(Listed in alphabetical order.)
Pasta Machines | Pastry Bag | Pastry Blender | Pastry Brush | Pastry Cloth | Pastry Wheel/Rolling Wheel Cutter | Peel/Pizza Peel/Baker’s Peel | Peeler | Pepper Mill/Pepper Grinder | Pestle & Mortar | Pie Weights | Pitter/Stoners | Potato Masher | Ricer | Rolling Pin | Rotary Beater | Salad Spinner | Salamander | Scales | Scissors/Kitchen Shears | Sieve/Strainer | Skewer | Skimmer | Spatulas/Turners | Spoons | Steamer
Two basic types of pasta machines exist and which one you choose depends largely on the shape of homemade pasta you’re making.
- Roller-type machines can only produce flat noodles such as lasagne, tagliatelle, fettuccine, linguine and pappardelle. First, the pasta dough is feed between smooth rollers at increasingly thinner settings until the desired thickness is reached. Using the proper cutting attachment for the width of pasta you want, feed the strip of pasta through the machine for the last time and cut to the required length.
- Extruder machines force dough through dies to produce solid or hollow-shapes such as macaroni, rigatoni, spaghetti, vermicelli and fusilli. Most electric versions will mix, knead and roll the dough before extraction although earlier models did not achieve the right dough consistency to properly extract.
Both are available in hand-cranked or electric versions. Spreading the pasta out to dry for at least 15 minutes before cooking will help prevent sticking.
A cone-shaped bag used for piping food out the smaller end usually through a fitted decorative tip into an assortment of designs. Commonly used for decorative frostings on cakes although any soft food, such as sauces, fillings, mashed potatoes, whipped cream, and more, can be squeezed through to fill foods, form shapes or create a decorative finish. Reusable bags in various sizes and materials including plastic or cloth-lined, can be purchased or they can be made from parchment or wax paper.
A handheld wire tool for cutting cold fats such as butter or shortening into tiny pieces and evenly distributing them throughout dry ingredients without warming them resulting in flaky pastry. The 5 or 6 parallel U-shaped wires attached to a each end of a handle can be rigid or flexible. Similar results can also be achieved with a fork or two knives or rubbing the flour between your clean, dry fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Another use for a pastry blender is to break up ground beef into smaller pieces after browning for easier eating.
Similar to a small paintbrush except with softer bristles, a pastry brush can be used to apply glazes, egg washes, sauces or marinades. Bristles can be nylon (long lasting and durable but stiff and can melt), natural (more pliable, softer and holds more liquid), goose feathers (great for applying thin liquids like egg glazes) or heat resistant silicon (delicate, odour and heat resistant bristles that won’t shed or lose their shape plus dishwasher safe). Ideally bristles should be 1 to 1 ½ inches wide and securely fastened. To prolong the life of traditional bristles, gently but thoroughly rub dishwashing liquid between the bristles, paying special attention to the base after every use. Rinse under warm water and allow to dry before storing. They can be expensive so substitute a new paint brush but use carefully on delicate foods.
A large, lightweight canvas cloth, when rubbed with flour, creates a non-stick surface to roll-out pastry or pizza dough. It uses very little additional flour which can toughen pastry. Works in the same way as marble or special wood dough boards. Clean thoroughly before storing to remove all fat residues which can taint the flavour of future doughs.
A sharp, circular disk attached to a handle used to cut dough, pastry, pasta and other foods. Plain edge cutters come in smaller sizes to mark and cut pastry or cookie dough and larger sizes for cutting pizza. Fluted pastry wheels make a decorative design when they cut and are sometimes called jagging wheels or pastry jaggers.
A long-handled, flat, paddle shaped board used by professional pizza bakers to transport the pizza to and from the hot, generally stone, baking surface. Hardwood is generally preferable to metal ones. Ranging in size from 10 inch to 2 feet in diameter, choose one that easily fits inside your oven, is slightly larger than the largest pizza you plan to make and that you can freely manoeuvre inside your kitchen. It takes practice to perfect the jerky movements required but the crusts are worth it.
Removing a thin strip from the surface of fruit, vegetable, chocolate or hard cheeses could not be easier than with a peeler. Choose between a traditional swivel peeler which uses more of a wrist movement or a Y-shaped, also called a harp-shaped peeler, which requires more arm movement. A swivel blade will help follow the contours of food. It is ideal for peeling delicate skins such as carrots and potatoes, shaving Parmesan cheese or chocolate, removing citrus zest in strips and de-stringing celery. A sharp good-quality blade will also cut thick-skinned produce such as ginger and root vegetables as well as cutting some vegetables such as zucchini and cucumbers into ribbons.
