Kitchen Equipment Secrets

Paring Knife

Peeling a tomato is easy work with a good paring knife. (Spring lamb with tomato recipe below) hide caption

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Kitchenware stores are the DVD shops of the foodie set — an enticing buffet of copper and stainless steel, ceramic and glass, and do-it-all machines with more blades than a lawnmower factory.

About Bryan Miller

Bryan Miller, author of 10 books about food and wine and a former restaurant critic for The New York Times, is a writer based in New York City.

For cookware nuts like me, these stores are like Christmas every day. I can never get enough — from attractive double boilers and giant lobster steamers to the latest inanities like radish brushes and abalone ticklers. But, as I said, I am a fanatic. Even if I can't use it, I can hang it on the wall as a conversation piece.

Paradoxically, when home cooks ask my advice about kitchen equipment, I counsel them that less is more. All they really need, I say, are six basic tools in order to cook well. Here's a rundown:

8" Chef's Knife: Like a loyal dog, a quality chef's knife is a cook's best friend — and it will last far longer. It's not cheap — $70 to $100 for top of the line — but it does everything from carving and slicing meat to mincing ginger and garlic. Get one with a comfortable handle and a blade that is composed of carbon/stainless steel — it holds its edge and will not rust. Along with the knife, purchase a sharpening steel (a sword shaped steel rod) and run the knife over it every time you take it out — this brings back the edge.

Still Hungry?

3-4" Paring Knife: This little dynamo has many uses, like coring and peeling fruit, dicing vegetables, mincing garlic, opening letters (just kidding; never use a good knife for office chores). Again, buy a well-made one, which will cost about $20, and use the sharpening steel with every use.

10" Non-Stick Sauté Pan: You will use this more than any other pot or pan in the kitchen — for sautéing meat and fish, cooking egg dishes, making sauces, searing hamburgers and much more. A sauté pan is slope sided and relatively deep (unlike a skillet, which is shallow and often comes with a lid). Buy a pan that has a stainless steel exterior (easy to clean) and an aluminum or copper center for fast heat conduction ($50 to $80). Go with the non-stick cooking surface — stainless steel looks great but food sticks to it.

13" Cast-Iron Skillet: Versatile, low maintenance and sturdy as a sequoia, this pan serves nicely as your large sauté pan. (It is always advisable to buy something larger than you might need.) You can't beat cast iron for blackening meat, poultry or fish — the pan becomes roaring hot and stays that way. Despite warnings to the contrary, cast iron requires no special treatment — just wipe clean and dry well to prevent rusting. This should run you less than $30. Or check out tag sales: I found one for $3.

6-8 Quart Pot: You will need a roomy, deep pot for making large batches of sauce, boiling pasta, steaming large quantities of vegetables, boiling lobsters, making soups and so on. Stainless steel and aluminum (much cheaper) are best. Good pots cost $50 to $100.

6-8 Quart Dutch Oven: This large casserole with its tight-fitting lid is used both on the stovetop and in the oven for roasting, making stews and braising. You can get one made of inexpensive cast iron, moderately priced stainless steel or expensive enameled cast iron. Prices range from $30 to $300. The inexpensive cast-iron pan does everything its costly cousin can do, if you don't mind the chuck wagon imagery.

If you need to add a gadget or a helpful machine of some sort, No. 7 would be a food processor. It makes easy work of pureeing, chopping, slicing and kneading bread dough. Get one with a large work bowl.

Here's a springtime recipe that will put a few knifes and pans to work.

Lamb Medallions with Tomatoes and Basil

2 skinless, boneless loins of lamb, about 1 ½ lbs.

4 ripe plum tomatoes, about 3/4 lbs.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

12 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 tablespoons butter

4 peeled garlic cloves

4 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons chopped shallots

1/2 cup water

1. Cut the lamb into 12 pieces of equal size.

2. Remove the skin and seeds of the tomatoes and cut them into 1/4-inch chunks. There should be about 1 ½ cups.

3. Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in medium sauté pan and add the chopped garlic. Cook briefly but do not brown. Add the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes. Keep warm.

4. Sprinkle the lamb with cumin, salt and pepper.

5. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil with 1 tablespoon butter in cast-iron skillet that can hold the lamb pieces in one layer. Add garlic, cloves and thyme. Over high heat, cook the lamb turning several times to brown all over. Continue cooking for about four minutes for rare. Remove the lamb to a platter and keep warm.

6. Add the shallots to the pan and cook briefly, stirring until wilted. Add the water. Bring to a boil, reduced medium heat, and cook for 1 minute. Swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and any juices that have accumulated around the lamb. Blend well. Taste for seasoning. Keep warm.

7. Divide the tomato sauce equally on 4 plates. Place three lamb medallions over the sauce. Spread some shallot sauce over the lamb.

Yield: Four to six servings.

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