All Clad cookware makes me swoon as much as cheap cooking gadgets found at Asian markets and thrift shops. I love the high and low-brow as well as the in between. You don’t have to spend a ton on cooking equipment to cook well. In fact, the eight tools highlighted below are inexpensive and they can elevate your cooking quite a bit.
Here’s a round-up of metal kitchen tools that I reach for often. (I chose metal as a way to group things and hope to progress to plastic, wood, and the like.) You can find these handy kitchen helpers at Asian markets, houseware shops, mainstream retailers (even Target!) and online too.
I have a stainless steel steamer as well as bamboo steamer trays. With the bamboo ones, I rig up a pan for steaming using a set of perforated pizza pans. This is one in a threesome and is good for small to medium steamer trays. Set it atop a pot and put your bamboo steamer on the pizza pan.
You won’t have to worry about flames burning the bamboo or steam escaping from below the steamer tray. The pizza pan is like a perforated lid. On occasion, I use the pans for reheating pizza too.
Quarter sheet pans are great as prep trays, cooling and draining fried morsels, and baking small quantities of food. I got several about a year ago at Surfas in Culver City and use them as much as I do regular half-sheet baking pans. You don’t have to use much parchment paper or foil when cooking with these smaller baking sheets. They’re sturdy and well sized. I can separately roast potatoes on one and asparagus on anoother on the same rack in the oven. There are regular and perforated ones, which are terrific for food to a crisp.
This past year I also fell for small roasting/broiler racks (above, right). Costing less than $6 on Amazon, they were purchased to fit inside the quarter-sheet pans but work well for large roasting pans and baking sheets too. The clever design lets you choose the amount of elevation; just flip. The racks are also easy to clean -- no grids, corners or folding parts to deal with. They’ve been so useful in my kitchen that I bought some for my mom and stylist Karen Shinto – two people with whom I share kitchen tool tips.
I never thought I’d buy one of these vertical roasters but I did for roasting Peking duck, a story and recipe I wrote for the Los Angeles Times. It works extremely well to mimic the roasting conditions of professional Chinese duck roasters. The skin crisps and browns and the fat melts downward. I’ve roasted chickens on the roaster too but it’s my go-to tool for roast duck.
Japanese markets and dollarish stores like Daiso are where I find these lightweight stovetop grills.
I started using the foldable grills for tofu and it worked like a charm. Yes, you can do some of thatkind of light grilling in a toaster oven but there’s something wonderful about direct exposure to the flame. This one fits right over the griddle burner on my new stove, which I suppose means I found a use for that burner.
For DIY dumpling making, take an Asian-Latin approach. A good tortilla press will instantaneously made you a good Asian dumpling maker. I stressed over rolling out basic dumpling wrappers by hand until I realized that I could leap frog a tiny bit – and cut down on the work by half – by pressing the dough first in a tortilla press. The aluminum ones are not too heavy so they won’t smash your dough too much. A tortilla press buying guide was posted on Asian Dumpling Tips.
There’s barely a week that I don’t reach for this scum skimmer. It’s sold at Asian markets and housewhare shops, as well as online. The fine mesh efficiently captures a raft of scum from a bubbling pot of broth. It’s does a decent job with fat that’s coagulated too. Shallow fine mesh skimmers like this work very well.
Asian vertical handled strainers are used by professional and home cooks alike for reheating or cooking noodles for individual bowls of pho, ramen, etc. You can dunk, shake and dump the noodles into bowls and get them set up for the toppings and broth.
Aside from making Asian noodle soup, the strainer is also fabulous for blanching small amounts of vegetables in a pot of water. For example, if I need to parboil green beans, carrots and pasta, I use the vertical strainer for each vegetable. The pot is still full of boiling hot water for the pasta, which I then boil as usual and drain the pasta in a colander. Strainers come with mesh, perforated metal, or wire. Match the size to your needs. I have medium and large.
I love these small tongs, which I call “tiny tongs” because they measure only about 7 inches long. This fall, I was invited to cook with corporate R&D chefs at a major food manufacturing company. When I was looking for tongs, all they had were these:
The tongs, which cost little though you typically have to order a dozen or so to get a deal, are great for grabbing small pieces of food, turning delicate foods over, and plating. Rosle makes gorgeous surgical-like tongs for chefs but Vollrath’s tiny tongs (mine are model 47007 but these look the same) are the poor man’s clever answer.
If you have information to add or favorite tools to share, don’t hold back. These cheap and cheery tools make great gifts to your friends and yourself. I often get the holidays going with a little shopping for myself.
More posts on metal kitchen gadgets: