Food is life. Quite literally, we need it to survive. But it’s more than just sustenance. To many people, eating good food is one of the many precious joys of life. While this pandemic may have deprived you of the joys of eating at your favorite restaurants, it doesn’t mean you have to settle for canned food heated in a microwave every day. With imagination and basic cooking skills, you can go on a culinary adventure without leaving your home. Even if you’ve never cooked before, you can emerge from this quarantine not only a better you, but also a master of the kitchen.
Cooking is one of the most rewarding skills to learn. Not only do you develop an important life skill, you immediately reap the benefits: food you can (hopefully) eat. But the journey of a thousand miles, begins with the first step: having the right tools. Fortunately, with online sites like Carousell, all these tools are within reach. We, in particular, have released our “Level up your home cooking“ collection, a curated list of trusted sellers with quality cooking and baking items.
But don’t go in and start buying everything you see. The last thing you want is to end up with plenty of tools just gathering dust in your kitchen. You need to be systematic. The key is to start with a few basic items and work your way up from there.
With that, here are the items you should start with:
A chef’s knife
You don’t need a knife set when starting out. Almost every kind of knife works, but you can do well with a good chef’s knife. It is the most versatile cooking knife out there. The only things it might have difficulty with are cutting bread because it lacks the serrated edge of a bread knife and spreading butter, because it’s quite big.
Using a chef’s knife, you can already practice the knife work skills that will carry you throughout your entire cooking journey: cutting, slicing, dicing, carving, Of course, you need a decent cutting board too.
Chef’s knives come in many sizes, but 8-inch knives are the most versatile and can deal with almost all types of food preparation. It’s just the perfect size and weight to do both delicate tasks and heavy tasks.
Many people like to start with utility knives because they’re smaller. And though they seem less scary, be careful. Because it’s small, it can’t generate a lot of power which might make you put more force than usual when dealing with a hard cutting or slicing task, putting you at risk of getting injured.
A more appropriate alternative to the chef’s knife would be the santoku knife, which is the Japanese culinary world’s equivalent of a chef’s knife. The santoku knife is similar in function to the chef’s knife in almost every way but is also lighter which helps in making very fine slices. However, because it sacrifices heft, it cannot chop as well as a chef’s knife.
Regardless, whether you choose a chef’s knife or a santoku knife, care for it and use it correctly and it will serve you well for a lifetime.
A knife sharpener
If you’re going to own and use a knife, you need to have a quality knife sharpener. It’s easier to get injured using a dull knife than a sharp knife because of the added effort you put into using one. That’s why a knife sharpener should be included in any kitchen.
A wok with a lid
While synonymous with Chinese cuisine, the wok can do so much more than stir-fried food. Because of its unique shape, it is a Jack-of-all-trades type of cookware. Here are the ways how:
- it can be used for pan frying, deep frying, sauteing, and reducing, like a pan or a skillet
- It can be used for boiling like a pot
- It can be used for steaming like a steamer
From eggs, to stews, to steaks, a good wok can be used to make almost any kind of basic to advanced dish. You might not be able to use it for roasting but you can make most dishes with it and then some. You can use it to cook rice too.
The stove is the cornerstone of most types of cooking so it pays to have one. By using a stove, you gain an understanding of how heat affects food. You also gain an understanding of how cooking using water differs from using oil or fat.
When you progress and gain a better understanding, you’ll also be able to do some of the things you can do with a stove using a rice cooker because they’re basically the same thing: food inside a container being heated from the bottom.
Whether you want to use a gas stove, electric stove, or an induction cooker depends on you. However, note that a gas stove often offers better control of the heat because you literally control the flame. But they can also be dangerous and are even banned in some properties, especially in residential condo buildings.
Many electric stoves and induction cookers already allow you to control the heat more precisely. They’re also portable on top of being safer. Just make sure your cookware is flat-bottomed or else it won’t work on it.
And while you’re shopping for a stove, go for one that already comes with an oven in case you want to start baking too.
Never underestimate the humble microwave. Besides being every college student’s lifeline, it is invaluable in reheating food. If you’re the type who does meal prep so you can save both time, money, and effort, then you absolutely need a microwave. Besides that, there are actually many dishes you can improvise doing in a microwave. Some people have even figured out how to make cakes using just microwaves! Check out the video below for a 10-minute chocolate cake recipe that you can make using a microwave.
If you can, look for a microwave that also has a toaster. That added feature takes the most versatile appliance in your kitchen and just raises it to a whole new level of versatility by letting you enjoy good buttered toast.
A hand mixer
Besides making the task of whisking eggs so much easier, a hand mixer is an important tool for any budding baker. While many tasks can be already be achieved with the whisk, they can be done much more consistently with a hand mixer.
Alternatively, you can also get a stand mixer which is even more convenient, albeit more expensive and less portable. However, if a hand mixer will give you better results than a whisk, then the stand mixer will give you better results than a hand mixer.
And yes, you can use these to make Dalgona coffee (video below).
Once you’ve gotten a good grasp of the basic principles of cooking and baking, you can invest in more specialized and quality-of-life kitchen tools.
Here are a few ideas on what you can get:
- When you have a system in place, you’ll want to have reusable containers where you can label and store ingredients more efficiently in your refrigerator and cupboard.
- A turbo broiler will let you roast and bake many dishes. Unlike a stove, the heat comes from above instead of below.
- If you have access to a balcony or any outdoor area like a garden or backyard, you can invest in a grill that gives a smoky quality to food not found in other cooking methods. You can also consider an electric grill or Korean-style grill for your samgyupsal cravings.
- If you’re ready to start baking, you can get some of these baking basic tools: baking pans, cookie sheets, a rolling pin, measuring cups and spoons (since baking is more precise when it comes to measurements of ingredients), rubber spatula, and a mesh strainer for sifting dry ingredients such as flour.
- Non-stick pans are also a must-have in every kitchen, especially if you want to perfect frying eggs.
Your culinary journey begins
The items mentioned in this article were chosen because they balance both being basic and versatile. That way, you can try a lot of other things. It’s just a matter of making time and finding good ingredients. Feel free to try and don’t worry about making mistakes. In learning to cook, as with life, failure is inevitable. It’s how we pick ourselves up and keep going that matters.
If you’re comfortable with it, share it on social media too so that your friends and family can appreciate the journey you’re on, and maybe even inspire them to start cooking. Don’t be ashamed if you think the things you make are very basic compared to what you see others make. If you want to learn more recipes to cook, aside from videos and blogs you can find online, you can also get yourself cookbooks to find new dishes that you can whip up in your kitchen.
Give yourself time. Besides, there is value in always thinking you’re a beginner. There is a Japanese concept known as shoshin which means “beginner’s mind” best captured by Zen teacher Shuryu Suzuki who said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Basically, at any level, believe yourself to be a beginner. This way, you will always be open to learning.
Good luck, and more importantly, have fun. The pandemic looks like it might be here to stay for a while so we might as well all make something good happen out of this situation. Cooking and baking can be therapeutic too.
And when we all emerge from this dark chapter in our world’s history, we can emerge better people, or at the very least, better cooks.