IntroductionIn general when you first start cooking, utensils don't seem to be that important. Thinking (like me at my beginning) "Well, a pan is a pan, it's all in how you use it". But it's not that simple.
Utensils are very important, almost like quality ingredients, because they allow you to make the recipe in perfect conditions, as the author intended. If you use poor tools and your recipe goes wrong, it will be almost impossible to know where the problem lay. And for your working comfort, it's much easier to work with good tools.
What's here?On this page you will find information on tools that you can use when cooking. They are separate in two categories : the "10 essentials", those that I think you must have in your kitchen, and the others. For each one, there are explanations on its use, and some councils of purchase. See about buys the best addresses page.
The 10 essentials tools (I can't do anything without them...)
BrushFor coating or glazing with a liquid, water or beaten egg-yolk for example, or for gently removing excess flour or sugar.
If you intend to buy:Get two: a small and a larger one with plastic handles, and food-quality bristles, which can go in the dishwasher.
Chopping boardTo cut safely, using your knives, on your work surface.
If you intend to buy:Get a large one, no less than 30X40 cm. or 12X15 inches, in food-quality plastic. Contrary to a commonly-held belief, wooden chopping boards are not very good in the kitchen: it's quite impossible to get them completely clean, so germs stay on them, and when using with a sharp knife you end up making sawdust. See also this post about chopping board.
KnifeIt's impossible to cook well without good knives. For cutting of course, but also slicing, chopping, etc.
If you intend to buy:You need quality knives. Typically 3, let's say "small", "medium" and "large" (in French they have names according to their size : "couteau d'office" for the small one, etc.), stainless blade, plastic handle, not serrated, plus the steel (sharpening tool) to go with them.
Palette-knifeFor moving small items without breaking them, or lifting up pastry without making a hole it.
If you intend to buy:Get one (or two: small and large), stainless with plastic handle.
Soft spatulaThis is a flexible rubber or plastic spatula, ideal for stirring a preparation that could stick to the bottom of the pan, or for completly emptying a bowl or a pan cleanly without leaving a drop.
If you intend to buy:Get one with a hard plastic handle that fits well in your hand. Ideally you should have two, a small and a large one.
TongsFor turning something easily during cooking (apple quarters for example), or removing something hot from a pan, and also for serving spaghetti.
If you intend to buy:Take a fully metallic and stainless one.
Vegetable peelerVery useful for peel fruit and vegetables, cuting chocolate or parmesan chips.
If you intend to buy:Get one with a stainless blade and a plastic handle.
Weighing scalesWith it you can weigh everything, even in small quantities (10-20 g, sometimes less).
If you intend to buy:To be precise it should be an electronic one. The old-style mecanical spring scales are innacurate, especially for small quantities. It's worth investing in an up-to-date model with "add-and-weigh" facility, which will save you a lot of washing up.
WhiskFor beating (eggs) or whipping (cream) a preparation (like a sabayon for exemple), to mix thoroughly, and especially to incorporate air.
If you intend to buy:Get a stainless one, quite large, with a stainless or plastic handle, also large. It should feel comfortable and you should be able to grip it firmly, otherwise if the handle is too thin you will not be able to work easily.
Wooden spatulaTo mix, to stir in a saucepan or frying-pan, etc.
If you intend to buy:You'll need several, in wood or plastic. If they are wooden, it's worth keeping one for sweet preparations and another for savoury preparations, because wooden tools hold tastes and smells.
Note: A soft plastic spatula is called a "maryse" in French.
Apple-peelerHere is a tool that I was sure was just some dumb gadget before my friends Eric and Pascale gave me one! It's an extraordinary tool that peels and removes the core of an apple in less than 10 seconds. The chore of peeling/removing the core is now a thing of the past, and making apple tart or cake becomes a real pleasure.
The only small criticism that could be made is that it is not fully stainless, so you must dry it carefully after washing.
If you intend to buy:Get a stainless one, with a suction pad to fix it onto your work surface.
Araignée (spider)A kind of skimmer, like a shallow wire basket on a long handle. It's ideal for removing something solid from a liquid, like vegetables in water for example.
If you intend to buy:Get a stainless one, preferably from a professional catering supplier where you will find different sizes.
Baking sheetThis is a metal sheet or tray, covered with a non-stick coating, similar to the lining of an oven.
It can be used for cooking a wide range of things, but mainly small items to be cooked together such as rock cakes or profiteroles.
If you intend to buy:Buy one made of steel or aluminium, but most importantly with a non-stick coating, otherwise you will always need to line it with cooking parchment, or grease with butter, then dust with flour.
BlenderA blender consists of a sort of "propellor" or knife blade, driven by an electrc motor.
Ideal for transforming a lumpy mixture into something smooth and homogenized.
