Recipe For Success
Kitchen Basics That Take Your Cooking Spot From Average To Outstanding.
By Amanda Jean Harris / Submitted Photos
National trends in kitchens are a recipe for luxury from hi-tech workstations to glam details. But, around Acadiana we like to keep things a bit simpler. In the kitchen we like panache, but love function even more.
Our questions for people around here are about our parents and whether we can make a roux. It’s all about the eats. And so with this food-centered approach in mind, local pros in the kitchen weighed in on how they keep their kitchen kicking year after year. Spoiler alert: no renovations required.
Our experts cut to the chase when it comes to the kitchen essentials. They don’t note a fancy cook top area or a marble island. In fact their go-to splurge item is pretty basic: a knife.
“Splurge on a great kitchen knife and cutting boards — more than one,” says Paul Ayo, owner of E’s Kitchen and killer cook. “You always have at least three different cutting boards so you aren’t washing and worrying about cross contamination.”
The head chef at Antoni’s, Paul Keller, names a knife as his first must have for the average Joe’s kitchen.
“Firstly, one must have a quality chef knife. This is the single most important item to have in your kitchen. Spend a little more now so you won’t have to replace your knife every 6 months,” Keller says. “Global, Wustof and Shun are three top notch knife makers. Along with that you’ll need a good whetting stone. Remember, most cuts come from a dull knife rather than a sharp one. Going hand in hand with that is a quality cutting board.”
When it comes to cutting boards look for natural woods, which Keller says are better than plastic for knives.
“Natural woods are better than plastic for your knives although plastic cutting boards do tend to last longer than their natural counterparts. Bamboo is naturally antibacterial and as such is prime for cutting boards,” Keller says.
The key to a well-stocked kitchen starts with identifying what you most often cook and focus funds in those areas. No matter what you cook it’s likely you’ll need decent baking sheets, measuring cups and cookware.
“Good high quality baking sheets are important,” Ayo says. “You skimp on those and they warp and bend and they aren’t going to cook evenly.”
He says good cookware can make a big difference in your recipe results. But, good news: You most likely don’t need an entire set.
“Select the pots and pans you’re going to use most of the time first and get the best quality you can possibly get because when you buy a set there will be one or two items you may never use,” Ayo says.
When it comes to choosing between nonstick, stainless steel or cast iron Paul says there is no one right answer.
“Each of those types of pieces has their one thing they are really really good at,” Ayo says. “The best way I can explain this: not every pair of black shoes matches every black dress.”
When it comes to nonstick maintenance is key, he says, as well as choosing a safe nonstick materials.
“Your frying pan should probably be nonstick because you’ll get the most use out of that,” he says. “Most nonstick that is made with PTFE is now safe and they no longer use the carcinogenic chemicals they used to use to make it nonstick. PTFE is quite safe and good and the new ceramics work well. But, if you heat them too high too many times they lose their nonstick ability. Don’t cook on such high heat with nonstick. That’s not how it’s supposed to be used.”
Ayo says on most stoves don’t go above medium if you’re using any kind of nonstick pan no matter the fabrication.
A big Dutch oven is an essential in most kitchens, especially if you cook gumbo and a nice sauté pan no matter your recipe inclinations is usually necessary. When it comes to cookware essentials, Keller points toward a longtime standard for many cooks that isn’t so common in many modern kitchens — cast iron.
“A nice cast iron skillet is a must. The cast iron skillet, though a bit old school, is rather versatile in the kitchen. Baking, searing, sautéing.”
Who can forget how grandma used a cast iron skillet for fried chicken before whipping out the gravy in that same pan from the crunchy bits and oil left behind. A good cast iron skillet can be passed down to the next generation so durable is the construction.
When it comes to cooking in the kitchen it’s all about accessibility, organization and preparedness according to the pros.
“Keep your spatula and tools next to the stove and the gadgets in a secondary drawer. Keep your pots and pans right next to the stove,” Ayo says.
For all the cookware that goes in cabinets it can be hard to organize and most of us end up with stacked pieces based on width and a kind of domino effect every time we reach for a pan in the middle or the bottom, which doesn’t make for fluid meal prep. Ayo’s simple solution — racks that hold folders upright, which can be found at an organization store or office supply shop.
“It keeps everything upright and it keeps equipment from getting scratched and makes for much better storing for your cookware,” he says.
For knives, he says never keep them in a drawer loosely — either the cook or the knives get damaged this way.
“You can put a drawer block in that will keep them separated and nice and organized or in a block on the countertop,” Ayo says.
There are also magnetic holders for knives and other blocks that will keep knives separated and safe as well as accessible for cooking. Accessibility and keeping certain ingredients on hand are the hallmarks of kitchen pros. Keller say it’s all about the prep when it comes time to cook.
“In the professional kitchen we say “Mise en Place,” meaning, everything in its place. Measure out all of your ingredients and have them ready for your recipe,” Keller says. “This will save you time and effort when you actually combine your ingredients. Make sure you have all you need before you start. It makes life so much easier.”
When it comes to keeping items on hand that are useful in a multitude of recipes Keller’s top pick is garlic. “The fresher the better,” he says. Ayo’s top and super simple item — great salt
“I like using kosher or sea salt,” Ayo says. “They pack more flavor and you can use less of it. The first time I cooked with sea salt it was almost inedible because I had used the same amount as I would have regular salt.”
Other easy items to keep on hand — canned tomatoes to make any sauce at any time along with dried pasta for quick meals that satisfy.
“I buy frozen vegetables instead of canned because they are healthier. I always keep flour, baking soda, baking powder and a variety of dry pasta. Keep a nice blend of spices that are appropriate to your palate. Mine is Cajun, of course, and I keep wasabi at all times,” Ayo says.