Become a better cook, then show off your skills. This 12-week series will give you the tools you need to make a meal you’re proud to share with friends.
Sometimes I forget how mysterious the kitchen was when I first moved into my own apartment, armed with an assortment of parental hand-me-downs. I loved the convenience of frozen and microwaveable meals. Preparing a “one-pot dinner” was as simple as opening up a box of Pasta Roni. I rarely purchased additional equipment because I had no idea what I needed.
Stocking your kitchen doesn’t have to be a complicated or pricey adventure. If your budget is flexible, splurge on a few higher-end items that will last you for decades (for example, a good-quality knife). Or you can start with all inexpensive yet well-made items, get a feel for them and upgrade over time as you see fit.
Today, I’m going to share some of my top kitchen essentials to help you figure out what you might need to round out your cooking supplies. Then, I’ll put a few of those key items to use and show you a quick-and-easy recipe that can be used to enhance many savory recipes: a fried egg.
<Scroll ahead to see the recipe for the Everyday Fried Egg>
Cookware and bakeware
Skillet: You have two options: Skillets with straight or flared sides. Straight-sided skillets are best for searing, pan-frying and handling large quantities of ingredients, and those typically come with lids. Skillets that have sides that widen at the top allow you to flip ingredients, and they’re also the best option for recipes in which the ingredients take on the shape of the pan, such as frittatas and skillet brownies.
You also get to choose between nonstick and regular pans. Nonstick skillets allow you to reduce the fat required in recipes, and they’re a good choice for working with tender ingredients such as eggs, delicate fish and pancakes. Regular surfaces (typically stainless steel or cast iron) are all about that flavorful, crisped exterior.
Medium saucepan with lid: A 1.5- or 2-quart, heavy-bottom saucepan is great for making sauces, cooking grains and using for a variety of tasks when you don’t need a huge pot of boiling water (for example, hard-cooking eggs).
Rimmed baking sheet: Whether you’re baking cookies or roasting veggies, baking sheets are a true kitchen essential. Always line them with parchment paper or foil for easy cleanup.
Loaf pan, brownie pan, muffin pan: The type of bakeware you need depends on what you’re planning to bake. Most of these can be used in more than one type of recipe, making them good multitaskers. For example, a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan works for breads, pound cakes and meatloaf.
Dutch oven: An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven is one of the best all-purpose pots you can own. Non-enameled Dutch ovens are a more affordable alternative, but the enameled versions are much easier to clean. Use this to make soups and stews, sear meats and prepare an assortment of one-pot meals.
Equipment and tools
Chef’s knife: This is the most important utensil you can own, with a blade that is 8 to 10 inches long. The chef’s knife is a kitchen workhorse, especially when it comes to meat and produce. Use it for chopping, slicing, dicing and mincing. Invest in a decent one (anywhere from $80 to $120), get it professionally sharpened occasionally, and it will last you for ages as long as you treat it properly.
A paring knife is a close second. Paring knives can be used for various tasks that require a bit more precision, such as peeling and hulling produce, or removing seeds from peppers and vanilla beans. A good quality paring knife will cost $40 to $50.
Kitchen shears: Keep a pair of scissors in the kitchen; they’re a great multitasker. You can use them for just about anything, including trimming fresh herbs and raw chicken, as well as opening that stubborn bag of potato chips.
Blender/food processor: I’ve lumped these together, because they can often be used for similar tasks, such as making dips and pesto. Blenders are best for liquids (smoothies, sauces and soups), while a food processor can handle more labor-intensive tasks, such as grating large quantities of cheese. High-end blenders are powerful enough to handle tasks meant for a food processor, and vice versa. If there’s room for only one in your budget, think carefully about which one you’re most likely to use on a regular basis. If you’re planning to make a lot of smoothies, get the blender.
Heat-resistant tongs: Think of tongs as an extension of your arm. Use them to turn meats and vegetables as they cook, and for tossing together pastas and salads. You can also use them to grab hard-to-reach things and point at people.
Microplane zester: This is a multitasking kitchen tool that can grate citrus zest, nutmeg, hard cheeses and more.
Meat thermometer: Avoid the guesswork and get a digital meat thermometer. I use one with a probe and alarm, which can be left inside the meat as it roasts in the oven or on the grill. The alarm goes off when the internal temperature is where I want it to be. No more undercooked or overcooked steaks!
Oven mitts: I recommend using oven mitts, preferably non-flammable, that are shaped like gloves or mitts, which offer much more control over the hot items you’re handling. Even better, some of them have a non-slip grip.
Pantry and fridge
Having a well-stocked pantry and fridge will save you so much time in the long run. As you become more familiar with how to use ingredients, you’ll be able to throw together countless meals in no time.
Washington Post deputy Food editor and recipes editor Bonnie S. Benwick has pulled together an excellent pantry list for her weekly Dinner in Minutes feature, which highlights great, simple recipes that utilize the skills I’ll be teaching you during this series. You can use Bonnie’s pantry as your shopping guide and make adjustments based on your personal preferences. Find it here.
You've got your tools, you've got your pantry list, now let’s use some of the most basic items from each list (a skillet, spatula and egg) to cook one of the most versatile things you'll ever make: a fried egg. A simple fried egg is wonderfully versatile and can be used in so many ways. Try serving it over French toast, salad or steak, or on a sandwich!
Everyday Fried Egg
HANDS-ON TIME: 5 minutes
COOK TIME: 2 minutes
EQUIPMENT: Nonstick skillet, spatula, small ramekin or measuring cup
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed depending on the size of your skillet
1 large egg
Freshly ground black pepper
Place a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add just enough oil to form a thin layer on the bottom of the pan, swirling to coat.
Crack the egg into a small ramekin or measuring cup. This gives you a chance to remove any shell fragments and pour the egg directly into the skillet. Once the oil shimmers, gently add the egg to the skillet. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Allow the egg to cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan after the white has started to set. Be careful, as the egg might sputter a bit in the oil as it fries. If necessary, you can reduce the heat or move the skillet off the burner for a few moments.
For sunny-side up fried eggs with a runny yolk, use a spatula to remove them from the heat when the edges are brown and crisp, and the whites have set on top. For an over-easy egg, gently flip the egg and cook for an additional 30 seconds before removing from the skillet.
WANT TO KICK THINGS UP A NOTCH?
- For a slightly softer consistency, add a couple teaspoons of water to the pan along with the egg, cover, and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. The steam will lightly set the egg on top — a foolproof way to ensure the egg white will be completely cooked.
- Grate some fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano or cheddar cheese on top of the egg and make it the centerpiece of a breakfast sandwich with toast, a bagel or an English muffin. Just about any hard cheese would pair well.
- Top your egg with a dash of your favorite hot sauce or a dollop of harissa.
- Sprinkle a spice blend on your egg, such as herbes de Provence or za'atar. Or try paprika or a fruity ground red pepper instead of black pepper.
- Serve the egg on slices of ripe avocado.