Pepper mills come in all shapes, styles, sizes and materials such as wood, metal, plastic or ceramic. By twisting it, just the right amounts of whole peppercorns are ground to add a fresh pepper taste to dishes. Fill below capacity to give them room to grind. Some allow be adjusted to produce fine or coarse grinds. Electronic ones are also available and some can be adjusted to change the grind from fine to coarse.
[Mexico: molcajete (mortar) y tejolete (pestle)]
A pestle is a handheld rod with a rounded end which is used to crush spices, herbs and other foods in a bowl called a mortar. By grind and pulverizing foods to the desired consistency, it releases their rich aromas. Both pieces are generally made out of the same material – marble, hardwood, porcelain, stoneware or traditionally volcanic rock called basalt in Mexico. A solid, heavy one does the job best but if unavailable, crush ingredients on a chopping board using the preferably rounded end of a rolling pin or other large hard utensil such as a wooden spoon or knife handle.
Specially designed, for the process called blind baking, to prevent pie and tart shells blistering and shrinking during baking. Poured over foil-lined unbaked pie crusts, the small, lightweight, ceramic pie weight balls heat quickly and evenly and then are removed after the shell is partially cooked. If unavailable, beans, rice, rock salt or virtually any small, heatproof item can be used to weight the crust down.
Pitters discard pits and sometimes stems while leaving the fruit intact. Some operate like a hole punch whereby squeezing the handle forces a prong through the cherry or olive poking out the pit and leaving the fruit whole. Others mechanisms have hoppers, automatic feed trays and spring-loaded plungers to speed up the process. If unavailable, use a small, sharp knife.
Mashers are not just for potatoes but also for beans, vegetables and sauces such as applesauce and guacamole. There are several different shapes and sizes with two types of heads: a squiggly metal one or a round one with rows of small holes. Perforated heads tend to make smoother mashes while squiggly heads will result in chunkier mashes. Look for heavy, strong mashers with comfortable handles. Long ones would allow you to reach deep into pots.
Easier and faster than a knife.
While its name may confuse, a ricer produces perfectly creamy, lump-free potatoes. With foot-long handles, the ricer uses viselike pressure to force the boiled potatoes through the sieved bottom of its 3- to 4-inch cylinder or V-shaped bucket. The resulting fine pellets or grains of potato somewhat resemble rice, hence the name “ricer.” Ricers can be used to finely process other root vegetables as well as apples and chestnuts.
A long cyclical tube mainly used to spread out dough and sweet mixtures such as cookies and crusts. They also come in handy for crushing crackers, bread crumbs or cookies, or flattening meats such as chicken breasts, and the ends can even be used as a pestle in a pinch. Although available in a variety of materials including marble, glass and porcelain; the preference is wood. Heavier ones will produce smoother doughs with less effort due to their weight and balance. Some are hollow so they can be filled with ice or ice water – particularly helpful to keep delicate pastry dough cool.
- American or bakers’ rolling pins have sturdy handles anchored to a steel rod running through the centre tube.
- A straight French rolling pin is a solid piece of hardwood without handles.
- Tapered rolling pins are one piece as well which is wider in the centre – ideal for rolling circles.
If you don’t have one and need one for a recipe, try using a clean wine bottle instead.
An old fashioned mechanism used to aerate mixtures. Two beaters powered by a hand operated gear-drive wheel and held in place by grasping the handle with the other hand. A lot of professionals say to hang it on the wall.
See also whisk.
Easy to wash, dry and store all types of lettuce, salad greens, herbs, etc. Spinners have an outer bowl, inner perforated bowl and lid with a dial or pull-cord spinning mechanism to force moisture off food by centrifugal force.
To use, first, soak ingredients in a bowl or outer bowl with several changes of cold water and gently agitate it to loosen grit. Discard the water and place it in the inner bowl. Attach the lid, and spin several times to dry using centrifugal force – it should take just seconds. Blot with paper towels if needed and use immediately or store in the spinner to keep leaves crisp and fresh for days. If you don’t have a spinner, wrap cleaned leaves in paper towels to dry.
A small broiler used primarily in professional kitchens to quickly brown the tops of dishes.
To accurately weigh ingredients for consistent baking and to estimate cooking times for meats.
- Spring scales measure the depression caused by placing food on the pan or bowl. Their accuracy can be affected by a weakened spring.
- Balance scales can have two pans with food on one end and weights added to the other pan or weights are drawn along a bar until both sides are equal and balanced.
- Electrical scales use a strain-gauge weight sensing system recording the weight on a LCD display. Additional features include switching from metric to imperial and resting to zero as ingredients are added which can be very helpful.
Scissors / Kitchen Shears (See also poultry shears.)
