A Wooden Spoon, a Ladle, and a Whisk

spoonladlewhisk

These are three very different things, but the one thing they all have in common is this: Their purpose cannot be fulfilled by anything else. (Also they all live in the utensil crock next to the stove, if you are the kind of person who keeps a utensil crock next to the stove.) Let us take them one by one:

A wooden spoon is a spoon made of wood. Or bamboo, sometimes, but it is for the most part easily identified by the fact that it is a spoon. Made of wood. Why not made of metal or plastic? Because here are the qualities you are looking for in your go-to cooking spoon: It should have poor heat conductivity, so it doesn’t overly cool or warm anything temperature-sensitive it gets stuck into. It should be durable, so it doesn’t snap in half or melt or explode. And like a good name-brand deodorant, it should be both strong and soft, so it can get all the good stuff up off the bottom of the pan, but also not scrape the living hell out of the bottom of the pan. Wooden spoons are handed down through generations (I cook daily with one stolen, surreptitiously, from my parents’ house) but they’re also wicked cheap to buy new.

My pick: I like long-handled, flat-bellied spoons, like this set of 18-Inch Wooden Cooking Mixing Spoons made of birch, ten bucks for two.

A ladle is the easiest way to get liquid out of one vessel and into another vessel, assuming that at least one of the following applies: (1) The first vessel can’t be conveniently lifted and poured; (2) It would be unbecoming (or perhaps painful) to use a cup or mug or something to do the liquid-scooping; (3) The first vessel contains a liquid that contains solids, like a soup with noodles or veggies or meat in it, and the solids are of varying weights and densities and have striated within the pot, and you’d like to create portioned servings that contain equal parts of each component of the soup, so the long handle on something like a ladle allows you to get deep in the pot and then lift, getting a remarkably accurate approximation of the balance of various stuffs in the pot. Ladles, man. They’re on it.

My pick: Pretty much any ladle will get ‘er done. I like this red KitchenAid nylon ladle because it’s red. I like this Stainless Steel “Professional Quality” ladle ladle because it is free from bullshit, and also because the bowl holds exactly 8 ounces so it’s useful as a measure of yield and other quantities.

A whisk is really a marvel. Do you need to introduce air to your egg whites? Whisk. Do you need to even out the lumpy roux in your stew? Whisk. Do you need to smooth your cake batter to a glossy texture? Whisk. Do you have a whole lot of stuff that you just need to stir up really really thoroughly, like dry ingredients for baking or a lot of small things in a pot? Whisk. Do you need to get in a good tricep workout? Whisk. Let’s be clear: There’s nothing a whisk can do that an egg beater or an immersion blender can’t also probably do. But a whisk will do it all, and just as well, and there’s also the delightful fact that the most common shape—this stretched-out teardrop—is known as a “balloon whisk,” which is just great.

My pick: Silicone whisks for nonstick vessels, metal whisks for the rest.

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A Pair of Tongs

A pair of kitchen tongs is easily my most-used non-knife tool. Easily. It is to the point where if I’m cooking at someone else’s house and they don’t have tongs, I am just paralyzed with confusion and betrayal. How do these people even live? What do they use to flip a salmon fillet? What do they use to toss sautéed greens? How do they flip a burger on the grill? How do they pull out their oven racks when they can’t find a mitt or dishtowel and don’t want to self-inflict horrible burns? A pair of tongs is an extension of your hand in the most literal, most effective sense: it is basically a thumb and a finger, a grown-up, heatproof version of one of those inexpressibly neato-torpedo robot claw arms that were so cool when we were kids. You don’t need one of those silly infomercial Oven Gloves to reach into the flames: this is your Oven Glove. This is your Captain Hook’s hook. This is your Terminator-style cybernetic real-grip fireproof hand, and it is like ten bucks, and it is amazing.

Cooking tongs come in a variety of lengths, from teensy 6-inch models all the way up to huge 24-inchers. The less violently aggressive the environment of your food, the smaller your tongs can be: use a standard 10- or 12-inch model for most stovetop and grilling purposes; if you’re pulling a turkey out of an oil-drum deep-fryer, you’ll probably want to go longer. (And maybe wear an asbestos face mask?) For optimal control, choke up on the tongs when using them: the closer you are to the ends, the better your ability to manipulate things (it’s kind of like chopsticks, of which tongs are really just large, metal, for-beginners versions). All-metal varieties are inexpensive, but (science!) metal conducts heat, so they can become uncomfortable to hold. Many brands have versions with rubber- or silicone-lined handles, which to me is an invaluable addition to the tool; a locking closure mechanism makes the tongs easier to store.

My pick: I have a pair of OXO Good Grips 12-Inch stainless steel tongs. I love them dearly.

A Microplane Grater

Like the Le Creuset, the Microplane is one of those products that has achieved the glittering pinnacle of needing only to be referred to by its brand name. Sure, Le Creuset makes silicone spatulas and wine bottle coolers and whatever — but anyone who says “Hey, I really want a Le Creuset for my birthday” is very clearly referring to an enameled cast-iron oven. (Woe unto the hapless friend who misunderstands that birthday request.) Microplanes are the same: as far as the kitchen is concerned, there simply is no other super-insanely sharp mega-effective grater. This is how ubiquitous Microplane has become: I don’t even know if any other brands are trying.

The classic Microplane is the inch wide, 12-inch long version, and anyone who knows their kitchen lore knows the story of how it began life in a hardware store as a rasp, but hordes of home cooks quickly adopted it for its literally actually astonishingly insane ability to shred hard cheeses into airy, snowy haystacks and to drive even the most stubborn citrus zest to its knees. Nutmeg? Dust. Garlic? Pulverized. It is an unstoppable force.

My pick: I have three Microplanes: two of the classic version (one for citrus, one for cheese) and one of the big ones (for big cheese!). All three are about 5 years old, are used on a multiple-times-a-week basis, and are still sharp as heck, as evidenced by the extremely painful and totally gross wound on the side of my thumb that is a result of last night’s overzealous encounter with a stub of Grana Padano. Fuck you, Microplane, but that’s why I love you.

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