There are two kinds: classic blenders with a goblet into which one pours the substance to be blended, and hand blenders which are cheaper and more practical, which can be plunged directly into a bowl or pan.
If you intend to buy:Choose the hand blender if possible, with a power rating of at least 400 Watts, with a sharp blade. It is useful to be able to take the blender apart for cleaning.
On the other hand, having lots of different speeds serves no real purpose.
Cake and pastry mouldsFor cooking all your cakes. Available in various shapes and sizes for tarts, cakes, madeleines, financiers, etc.
If you intend to buy:Silicone cake and pastry moulds are available, which look like rubber, but are oven and freezer proof. It's absolutely great because cakes cooked in this kind of mould never stick. It is not necessary to butter and flour the inside.
ChinoisA chinois is a solid conical strainer. It's mainly used for extracting liquid from a mixture by pressing down hard onto it.
If you intend to buy:Get a fully stainless one.
Cream whipperThe Gourmet Whip was initially intended for making whipped cream (like chantilly) by injecting a neutral gas. But now it is used for many other foams, in different flavours, savoury or sweet, cold or hot.
It was the Catalan chef Ferran Adria who started to use a Gourmet Whip to make his famous "espumas" (Catalan word for foams), sometimes hot, in surprising flavours.
If you intend to buy:Don't get a "chantilly cream whip" which will be too limited. See the best addresses page for more information.
CutterThis is a ring (or other shape) with a sharp edge, which when pressed down cuts out shapes from pastry, doughs or other soft materials.
If you intend to buy:These are available in metal or plastic, in different diameters, plain or "star" (toothed). I suggest you get a set of several sizes, in plastic, plain to begin with.
Dessert ringLike tart rings, but taller (generally 4 cm ou 1.6 inches), dessert rings are used to keep preparations, usually cold, in shape during the assembly of a layered dish.
If you intend to buy:Buy stainless steel ones.
Electronic thermometerWhen cooking it is frequently necessary to know the temperature of a preparation. Sometimes it's indispensable, like for recipes using cooked sugar or foie gras.
If you intend to buy:The classic alcohol-filled thermometer is not precise enough and cannot be used at high temperatures (to mesure temperature of something in the oven). I strongly recommend an electronic one with a wire probe. You can get a very useful model with an alarm, which sounds when a precise temperature is reached.
Forcing bagFor filling small moulds, making small fancy items, shaping small cakes.
If you intend to buy:The bag can be a nylon reusable one (washable), or single use (sold in multiple packs).
Nozzles (or icing tubes) are available in 2 different materials: metal (old fashioned, less practical) and polycarbonate (very hard plastic, more practical).
There are two main types of nozzle: star (toothed or ribbed) and plain (smooth). Star nozzles are used for decorative effects.
And finally nozzle diameters, usually given in millimeters: I advise you to get a set of several diameters (from 4 to 12 millimeters for example).
More details can be found on this dedicated page.
LadleA ladle is like a large round spoon with a long handle, used particularly for taking liquids out of containers.
If you intend to buy:Get one with at least the rounded spoon part in stainless steel, or better still, all stainless.
MandolinA mandolin is used to cut ingredients (fruit, vegetables, etc.) into very even slices or small sticks. It consists of flat bed with an adjustable blade (plus a range of additional different plates or blades) over which the items are pushed to and fro.
If you intend to buy:Mandolins can be bought from catering suppliers. Professional quality ones are stainless steel, precise, and can be dismantled. They are perfect but rather expensive. Those that you find in the supermarket are generally useless.
The model you can see in the photos is usually sold at trade fairs and markets. It's a good quality tool (made in Germany) that I've been using for years.
PanThe basic utensil in cooking, for everything that needs to be cooked, boiled, heated, etc.
If you intend to buy:Basically you need a set of good quality pans. Quality means: stainless, with a thick base, if possible with either a removable or metal handle (which can be put in the oven). Avoid non-stick pans, it's not easy to see what's going on in them, with the black bottom.
Pique-vite (pastry pricker)For pricking over the base of a tart, or sheet of puff pastry, to prevent bubbles during cooking. This is usually done with a fork, but this small roller does the same thing very fast and evenly. It's very cheap and useful.
If you intend to buy:Get a plastic one.
Plastic film and cooking papersSee the page dedicated to plastic film and papers used in cooking.
Plastic sheetBread dough needs to be covered during resting and rising, and a damp tea-towel works well. (It needs to be damp so that it does not take moisture from the dough).
Another good solution is to use a plastic sheet (cut from a large plastic bag for example) which protects the dough well and, very importantly, maintains the moist atmosphere around it.
Pommes parisiennes spoonThis is a metal scoop, half spherical in shape, used to cut small even balls of fruit or vegetables. Sometimes sold as a melon ball spoon.
If you intend to buy:Different sizes are available from good cookshops and professional catering supplier. Buy stainless steel with a plastic handle.
