What to give a serious food & wine person for the holidays is always difficult. Set in their ways, craving simplicity while embracing creativity, the pricey flash-in-the-pan gadgets will probably be smiled upon–and then ignored. And the kitchen is already filled with well-used basics. Let’s put it this way: Unless you KNOW, any addition to the kitchen over $100 the cook is going to want to pick out his or her-selves. And nothing that plugs in! Just like you wouldn’t buy somebody else’s kids presents that need batteries, don’t buy similar gadgets for cooks. Here are five simple, easy-to-find implements dedicated cooks know and everyone will appreciate or grow to love. And none of them will break the bank!
CARBON STEEL FRY PAN Love it or hate it, everybody’s got Cast Iron, it lasts forever, and has undergone surges and wanes in trendiness over the past 5 decades. If I read another ‘Care and Feeding of your Cast Iron’ article, I will have a coronary. But do you have carbon-steel pans? These BOH workhorses are just another version of almost the same material just treated a little differently at the mill and stamped out instead of cast. The rust is still there and the beautiful patina is still there, just without the porosity of cast iron. These are so fun to play with! They get hot fast, cool down fast, and after only a couple uses, wipe clean with a paper towel. Available at any restaurant-supply house, Smart & Final and some versions at Mexican mercados, buy the thickest steel you can find. The supply houses will generally have the thicker versions, Smart & Final’s offering is a bit thin. The Mexican versions are usually oval and lower-sided–sometimes with two handles. I have all three, NONE of them cost over 10 bucks, and use them CONSTANTLY. They season INSTANTLY, are light weight and almost *disposable* in value. A serious cook will always appreciate another, and individuals who have not been introduced to this pan will find them reaching for it over and over.
COMMERCIAL PIE PAN Who needs a pie-pan, right? YOU DO!* I bought my first one FOR its intended use, used it ONCE for that reason, it sat for a long while, then I started cooking stuff in it, and now it gets put in service several times a week for literally EVERYTHING. Again, get the heaviest aluminum you can find. Larger resty-supply houses will always have them, I’ve seen smaller places not carry them. Smart & Final has a very nice version, and again: about 10 bucks! Perfect depth and size for roasting a chicken or any parts of a chicken, pork tenderloin and shallow pot roast, or poaching fish. I use it for a drip pan, to broil bacon, and to bake baby potatoes. Easy to tent with tin-foil, doesn’t warp and easy to clean. Go ahead: make a pie in it, I won’t tell.
FORSCHNER ROSEWOOD There’s two kinds of cooks in the world: Those who own Forschners and will welcome additional pieces–or even duplicates–and those who have spent their whole life hacking away with fairly expensive department store Henckels and Wusthoffs, Gerbers, Tramontias and Cutcos they have been TOLD are quality cutlery and never spent 5 minutes with the cheapest and simplest version of a professional knife in the world. Yes, they are stamped. No, they are not full-tang, but the moment you hold the timeless handle and wield the polished, full-taper blade into some prep, you will know why so many chefs love these knives. And the rosewood is a nice touch. More ‘gifty’ than the NSF versions. That knife-shop in the mall has them, and recently CHOP RESTAURANT SUPPLY opened in San Luis Obispo, and he said demand was so high, he has brought in nearly the entire line of rosewood IN STOCK. From the $11 paring knife (you can’t own too many) up to an $80 10″ chef’s or cimeter, these things are just stupid bang-for-the-buck. I have bought probably twenty 5″ utility’s in my life as gifts. 6″ chef’s is another one they probably won’t have in their bag. And who doesn’t want a 7″ boner?
FISH SPATULA – FLAT WHISK – COOKIE SPATULA I’m not saying none of us have one, but something I often can’t find in people’s kitchens is a utensil from this *flat* category. I use all three CONSTANTLY, and any of these would make a great stocking stuffer for your cook. I only own one brand of whisk: BEST. Fish spatulas come in many styles, but avoid the thick/inflexible ones. (The Lamson-Sharp one is just dumb). I also own a couple made with wires, which blends the line between flat-whisk and fish-spatula terribly. The cookie spatula typically takes a little searching. A micro-thin, super-flexible blade goes under anything, gently. I couldn’t live without it.
TINY BOWLS Haha we all complain about how many small bowls we have, but never have enough. That half-onion goes in the SS one, the half- lemons and garlic cloves in the ceramic ones, the glass ones become salt-wells and clarified butter servers. While mise en place for me typically becomes a series of piles on the cutting board, often tiny bowls come to the rescue.
There you go! Holiday kitchen-shopping SOLVED! If none of this works for the gourmet in your life, then I suggest restaurant reservations!
*This list is intended for gift suggestions for the gourmets in your life, NOT as a shopping list to go out and buy yourself stuff.