Wednesday, January 10, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Definitive guide to modern cooking equipment released

By Joan Namkoong
Advertiser Food Editor

Want to learn to cook?

Check out these classes at Kapiolani Community College; to register, call 734-9211.

• Cooking Basics III: Series of six hands-on classes, 9 a.m.-noon, Jan. 27-Feb. 24. For students with some basic knowledge of cooking. Instructor is Andy Nelson. Fee: $175. 734-9211.

• French Cooking: The Basics, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.-noon, March 3-24. Regional French Cooking, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.-noon, March 31-April 21. Instructor is chef George Bouillon of the French Institute of Hawaii. Fee: $175 for each series; $315 for both series.

• Sam Choy Series: Popular Island chef and restaurateur Sam Choy will be the host for a series of classes at his Diamond Head restaurant on Saturdays with executive chef Elmer Guzman.

Wild About Poke, 9-11 a.m., Feb. 3 with Sam Choy; $25 fee.

The Heritage of Cajun and Creole Cuisine, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Feb. 10 with Elmer Guzman; $25 fee, $35 with wine.

The 15-Minute Meal Manager, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Feb. 24 with Elmer Guzman; $25 fee.

What to Serve at Your Wine Tasting Party, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., March 3 with Elmer Guzman, $30 fee.

How to Make a Leftover Not a Leftover, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. with Sam Choy; $25 fee.

Pairing Wine with Asian-influenced Food, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; with Elmer Guzman; $30 fee.

So you’ve resolved to cook more this year. But your kitchen could use some equipment, or maybe you’re just starting out and don’t even own a pot or pan, much less a knife. Where do you start to equip a kitchen?

"The New Cooks’ Catalogue," edited by Burt Wolf, Emily Aronson and Florence Fabricant (Knopf $35), can be a godsend, or it could make you dissolve your resolution quickly.

This updated version of "The Cooks’ Catalogue" originally published in 1975 is the definitive guide to modern cooking equipment. Measuring devices, pots, pans, knives, bowls, colanders, toasters, baking dishes, baking and pastry tools, blenders, food processors, wine tools, coffee- and tea-making equipment and just about everything else - except the kitchen sink - are thoughtfully described as to function and particular qualities.

The editors make a point of telling you what to look for in a specific piece of equipment so that you can buy wisely. They have no qualms about showing you some of the finest products available today. The only reason it could make you give up on cooking is that you’ll want much more than the basics in your kitchen.

While our interest in food has mushroomed in the past 25 years, so has our fascination with the equipment and gadgets used to prepare that food. Still, the contents of the 25-year-old book hasn’t changed much: Some of the same pieces of equipment are extolled and pictured, albeit in color in this new edition. Even some of the text is the same.

"We’ve been updating the book ever since 1975," said Wolf, who along with James Beard and Milton Glaser, edited the first version. "But when we stopped and looked back to see what had changed, there’s not a lot."

There is the food processor, then a revolutionary machine that chopped, sliced, grated and made bread and pastry dough quicker than you could blink. "Yes, it made dough but you could do that with your hands; chopped, but you could do that with a knife," said Wolf. "All it did was make things a little faster.

"There were three major changes," continued Wolf by phone from North Carolina, where he was filming a Christmas show for 2001. "First, there was the introduction of the digital chip that made thermometers and electrics more responsive than they ever were and capable of doing things faster and better. But it’s still a thermometer.

"Second, there were sophisticated improvements in metallurgy that came from the space program and, third, there was a lot of sophisticated development in plastics. Twenty-five years ago, a plastic spoon would melt if you cooked with it; not today."

But a knife is still a knife, after all, and a frying pan, a frying pan. The basic shapes and functions haven’t changed; it’s how and to what we apply them that have changed.

From Left: A chef’s knife, stainless steel spoon, tongs, saucepan and saute pan are the workhorse gear recommended for every kitchen. After buying these, suggest veteran chefs, today’s cooks can add things like food processors and digital thermometers.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

What are the basics that every kitchen should have?

"I had this conversation with Jacques Pepin one day," said Wolf. Pepin is the master technician of French cookery, cookbook author, and television chef often seen alongside Julia Child. "If we were on a desert island, there are five pieces of cooking equipment we would find essential. First, a really good chef’s knife."

A chef’s, or cook’s, knife is the oldest known man-made implement, according to "The New Cooks’ Catalogue." Michael Lomonaco, chef of New York’s Windows on the World, says in the book: "My perfect and most favorite tool is the 8-inch, stainless steel, full-tang chef’s knife. . . . With my chef’s knife and its proper balance, durability and reliability, I can prepare almost anything as skillfully and quickly as you can imagine." (A tang, by the way, is the projection by which the knife is attached to its handle. If the blade doesn’t go all the way through the handle, the knife is weaker than it ought to be.)

A saute pan would be Wolf’s and Pepin’s second piece of essential equipment. The sauteuse, or saute pan, is wide, flat and has straight sides, a little different from the all-purpose frying pan or skillet, with it slightly flared sides. A saute pan is meant to cook food quickly with minimal fat over high heat, developing a golden brown crust, the result of caramelization. The browned bits left in the saute pan are released with the addition of liquid, a process called deglazing, forming a rich and flavorful sauce.

While easy cleanup usually influences the choice of a nonstick pan, in the case of a saute pan, it is not the ideal choice. The nonstick coating does not promote the formation of those browned bits that form the basis of a good sauce.

"My personal preference is anodized aluminum with stainless steel inside," said Wolf. "If you deglaze the pan and want to see the pan sauce change color, a stainless steel interior is better, because it reflects the light so you can see the color change."

On an Asian note:

From an Eastern perspective, I might choose just three utensils if I were stranded on a desert island: a wok, a Chinese cleaver and a pair of chopsticks. The wok, with cover, would serve as the all-purpose cooking vessel, capable of frying, braising, steaming, sauteeing and, of course, stir-frying. The Chinese cleaver is as indispensable as a chef’s knife, with perhaps with a little more clout since it can chop through bones and serve as a pounder, too. Chopsticks could perform the task of tongs and even stir up a pot as well as a spoon.

As for size, it depends on how many people you’re cooking for. "I used to cook for my three sons, and a 17-inch saute pan barely made it. Today I cook for myself, so I use a something smaller," said Wolf.

A saucepan is No. 3 on the Wolf/Pepin list. The workhorse of the kitchen, the saucepan is for making sauces, cooking vegetables, oatmeal or soup. The classic straight-sided pan that meets at the bottom at right angles comes in a variety of sizes. But a Windsor pan, a saucepan with sloping side, is even better, says Wolf. "It evaporates liquids well. Of course, I would have covers for both the saucepan and saute pan."

Essential tools No. 4 and 5 are simple things we take for granted: a pair of tongs and a good-quality stainless steel spoon. When you want to turn and lift food without puncturing it, tongs are the answer. And the most basic of kitchen utensils is the spoon, best made of a single piece of metal or wood, sturdy enough to beat, mix and lift.

Several hundred more gadgets and utensils could spark the creative juices of a fledgling cook’s imagination in "The New Cooks’ Catalogue." And that’s the goal, according to Wolf. "We introduced the food processor as a labor-saving device, and a group of people who were not interested in cooking decided to try it and got interested in cooking at home."

The goal of any food writer or cooking teacher is to see that kind of transfer of knowledge and interest, said Wolf: "The fact that they’re making it at home is what you hope for."

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