1. Digital scales Set your spring scales to zero, weigh a 250gm block of butter, remove butter. Now press hard on the scale, so the needle goes all the way around the dial. Release. Weigh the butter again. Most spring scales show a difference of up to 50gm the second time around. In the case of pastry, that’s the difference between a cardboard-textured crust and flaky perfection. You need digital scales.
2. Rubber spatula If you’ve always scraped out the mixing bowl with whatever’s at hand – a wooden spoon, a plastic spatula, a small child – you’ll be surprised at how much more cake batter you’ll get out of there with a rubber spatula.
3. Mortar and pestle To make curry pastes without sending ingredients richocheting off the walls, you don’t want an apologetic pestle, one that says, “Oh, excuse me, would you mind terribly if I pounded you now?” You want a big, drooling, fully pumped pestle that crushes on the first blow. Look for it on the floor of your nearest Asian supermarket. If it’s light enough to be shelved up high, it’s too small.
4. Probe thermometer This won’t hurt a bit. A probe thermometer, or instant-read thermometer, has a skewer attached to it. Stick it into your meat or fish, and presto, internal temperature is revealed. Seventy degrees means a pork and veal terrine that is juicy yet safe to eat. Five degrees higher and you’re looking at a loaf of expensive dry meat rubble.
5. Pastry brush The material you want in your pastry brush is hog bristle, never silicon or nylon. Natural bristle is stiffer than silicone, but soft, so it gives a good even coating of eggwash or redcurrant jelly or what-have-you without leaving marks. Silicone bristles, in contrast, flop around like so many pieces of flaccid spaghetti, and nylon bristles melt on contact with hot surfaces.
6. Microplane grater If you cleave to the old ways – bloodied knuckles, rust smudges on the Coon, citrus rind that will not leave the surface of the gadget unassisted – then use a box grater. If not, use a Microplane.
7. Whisk There’s something about the mere action of whisking that will make you feel like a better cook, even more so if you can manage to quaff from a glass of French and banter with your guests at the same time. Béchamel, hollandaise, pancake batter, gravy – all are unthinkable without a whisk. Outside an operating theatre, it’s the closest you’ll get to a guarantee of no lumps.
8. Melon baller Although it all depends, really, on how strongly you feel about making balls from a melon.
9. Mandolin Perhaps the only useful kitchen gadget ever to have been advertised on late-night television, the mandolin slices! It slices! For the very fine cutting required for bread-and-butter cucumbers, tarte fine aux pommes and shaved fennel salad, there’s no substitute. Operators are standing by to take your call.
10. Garlic crusher Most utensils that contain the name of the ingredient they are intended to process – the avocado slicer, mango splitter, egg separator, prawn peeler – should be banished forever from your kitchen. But on the garlic crusher the GT office is divided. In the pro camp are those who enjoy its ease. In the rather larger and more vocal anti camp are those who regard it as “drawer-clogging crap”, preferring to use the flat of a knife or a mortar and pestle. We stand united in our hatred of washing it.
PHOTOGRAPHY JULIE CRESPEL
This article is from the November 2011 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.