Kitchen utensils – the essentials

Kitchen utensils

Kitchen utensilsIntroduction

Having the right kitchen utensils is really important. I don’t mean some fancy motorised gizmo costing £400, I mean the basics, the simple things we use every day that make our cooking slick, fast and easy, so we don’t even have to think about what we’re doing. So here is a list of tools I cook with nearly every day that make my life happy.

The essential utensils

Garlic press. Favourite utensil.

Ever since British cooking came out of the post-war dark ages in the eighties (thanks Delia!), garlic has been a staple of our cooking. This is probably a function of the Italian cooking which we love so much, starting with pizza, progressing through pastas and into the more exotic. A garlic press is something I use most nights either for crushing garlic into a Chinese dip or a simmering, gentle tomato sauce. The one I have is heavy-duty like this one though I daresay IKEA will provide you with one somewhat simpler and lighter. I just like the heft of it.



Knives are really important. So important, Amazon won’t let me build a link to them. Bizarre.

Try this link instead.

A good sharp knife is really important. I tend to use maybe three regularly: A nice large cook’s knife, around 9″ in length. The one I have replaced the one in the set which died. A small paring knife used for smaller, fiddlier jobs like boning meat or removing the seeds from chillies. lastly, a serrated bread knife. In the olden days I had a small serrated knife for things like tomatoes, but if your main knife is sharp enough, you don’t need it. I also have a meat cleaver I almost never use but have for Asian cooking completeness. Of course, being a foodie, you buy nice artisan bread so a bread knife is essential but being serrated and bread being relatively soft, sharpness isn’t really an issue.

Saucepans and Frying Pans

These are pretty important, but I would say, don’t go over the top. I’ve had IKEA’s basics, rubbish left by landlords in rented flats and decent ones. For saucepans we have a second or third above cheapest set of stainless steel saucepans with lids. For frying pans, a small and large pair of non-stick. I’ve just been told to use a heavy steel frying pan. I remain to be convinced. Woks, we have two, both just basic ones from the Chinese supermarket. As long as you can get them hot enough, you’ll be fine.

One thing to remember, I’m looking at you shakshuka, is that if you ever plan on putting a frying pan in the oven, make sure the handle is metal or else the handle can take up to a 200C temperature.

Vegetable peeler.

A device I use pretty much every evening and pretty much essential for dealing with things like, say, potatoes. They’re cheap and since they’re impossible to sharpen, I’d regard them as disposable to be renewed every year or two. Treat yourself. A nice sharp one is a delight. It glides across surfaces!


Baking tray.

These are essentials you don’t really think about. Perfect for popping shop-bought pizzas, quiches, or fish cakes in the oven, or most things that aren’t cooked in a depth of oil. I’ve several in my cupboard from really cheap, battered, tinny (and ones to more recently acquired Teflon(tm) covered ones.


Roasting dish.

Aside from the obligatory non-stick metal roasting dishes, I’d heartily recommend a good, heavy ceramic dish. I was given a lovely square Kuhne Rikon one which makes sublime roast potatoes. This will also double as a lasagne dish. There’s only two of us most of the time, so I’ve got a half-sized one as well as one half that size that’s just about right for a rhubarb crumble for the two of us.


Box grater.

Yes you can get little flat mandolin things, but the box grater gets the use in my house. The coarse side works for cheese and vegetables. I especially like it for grating carrots for carrot salad. The fine grater gets used for zesting citrus, usually lemon or lime but occasionally orange or grating parmesan. The slicer gets used for slicing, for example cucumber as a prelude to salad or pickling. The fourth side I have no idea. Suggestions welcome!

We have a food processor which almost never gets used. The last time was months ago, probably for prepping loads of root vegetables for a soup. Good job I didn’t spend much on it! Yay Morrisons!


Knife sharpener.

This is a contentious one. In a previous life I’ve had a long thin sharpening steel, but that went the way of my first marriage. I then acquired a gizmo which with a few swipes will render a knife sharp enough long enough to glide through the skin and soft flesh of a tomato. Then, somewhere along the line we acquired a whetstone. Maybe it was even an heirloom. I’m not allowed to use this. My wife was a sculptor and has very strong opinions who such a thing should be used. All I know is that afterwards a blade is sharper for longer. So I would say, well worth learning to use. 15 degrees apparently is the secret.


Sieve and colander.

These things gets a lot of use. The sieve gets used in baking, obviously, to sieve flour. Then they get used at both ends of the cooking process. At the preparation end, for holding things while they’re rinsed under the tap, then at the finish for draining and possible short-term storage.


Chopping Boards.

Unless you want to wreck the surfaces in your kitchen, you’ll want a chopping board. I’ve seen people get quite heated as to what kind of chopping board to get. Plastic ones are easier to get spotlessly clean, but wooden ones allegedly have natural compounds that keep bacteria under control. Then, if you get wood, what kind of wood should you get? And if you get wood, how thick should it be? I’ve got a couple of boards, the larger is bamboo. If you’re planning on serving charcuterie and sliced baguette on a board then go for the larger. That’s about it unless anyone has a better idea!



