall pot for making stock, cooking pasta and boiling corn. An 8- to 10-quart (8 to 10 L) stockpot is recommended.
Saucepan with double boiler insert and steamer insert: If you don't have a double boiler insert, improvise by placing a stainless-steel bowl slightly larger in diameter on top of the saucepan.
Grill pan: A must-have for grilling inside year-round. Available in nonstick and cast-iron surfaces.
Wok: Choose a flat-bottomed wok with either one or two handles. Woks are now available in a variety materials but the preferred is still carbon steel as stir-frying necessitates quick high heat. A high11 sided skillet can always stand in for a wok. Try to buy one with a lid, which makes it ideal for braising and steaming. Many come with a curved metal wok spatula.
Page 2 of 3 – Discover what bakeware and ovenware to add to your kitchen arsenal on page 3.
Casseroles: round, oval, square or rectangular in a variety of materials; it's good to have at least one or two large ones and a medium and small one. Available in 6 cups (1.5 L), 8 cups (2 L), 10 cups (2.5 L), 12 cups (3 L) and 20 cups (5 L), all with tight fitting lids.
Gratin dish: usually wide and shallow, often oval, with either sloping or straight sides. Most often used for scalloped vegetable, baked pasta or potato dishes in 4-cup (1 L) or 6-cup (1.5 L) capacities.
Roasting pans: Typically made of stainless steel, enamelled steel or aluminum; a low one with a rack is the most useful to have on hand. Ideally a roasting pan has sides that are 2 inches (5 cm) high and a rack -- both of which allow the heat to circulate freely around the meat. Choose a pan to suit the size of roasts or poultry you typically make. Too large a pan means the wonderful juices collecting on the bottom of the pan will bum; too small and air circulation is compromised. For an average-size chicken, select a pan that is 14 x 10 inches (35 x 25 cm), and for larger birds such as turkey or goose or larger roasts such as a brisket, we suggest 17 x 12 inches (42 x 30 cm).
Soufflé dishes: Straight-sided, round dishes made of porcelain or stoneware and traditionally fluted; sold in 6-cup (1.5 L) or 10-cup (2.5 L) capacities.
Baking dishes: Usually square or rectangular, in a variety of sizes, identified by their dimensions and capacity: 8-inch (2 L) square, 11- x 7-inch (2 L), 13- x 9-inch (3 L); made of glass, usually about 2 inches (5 cm) high.
Baking pans: Like baking dishes but made of metal. Sizes include 8-inch (2 L) square, 9-inch (2.5 L) square, 13- x 9-inch (3.5 L) rectangular and 8- or 9-inch (1.2 or 1.5 L) round.
Cake pans: An assortment of springform pans, a tube pan 10 inches (4 L), and a 6- or 10-inch (1.5 or 3 L) Bundt pan.
Loaf pans: Essential for quick breads, tea loaves and meat loaves, the most common sizes being either the 8- x 4-inch (1.5 L), which is best for a meat loaf that calls for 1 lb (500 g) ground meat, or the 9- x 5-inch (2 L). Available in glass and metal; also ones with built-in drainers for meat loaves.
Pie plates: Pies are made in 9-inch (23 cm) pie plates, but it's handy to have a 10-inch (25 cm) pie plate for deep-dish variations. Buy either glass or dark metal ones for crisp pie crusts.
Baking sheets: Invest in both rimless baking sheets for making cookies (the absence of sides lets heat circulate more easily and allows the cookies to slide right off when baked) and rimmed baking sheets (with sides to contain batter and perfect for roasting vegetables and wings). We don't recommend using dark baking sheets as food darkens more quickly.
Tart pans: Available in a variety of sizes (8-, 9-, 10-, 11-inch/20,23,25,28 cm), as well as miniature, these metal pans have removable bottoms and fluted sides. Wash only in hot water to keep perfectly seasoned. Do not wash in dishwasher.
Page 3 of 3