In the kitchen, scissors can be used for opening packaging as well as a few smaller kitchen tasks such as snipping herbs, cutting butcher’s twine, trimming green beans, shearing parchment paper or possibly chopping bacon. Choose sturdy, good quality scissors with sharp blades.
Kitchen shears, unlike regular scissors, are specifically designed for kitchen tasks. They can be used instead of knives for some jobs such as snipping herbs, trimming fat from meat, slicing pizza, and chopping anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes and spring onions. Proper kitchen shears, called poultry shears, can cut up cartilage and small bones in a whole chicken and trim seafood and fins from whole fish. Blades are either serrated or straight-edged and should be made of stainless steel. Moulded, slip-proof grips allow for comfort and better gripping.
A kitchen tool used to strain liquids or semi-liquids, or sift dry ingredients. The fineness of the mesh or size of the perforated holes affects its ability to trap small particles, separate liquid from solids and determines the coarseness of the resulting food.
- A sifter generally has with a rotary crank or other mechanism to force dry ingredients through the mesh bottom.
- A strainer or sieve come in several sizes, shapes, mesh densities or perforated holes and varieties for tasks such as draining pasta; straining liquids for stocks, sauces and fresh juices; turning soft, cooked foods into purees; removing lumps from flour in place of a flour sifter; and dusting desserts with icing powder / confectioners’ sugar. They can be made of stainless steel, tinned steel, aluminium, nylon and cloth. A sieve or strainer made out of a kind of woollen cloth is also called a tamis or tammy cloth. Shapes vary from bowl-shape to flat bottom to drum-shaped. Other features include long handles, heat-resistant handles, frames with a hook to rest on the lip of a bowl or pot, and interchangeable mesh densities. A medium mesh has holes approximately 1/16 inch in size used for straining larger size foods such as pasta, vegetables, and hearty sauces. A fine mesh is approximately 1/32 for draining lighter fluids and retaining particles such as fruit seeds. A superfine sieve will appear to have no holes due to their tiny size and are useful for very clear liquids such as straining tea or dusting powders on baked goods. An ideal all-purpose sieve is medium-sized and bowl-shaped with a stainless steel mesh, sturdy frame, fairly long handle and a curved hook.
- A funnel shaped conical sieve, often called a Chinois, is typically used to separate items such as seeds, skins or lumpy particles to create a very clear liquid for stocks, soups, sauces and vegetable or fruit juices. A Chinois has either a fine steel mesh or a perforated steel cone with many tiny holes and often comes with a wooden pestle to aid in pressing ingredients through the mesh or holes. Some include a stand to hold it while ingredients are filtered. The fine mesh will separate the smallest of impurities while ones with perforated holes will allow more impurities to enter the strained liquid.
To aid in straining it is often useful to use the pestle provided with the strainer or the back of a spoon. A stainless steel sieve can go in the dishwasher but you may need to use a brush to clean around the inside edge.
A long, thin, pointed rod used to hold meat in place during cooking or pierce foods to test for doneness or for visually striking presentation. Skewers vary in design ranging from wooden bamboo sticks to elaborate silver-handled serving skewers and range in size from 6 inches to 3 feet.
Wooden skewers used for cooking should be soaked in cold water for at least 30 minutes first to prevent burning on the grill or broiler and discarded after use.
Flat, square or double pronged ones hold ingredients more securely especially when turning during grilling. To avoid food sticking to the grate purchase ones with a holder or rest the ends of the skewer on two bricks to suspend them above the grate while still being fully exposed to the heat. If you grill often, consider investing in reusable, flat metal skewers – lightly rubbing with vegetable oil before threading food allows for easy removal once cooked. Be sure to cut kebab ingredients into same-sized pieces for even cooking.
A slightly cupped long-handled spoon with either a number of perforated holes in the disk base or shallow bowl-shaped wire mesh used primarily to strain and drain. It removes unwanted surface fat or foam from soups and broths, and impurities from oil or lumps from sauces. Look for sturdy construction to lift heavier foods out of hot liquids, plenty of holes to ensure liquid stays behind and long-handles to keep you away from the heat.
Flexible spatulas are ideal for mixing, folding, stirring and even cooking. Besides rubber, flexible spatulas come in heat-resistant silicone which can be used in the same way as metal or wooden spatulas but won’t scratch non-stick surfaces. A wide-paddle blade is perfect for gently folding soufflés, sponge cake batter, and meringues by pushing and lifting ingredients, and gently cutting through airy mixtures. The flexible paddle’s rounded edges are superb for scrapping the last remnants of batter or sauce from containers.
Depending on the use consider gently scooped ones for better lifting, dark coloured heads which berries or tomato sauce won’t easily stain, and stiffer, long-handled versions. Larger heads are good for folding while smaller ones can clean out tight lipped jars. Ones with removable heads and are head-resistant can be placed in the dishwasher but most should be washed by hand.
