Last week, our focus was on large equipment. We spoke about ovens and refrigerators because they are the staples in the home kitchen. However, we must bear in mind that the world of large equipment is much bigger than we may imagine, especially when we are dealing with industrial or commercial kitchens.
For example, tilting pots, braziers, high pressure steamers and so on, are pieces of equipment that form an integral part of these larger kitchens, so don’t go off thinking that large equipment is only comprised of ovens and refrigerators.
This week, we’re moving on to the small equipment which requires more attention and thought when it comes to purchasing and use. This attention is necessary because it is extremely easy to acquire and accumulate a large amount of small equipment in your home kitchen which can then become intimidating and therefore remains tucked away in the back of the cupboard or equipment storage areas.
When purchasing any equipment, you need to carefully consider the purpose for which it will be used. To simplify this process, I will break down this small equipment into groups:
2. Straining and sifting
Falling under measuring equipment will be items such as measuring pitchers, scales, thermometers and measuring spoons. Each of these pieces of equipment is used for weighing or measuring the different ingredients found in a recipe and its use is determined by how each recipe is written. Measuring pitchers or cups are used for liquid measurements and the measurements should be clearly marked on the outside of the transparent cup.
When being used, the cup should not be held in your hand, but should be placed on a flat and level surface for accuracy of measurement. You may sometimes see solid ingredients such as flour, sugar and butter measured in cups, but this tends to be less precise and is more accurately measured by weight.
A scale is considered a baker’s best friend and proper use will often determine the difference between an exquisite product and one that is a total disaster. Scales are available in spring form or digital format and some time should be spent getting to know and understand your scale before you proceed.
Both solid and liquid measurements can be accurately achieved on the scale, which are available either in pounds and ounces or in the metric system. In the digital format, with the touch of a button, you can switch between imperial and metric formats. Scales should always be kept clean and in good working condition for best performance throughout their life.
The thermometer is another instrument of measurement and is used to measure temperature. They are available in degrees Fahrenheit or degrees Celsius and come in varying ranges. Thermometers are selected based on the jobs for which they are required. For example, you can purchase a freezer thermometer that will go to sub-zero temperatures, a kitchen thermometer or even a candy thermometer which can reach as high as 500 degrees Fahrenheit. It is important to recalibrate your thermometer from time to time to ensure accuracy of measurement, especially if it is being used for testing the doneness of meat, as this will help to avoid over or under cooking of the final product.
Measuring spoons are next on the list of measuring equipment. They are used for the smaller quantities of measurements and are generally available in sets ranging from tablespoons, teaspoons and half teaspoons to quarter teaspoons. Manufactured in either plastic or metal, they are used for both liquid and solid measurements and should be kept dry to avoid physical damage which can lead to incorrect measurements, especially given the small amount(s) being measured.
The next group in the small equipment category is for sifting and straining. Not only are sieves and strainers crucial in the kitchen, but they are among the most misunderstood and abused pieces of equipment, in addition to being the ones most likely to be found tucked away in the back of the cupboard.
Sifting and straining equipment is first of all used to pass wet or dry food through a porous centre primarily to remove any impurities that may be in the product being used. They are also used for aerating or lightening commodities such as flour or products such as sauces and gravies.
Sieves and strainers are available in various forms; you can purchase a standard sieve or one with mesh, a china cap or a drum sieve, a colander or you can even use cheesecloth for specific purposes.Each type of sieve is used for a particular task in a professional kitchen and it is customary to walk into such a kitchen and see each category represented on the shelf.
As I indicated earlier, a sieve or strainer is a very important piece of equipment in the kitchen and should be given respect in its handling and care; they should never be thrown into the dishwasher or into a sink that is loaded with other equipment, as the mesh netting can easily be damaged or disfigured once it comes into contact with rougher equipment.The perforations are also of varying sizes – large through medium, all the way to fine – and your selection is made based on the food item being prepared, as well as the final texture required.
Another group of equipment that is regularly seen stacked away in the cupboard is the mixing bowl, which comes in a myriad of types, shapes and sizes, 90 percent of which are often never used. When choosing a mixing bowl, the first thing to be considered is your style of cooking, because everyone who cooks on a regular basis naturally develops a cooking style which will determine the tools the exponent will use.
Whatever your style of cooking, the best mixing bowls are circular in shape with a flat base for easy hand holding and mixing. The type of material is also very important and stainless steel is always recommended because of its ease to clean and maintain, in addition to being much less likely to retain or promote bacteria growth.
Plastic tends to be the material of choice in the home kitchen, but can be very harmful because it retains odours and, if scratched or damaged in any way, can encourage the build-up of harmful bacteria. Plastic can also affect the flavor of delicate items being mixed in those containers, by passing on the flavor of stronger items that have been previously mixed in the same bowl.
Glass, though the most attractive and very easy to clean, should be avoided, as they can chip or break while mixing, thus leading to the cook’s frustration as he or she will have to discard everything that was prepared, to avoid physical contamination. Enamel too should be avoided, again for fear of physical contamination, though this is contrary to what we have been brought up on. If the enamel is struck the wrong way, it tends to flake and fall into the item being mixed and can therefore be consumed by the user.
Next week, pots and pans, as well as storage equipment will be our focus as we continue to look at small kitchen equipment. 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. To contact Peter, email: [email protected])