Throughout our previous articles, we have looked at what cooking is – that is, the application of heat to food, which causes an irreversible change. It was also explained why we need to cook – first and foremost to kill harmful bacteria, secondly to make food more palatable and thirdly to manipulate the flavours and texture. We also learnt about the different types of heat – moist heat and dry heat and when which type of heat should be applied, as well as the effect of each type of heat on food.
We went on to flavouring and seasoning, which covered the use of herbs and spices for flavouring and salt and pepper, when it comes to seasoning.
We are still to cover how food is cooked and further effects of the application of heat on food, as well as the number of cooking methods that you can apply, with each one having it unique characteristic.
This week though, we want to look at another very important but undervalued aspect of cooking, and that is equipment – the choice and its uses.
This area is often very little thought of and, because of this, consumers are usually driven to buy any piece of equipment which is best advertised across the media, especially in these very fancy and well put together infomercials on television.
One must be extremely careful, because very often, due to the perfect way these infomercials are put together, you can buy equipment that you really did not need in the first place and oft times your basic pots and pans hidden away in your cupboard will do a far superior job.
So, let’s take a look now at kitchen equipment and its basic or primary use. Kitchen equipment can usually be broken down into two categories – large equipment and small equipment. In the professional kitchen, large equipment would include refrigerators, ovens, griddles and fryers. In the domestic kitchen, they may stop at stoves and fridges, unless you are in one of those large estates on the south coast where you will find all of the other pieces of large equipment in the kitchens.
Small equipment will cover things such as pots, pans, mixing bowls and the wide variety of cooking utensils and tools which you might have acquired over time; and, of course, our knives. These are such important tools that we will dedicate a whole article to them.
It is always best before purchasing equipment, whether large or small, that we first understand the extent of the cooking that we will do and not just purchase them because they look good in the store. We must also understand cooking methods and the ones that will require large equipment – for instance, oven roasting that hefty tom turkey or that perfectly seasoned ham, or baking those favourful and decadent cakes and how often we intend to practice or execute these culinary exercises. This, too, will determine the piece of large equipment you will need, if it would take a single cabin oven or because of the volume, a double cabin Dutch- oven. As for your refrigeration, based on your volume, you will then need to look at the cubic feet of your refrigerator, which size and location of freezer, and so on.
As for the pots and pans, the choice of size and type of material from which they are made becomes very important. The first thought must be how often will it be used, what heat intensity will it be subjected to, and what will be cooked in these pieces of equipment. Far too often, you walk into the kitchen and see these small pieces of equipment in terrible condition due to over exposure to heat because of the material from which they are made. All of these things, as simple as they may seem, have an effect on your finished product as it relates to final flavor and texture.
So why is this knowledge so important? Let’s look at the large equipment and the size of our oven cabin, for instance. Although we cook at certain temperatures recommended by your recipe, the effect of the oven cabin in which it is cooked is very important, as a large cabin will have a different result from a small one, even if it is at the same temperature. We will not get into the science of why this is the case, but having dealt with this equipment for over 30 years, I can tell you for a fact, that it is.
Whether the oven is a convection or standard one – convection being an oven with a fan which circulates the hot air, standard being your normal oven with just a heating element and no fan – makes a huge difference to the final quality of your food item. This, too, should give you an idea as to why 350 degrees can give you a different effect given the influence of the air conditions on the inside, as the air circulating because of the fan will give you a more even cooking than the air that is stagnant at 350 degrees.
Staying with large equipment, there are also things to consider when you are purchasing your refrigerator. For instance, how large is your cavity for cooling, how big are the doors, how frequently will those doors be open? Mismanagement of these actions can easily lead to an increase in your electricity bill and far more importantly, an increase of your grocery bill due to the spoilage of those fruits, vegetables and other commodities that you store in that refrigerator. Careful consideration of something like the size of your freezing compartment is also very important, as the larger the compartment, the more expensive it will be to keep things in a frozen state – this, too, can impact your cost of operating this vitally important piece of equipment.
In our next article, we will continue to look at other pieces of equipment such as pots, pans, mixing equipment and, of course, your tools and utensils and the critical role they play, as we continue to attempt to master the art of cooking.
Contact Caribbean Cuizine Culinary Institute at 629-0075/76/77 if you are interested in joining any of our cooking classes, including the Sugar and Rum class taking place during the month of March.
(Peter Edey is a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation, a graduate of l’École Ritz Escoffier, Paris and a Certified Caribbean Hospitality Trainer firstname.lastname@example.org)