In following a recipe, measurement is pretty important and therefore it’ss essential to have a good set of scales . Retro folks might like mechanical scales but in the 21st century there’s no excuse for not being digital. I tend to use mine for measuring flour, sugar or butter and not just for cakes!


The rest.

The rest you’ll probably pick up in your local supermarket: cake tins, loaf tins, muffin tins, sweetcorn holders, skewers, egg coddlers and such. You can get these cheaply and easily in your local supermarket.

We mustn’t forget blenders. I have a small countertop one, but the hand blender gets more use. It just saves transferring the soup to something and back.

An electric kettle is a bonus. I’ve found the absolutely cheapest sometimes taint the water with a plastic taste so maybe get a slightly more expensive one.

If I’ve missed anything, please let me know!


  1. Contentious post, with potential for holy wars over implements!

    “This is probably a function of the Italian cooking which we love so much”

    Except proper Italian cooking doesn’t make that much use of garlic!

    As to the tool, I have a two-piece cast aluminium one that doesn’t threaten to break if I put too much pressure on it, unlike some of the over-complicated and fiddly-to-clean multi-part steel contraptions. KISS!

    No disagreement on knives, but having a few to hand is helpful to avoid cross-contamination.

    On saucepans, I used to be a fan of non-stick, but my partner’s stainless steel pans have converted me: it’s easier to get a good fry going in stainless – there seems to be a bit more steaming going on with non-stick pans. A couple of non-stick frying pans are handy, though. I have a cheap glass-lidded sautee pan that works well for quick casseroles, pilau rice etc. and a big heavy frying pan with a colour-changing temperature indicator from Lidl’s Ernesto range. My wok is from a local oriental supermarket and I seasoned myself (based on if I remember correctly, using the oven method because I have an electric hob and a flat-bottomed wok).

    Ceramic roasting dishes are great for parsnips, but I prefer large enamelled roasting tray for the meat and potatoes. Once they’re done, I turn them out into another ceramic dish and keep them warm in the oven whilst I use the enamelled roasting tray on the hob to make a roux and then the gravy (using cornflour for personal preference due to the aesthetics of a clear gravy, but my mum always used wheatflour). I tend to use a deep Pyrex casserole dish for crumbles and a deep Pyrex pie plate for crumbles and pies – I like there to be plenty of fruit!

    I use a box grater most often, but IKEA have a nice liddled grater (“CHOSIGT”, apparently) which catches the gratings as you go. I also have a nutmeg grater that I sometimes use for finely-grating parmesan.

    I picked up a 3-way guided manual knife sharpener for about £4 from Lidl’s Ernesto range. That works well enough for me. It also handles scissor blades.

    Amazon have some good non-stick sieves which are handy for draining cooked (i.e. starchy or sticky) rice. I also have a couple of handled stainless steel colanders that I think I got from Asda (I don’t think they do them any more) – they’re handy for straining things like peas that might slip out between the gap between saucepan and lid if done that way.

    I used to use plastic chopping boards, but switched to glass, then wood after hearing about the tendency for bacteria to fester in the cuts. I tried some cheap ones from IKEA, but my favourite are a couple of bamboo ones from Lidl. They’re nice and dense and resist cutting well, but don’t blunt knives and let ingredients slide around like the glass ones.

    My partner brought a set of digital scales with her, and converted me from my cheap plastic mechanical one. We also weigh our carbs (rice, pasta) to avoid going overboard on quantity!

    On gadgets, I swear by a digital timers (Lidl do one with three independent timers that reduces clutter, but is a bit fiddly to set and cancel), a digital meat thermometer from Landmann via Amazon for roasting with confidence (just make sure not to let the probe touch the oven walls or element, or it’ll kill it) and a hand blender (600W, Lidl). We have a food processor, but it mostly gets used when making bubble and squeak from leftover veg from the Sunday roast. A hot air popcorn maker (Lidl) is nice to have, if you like the stuff – fresh is far better than microwaved, bagged, and cinema popcorn! I generally prefer using a grill to make toast, but as eye-level grills are so rare these days, a four slice toaster is pretty handy to have around, and a Breville or panini press gets occasional outings.

  2. Oh, and lidded Pyrex dishes are handy for freezing large dishes (chilli, bolognese, curry) in individual portions for later microwaving for a home-made “ready meal”. Amazon sell those, too. I think mine are the 0.8l ones.

    1. Well, you could also leave the dish to defrost overnight and reheat the contents in a pan, or, I suppose, reheat in an oven for about 45 minutes, but a microwave will do it just as well in the time it takes to cook rice or pasta.

      And the meal will still be better than any supermarket ready-meal, even if it isn’t as good as it was when it was freshly cooked.

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