Metal or Nylon Spatulas
A spatula can be used for lifting, removing or turning food. An offset spatula is similar to a normal one with a stiff metal blade except the blade bends up where it meets the handle. This allows you to get into tight spots without disturbing other items such as a pancake on a crowded griddle. The best size and shape for an offset spatula depends on the task and some have holes or slots to allow liquids or fats to drain off when items are lifted.
Four popular sizes and shapes are: a long (14 inches) and sturdy one, a wedge-shaped one, a small and square one, and a small narrow one. A long, sturdy one, also called a palette knife, can be used for smoothing and spreading batter or frosting and lifting cookies or even using two to transfer a cake from a cooling rack to a plate. A wedge-shaped offset spatula has traditionally been used for serving cake or pie pieces but it can just as easily serve pizza. A small squarish one can cut squares in the pan as well as lifting them out. The small narrow spatula spreads a cake’s side and sauces on sandwiches.
A solid wooden utensil with a wide, flat or slightly scooped blade. Edges can be square for fitting in corners of pots or curved for use in woks. Primarily used in place of a wooden spoon to stir and scrap the sides of pots but can also be used to turn foods.
Spoons are indispensable in any kitchen for cooking or serving and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Most are made out of wood, metal, nylon or plastic and their length varies from approximately 11” to 21” for ease of use. If using for cooking, choose one comfortable to hold with a long handle in heat-resistant material that won’t scratch your nonstick pots and pans.
Choose the shape depending on the task such as a flat-edged spoon for reaching into the corners of pans and increased area the spoon touches while stirring.
- Solid spoons come in all shapes and sizes for multiple purposes including stirring, mixing and serving.
- Slotted spoons containing slots or perforated holes in the base of the cup to enable foods to be lifted out of fluids with any excess liquid draining out the holes.
- Ladles and portion servers are used for serving soups, stews, creamed dishes, sauces, gravies and other liquids. Measuring serving spoons that are volume-standardized are labelled “fl oz” and are more accurate since they measure volume and not weight.
- A shamogi or shamoji is a traditional Japanese spoon or paddle to toss and serve rice. Typically made of wood or bamboo.
- Wooden spoons are inexpensive, heat resistant and won’t scratch nonstick pots and pans. They come flat, angled, bowled, and round-edged, in various sizes. The wood’s material is perfect for stirring hot sauces, sturdy for smashing aromatic ingredients to release their aromas and flavours, and its rough surface helps cut air into butter to produce a light and fluffy batter when creaming butter and sugar. The spoon’s curved bowl is perfect for smearing creamed dough against the sides of the bowl as you mix and its rounded edge is gentle on ingredients and pans. Since wood tends to absorb flavours, have one for sweets and another for savoury dishes. Ones with smooth edges tend not to crack or splinter.
Steamers can be a plastic, metal or bamboo container that sit above a suitable steam source or a small appliance for steaming vegetables, meat, fish or other foods that need the gentle cooking method of steaming. Steamed foods retain more nutrients and have a fresher flavour than foods that are boiled or fried with no added fat.
Containers can be a wire basket or a basket with a perforated base which are specifically designed to fit perfectly inside another pot; generally with the top inch or two resting above the top rim of the other pot like a double boiler. Another variety is a basket that fits entirely inside another pot or pan using legs to sit above boiling hot liquid. For instance, a universal steamer has perforated holes, flaps that fold out and a centre post sometimes with a little loop to help remove the basket from the pan. Some containers are specially designed for specific foods such as long, narrow steamer baskets for asparagus. In a pinch, a heatproof plate on a wire rack inside a pot or even a colander on a pot or pan will work.
The traditional way to steam is a bamboo set with two stackable steamers and one plaited lid which can be used in a pan or wok. Bamboo is an ideal material as it absorbs any moisture that condenses on the cover. Some people prefer bamboo steamers since wood inhibits water condensation and they can be stacked so more than one dish cooks simultaneously. Choose ones without a metal lining or metal racks as these allow condensation to build which can lead to soggy food. A bamboo steamer works best in a wok.
If using in a wok, place a bamboo steamer with lid, inside a wok so it sits a few centimetres above boiling water. Or, if you are using a multi-tiered metal steamer instead, put a kitchen towel under the lid to prevent moisture from dripping back onto the food. Stores selling woks usually have perforated metal disks which sit above the water level inside a wok and can be used instead of a single-tiered steamer. You can put wrapped parcels directly on the steamer rack or in the case of unwrapped food, on a plate set over the rack. Cover the wok with a large domed lid and keep the water level topped up and at a gentle simmer during steaming.
Microwave steamers are also available for food including rice.