so you're out of a dorm… now you need a kitchen (april 2005)

gastro 19

So kids, some of you are moving out of your dorms and into the scaaaaaary world of communal living in a house you can’t burn down without terrible consequences. The problem is, you don’t have a damn thing to put in all those clean new cabinets, and the once common practice of assuming leases from exiting seniors is less common, so inheriting cut-rate kitchen supplies doesn’t happen as much as you’d like. I have led many a startled sophomore through the process of outfitting a kitchen, so I’ll bestow a little advice upon you youngsters.
Things you absolutely positively need to feed yourself:
1) A large cheap stockpot. You need this because you will be eating pasta and noodles for most of your college career. You need a large one because noodles need more space to cook than things like Ramen. Italian pasta people have a simple formula: 1lb dry noodles to 4 qts of water. Pasta needs space (p.s. salty water is good. It should ‘taste like the sea’ but only in the abstract sense of being salty, not full of trash and fecal matter.) Also, once you get old and wise, you’ll realize that large batches of soup will save your life.

2) A cast iron pan. I warned all of you about Teflon many moons ago. A cast iron pan will put up with your neglect and misuse, and none of you are going to drop the coin necessary to get a worthwhile non-stick pan. Plus, cast iron can be found at any garage sale, thrift store, or better yet, in the back of your parent’s cupboards.

3) Knife. You only really need one knife, if you’re good with a blade. I’m going to assume none of you are, (even those of you who think you may be) so you actually need 3: a chefs knife, or something with a large enough blade so that you don’t bank your knuckles slicing onions, a serrated blade for bagels and bread, and a paring knife for the small stuff. Only one of these need be quality, the chef’s knife, because it’s the only one you’re not going to throw away when it gets dull. Knife sharpening is complicated, and much too much of a task to cover in a column, so I’ll dig up some web sources for next week.

4) A peeler: you thought you’d never forget a peeler. But chances are if I hadn’t reminded you, you’d be wasting your life peeling potatoes with a bird’s beak.

5) Can opener, corkscrew and cutting board: duh… I suggest plastic cutting boards: they’re easier to clean and nicer to your knife-edge, which translates to less sharpening.

6) Rice cooker: rice is a finicky thing to master. Take the worry out of it and buy a cheap one.

Things you don’t need, but think you do:
1) A Wok. Unless you have a natural gas jet engine, there ain’t no point. The appeal of a wok is that the curves surface is uniformly hot, and thus no matter where the food touches the surface, it’s exposed to the same heat. This does not compute on an electric stove, or on a low BTU gas stove. Trust me; just use your cast iron. You can make Asian food in a normal pan
2) A food processor: trust me. If you’ve got the time to put one to good use, you’re not doing your homework. If you really want something that ‘only a food processor can do,’ remind yourself that whatever recipe you want to make is a lot older than plastics and electricity. Get a mortar and pestle from an Asian market (around $20) and take your aggression out by doing it the old fashion way.

3) Anything smaller than a 1qt saucepan: what are you going to do, make a delicate saffron butter sauce? Fuck off and save your money.

Places to go:
Pans: thrift stores
knives: George and Son cutlery, Anzen, or Freddy”s if you’re really not picky. The internet is a possibility, but DONT BUY SOMETHING YOU HAVEN”T HELD IN YOUR HAND. That’s a great way to end up with a dangerous knife.
Remember, this is stuff that is supposed to wear out or be given away in 3 years. There is no reason to lug a $10 rice cooker cross-country.