Rolling pinA rolling pin is a rigid cylinder which is used for rolling out all kinds of dough.
If you intend to buy:Choose a simple, solid rolling pin (rather than with attached handles); the ideal is a wooden roller 45 cm long and 5 cm in diameter (18 inches long and 2 inches in diameter).
If you have a handy friend or relative who can make one like this for you, so much the better. Mine, for example, that you can see the photos, was made by my father from a piece of beech and is perfect.
Salad spinnerA salad spinner is a simple device: a kind of mesh basket which is spun by turning a handle on the lid.
As the basket turns very fast, any items in it are forced agaisnt the sides by centrifugal force, and the water (or other liquid) they contain is spun off and collects in the bottom of the container.
Of course, it's designed for drying salads, but it works well for other things, like cooked spinach for example.
If you intend to buy:Choose a model that is robustly made, especially the handle, which has to withstand a lot of force.
Scouring padThis sponge with one abrasive face is normally use to clean pans, but it's also very useful for scrubbing fruit or vegetables that are not going to be peeled like courgettes or potatoes.
If you intend to buy:Keep one exclusively for this. Never use it for washing up, as it must not come into contact with soap or cleaning products.
Serrated knifeUnlike a classic knife, which is ground to produce a fine cutting edge to the blade, a serrated knife has teeth like a saw.
This kind of knife doesn't need sharpening, and cuts certain foods, bread and cakes for instance, more easily than a normal knife.
If you intend to buy:There's no need to get an expensive one, just choose one which is stainless and has a plastic handle, as this is easy to clean.
Short-handled brushThis is a small hand brush with very fine bristles, used for gently brushing the dough during bread making, to remove excess flour. Very useful, indispensable even, for bread recipes where the soft dough has a high water content, like French baguettes.
If you intend to buy:If possible buy it in a professional cookware shop.
SieveA sieve is a fine strainer, which can be used to filter a preparation thoroughly (a blackcurrant coulis for example), but also for solids to make them smoother (potato purée for example).
If you intend to buy:These are avalable in the classic round form with a handle, or flat for thicker preparations.
Choose the form in stainless steel.
Silcon baking matSometimes using a nonstick baking sheet is not enough when cooking items that stick well, such as macarons or coconut tuiles for example.
In this case it's possible to line the sheet with cooking parchment,but one can also use a silicone baking mat which is a flexible sheet with a silicone coating, more non-stick than any baking sheet. Nothing sticks to it, and above all can be reused after washing.
If you intend to buy:Get one the size of your oven for the most efficient use.
SkimmerUsed for removing the froth that forms on top of some liquids during cooking like soups, stock, jams, etc.
Sometimes it's used for removing something from liquid, like vegetables in water for example, but this is not the ideal tool, it's better to use an araignée (spider).
If you intend to buy:Get a large stainless one.
StrainerAlso called a "sieve", circular in shape and available in different gauges (size of holes). Very useful for straining something liquid or sieving a powder, like for example a raspberries coulis to extract all the seeds, or for sieving flour.
If you intend to buy:Get a fully stainless one, with a plastic or stainless handle.
Tart rings, moulds or tinsFor cooking tarts and tartlets, you can use classic moulds or tins (left photo), or rings (right photo) which are moulds with no base that are placed on a non-stick baking sheet for cooking. This is what pastry chefs use, because with no base, tart cook faster and more evenly, and it's easier to remove them from the ring.
If you intend to buy:Use tins (better heat diffusion), preferably non-stick (easier to turn out). Rings should be stainless steel.
Vegetable millVegetable mills have been around for a long time, and are fairly simple: a revolving plate forces the vegetables (or fruits) through a grill plate (the size of holes varies).
Of course it takes a bit of effort and elbow grease, but unlike a blender - which pulverises everything - a vegetable mill acts as a sort of filter. It can produce very smooth high-quality soups and purées as it excludes everything that won't pass through the grill (seeds, pips, leaves, etc.).
If you intend to buy:Choose a robust model in stainless steel that won't rust after washing (avoid the plastic ones).
Wire rackMainly used for leaving items to cool (cakes, tarts, etc.), so that air can circulate around them, particularly underneath.
Generally metal utensils, rectangular or round as in the photo.
If you intend to buy:Buy a large one, preferably stainless steel.
You are welcome, if you wish, to comment on this page: why you like it or not, what you have changed, what results it gave, point out a mistake or omission, etc. You can also ask a question. I answer all questions (in a broken English, sorry) unless someone else does it before me.
Please feel free to say what you think, I'm always very interested in your opinion. Your comment will appear on line with the page, so please write in standard readable English, not SIM or only in CAPITALS, otherwise your comment may be rejected.
Please look at advice for submitting a comment or image (what you should or should not do). By the way, don't type your e-mail address in the comment, otherwise you might be spammed.