Back in the 1980’s, I used to watch The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith, on PBS quite often. I guess I was a fan. One of his frequent quotes has stayed with me over the years: “Nothing in your house is more important to your good health, and to the health of your family, than good cooking equipment.” I have reproduced his advice on cooking equipment here, offered some of my own suggestions, and have paraphrased some of his basic recipes and tips below.
From “The Frugal Gourmet” by Jeff Smith, 1984 by William Morrow and Co., Inc.; New York, NY:
“There are more phony items on the market in the knife department than in any other field, I am sure. Choose knives that feel good to your hand and that will not tire you while you work. How do you tell? Does the handle feel good in your hand? Do your fingers bang on the counter when you are trying to cut with the knife? Is the knife made of stainless steel, so that it can go into the dishwasher but is so hard that it can never be sharpened properly or hold an edge? I never buy stainless steel knives. Never!* Choose good high carbon steel so that you can sharpen them…and never put then in your dishwasher. I use the following constantly:
- 10-inch chef’s knife
- Boning knife
- Paring knives
- Long slicing knife
- Sharpening steel
“Keep your knives very sharp. A dull knife will force you to work too hard, and it will slip and cut you. Better to have a very sharp knife that will work for you with little effort. Use your sharpening steel often, and carefully.”
* Jeff offers the above advice to avoid stainless knives. In the early 1990’s, I bought a 10- inch chef’s knife made by the R. H. Forschner company, made of forged Victorinox Rostfrie(TM) stainless steel from the makers of the Swiss Army knife. Since this stainless is made specifically for use in knives, it is hard enough to keep an edge, and regains its razor edge with a minimum of steeling. In the 15+ years I’ve had the knife, I have had to use a stone to sharpen it precisely once, and I can still shave hair off my arm with it. (Perhaps not the best test for sharpness, but graphic, don’t you think?) I paid around $20.00 for the knife in 1991, and I found the same knife offered recently at Chefknivestogo.com for $26.95; still a “frugal” deal – Jeff Smith would be pleased. The R. H. Forschner Company has been in business since 1855; I would recommend this brand to anyone. And NEVER put them in the dishwasher!
Pots and Pans
From “The Frugal Gourmet” :
“Second only to the knife, your pans are most important. Through the years I have found many charming and intelligent persons who felt they were poor cooks because they kept burning things, or had lumpy sauces, or could not make a good omelet or crepe. The problem was with the pan, not with the person.
“Choose Good Equipment. I like to deal with a restaurant supply house for many things. The following hints will help you with your necessary purchases.
- 1. Don’t buy pans with plastic or wooden handles. They mean that you cannot ever put the pan in the oven or under a broiler.
- 2. Buy pans that will be functional for you. Just because a pan looks stylish or up-to-date doesn’t mean that it will help you in your cooking. I am conservative when it comes to good cooking gear. If it has worked for many decades, why change it?
- 3. Aluminum is fine for cooking, but you must keep it clean and you can never store food in it. Copperware is a joy, but the original investment is considerable. Just remember that your copper pans will always be worth more than what you paid…Stainless is fine for small pans and pots, but you must have a heat diffuser under them.* In your time stainless steel is so thin that you will burn everything. And never buy a stainless steel frying pan. The steel is so hard that you cannot cure it; thus everything will stick or burn. I am very fond of cast-iron ware, coated with porcelain enamel – heavy, yes, but it works great.”**
*I have a set of Wolfgang Puck’s Signature Series Bistro Stainless pots and frying pans. They are heavy stainless, but the bottoms are made of aluminum for even heat distribution. There is a problem with sticking if you pour cold oil in the cold pan and then heat it, but this isn’t good practice with any pan. Also, the Puck pans become “cured” to a certain extent with use, and even with repeated washing with soap and water. The bottoms of the pans have small, almost microscopic spiral grooves that provide a smooth cooking surface which comes to have a quasi-non-stick surface over time. (The surface is easily scratched by using the stainless tools that come with the set, however.) Always use wooden or silicone utensils while cooking. When they are new, you should rub a few drops of oil into the Bistro pans and heat them over a high heat; see “Curing and Seasoning Pots and Pans” below.
**I also use these pans at home on an electric stove, which is unfortunately incapable of producing very high heat; this probably aids in their non-stick performance, however. The same shouldn’t be assumed with a good, high and hot gas flame, which of course is the best cooking environment. I would recommend these pots only for experienced cooks because of their propensity for sticking, however they have steel handles, which allow them to be used in the oven, under the broiler, where ever. I don’t hate them.
Recipes and Definitions
Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce)
Basic white sauce made of milk or stock and thickened with a roux of flour and butter; originated in ancient Greece.
- 2 cups milk
- 3 Tbs. onion, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 Tbs. butter
- 4 Tbs flour
- Season with salt and pepper to taste
Bring milk to a simmer. Add onion and bay leaf, simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, then strain. Roux: In sauté pan, melt butter and stir in flour. Stir over heat just until color turns to off-white, about 5 minutes. Stir roux into simmering milk. Continue stirring until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Season to taste.
Beef Stock – may substitute any type of bones
- 3 to 5 Lbs bones
- 3 to 5 Qts water
- 6 to 8 stalks celery
- 4 to 5 carrots
- 2 to 3 onions with peel – adds color to stock
Roast 3 to 5 Lbs. fresh bones in an uncovered pan at 400º for 2 hours – be careful not to blacken bones, they should only be browned. Place roasted bones in stock pot, add 1 quart water for each pound of bones and bring to boil. Reduce to very slow simmer and cook for up to 12 hours. (Do not salt stock – leave seasoning for each specific recipe.) Strain and chill in refrigerator until fat congeals on top. Scrape fat off and store clear stock in fridge or freeze. If you will use the stock in a very few days, leave the fat on top to seal the stock until ready to use.
Plunging food into boiling water for a few minutes, then removing it quickly to cold water to ease processing. This loosens skins on vegetables and fruits, sets the color of a vegetable, or cooks the food partially for later preparation.
Use a HOT pan to rapidly sear the outside of un-floured meats.
A wok is usually employed, but any frying pan can be used. The food is quickly moved around a HOT pan with a small amount of oil.
After browning meats or vegetables, wine or stock is added to the pan over high heat, while the solids left behind from the meats or vegetables is gently loosened with a wooden spoon. The reduced liquid is then added to the recipe.
Meats or fish are rolled in flour before frying or sautéing.
Meats or vegetables are soaked for a time in a flavoring liquid, eg. soy sauce, wine, oil, vinegar, Etc..
A blend of vegetables and herbs sartéed and used to flavor other dishes.
Hunting deer or other game animals out of season. Also, gently cooking fish, meat or eggs in stock or water at just below a simmer. Vinegar or lemon juice is added to set food in shape during cooking.
Boiling a sauce or liquid over high heat until it is reduced in volume, usually by half. This results in a rich concentration of flavoring.
A blend of oil or butter and flour used to thicken sauces and gravies. The fat and flour are mixed together in equal amounts and heated. See recipe here.
From French, meaning “to jump”. Food is placed in hot pan with butter or oil and moved quickly. Similar to Stir Fry.