In this series, Sara Moulton, ’81, shares her wisdom on all things culinary, from trends and treats to tips.
All shoppers favor at least one store where they let themselves go wild. It could be a shoe store, garden center, or clothing outlet. For me, unsurprisingly, it’s a kitchenware store. The good news is that I now restrain myself, having already purchased the items I use most often. But I happily share this list of small, go-to gadgets—complete with recommendations on where to find them online. Get ready to have them change your culinary life.
If you’re still relying on one of those old-fashioned, press-down citrus juicers, it’s time to upgrade to one of the many hand-held juicers on the market, such as Chefbar (Amazon.com, $10.99). It works for both lemons and limes and extracts much more juice than the old-fashioned press. Two tips: Make sure to place the citrus cut-side down, facing the drain holes, before squeezing. And if you microwave the lemons or limes for just 20 seconds before cutting and squeezing, the citrus will give up even more juice. It’s exactly the tool you want on hand for margarita night.
Tracking the internal temperature of meat is key to its flavor and safe consumption. And it is difficult to do without the help of a meat thermometer. Myriad brands are on the market, but my top two recommendations are Thermapen Mk4 (Thermoworks.com, $99) and, at the lower end from the same company, ThermoPop ($34). With steaks, insert the probe horizontally (not straight down) through the side toward the center. For poultry, insert through the inside flesh of the thigh without touching the bone. You also can monitor whether your red meat comes out well-done, medium, rare, or somewhere in between.
If opening a can of tomatoes or beans gives you the willies—all those sharp edges—you need a safety lid lifter, like the one I use (Kuhnrikonshop.com, $22). It looks like a conventional hand-held can opener, but it cuts off the lid from the side, not the top, so it does not leave a sharp edge. No more sliced fingers to bandage when guests are expected.
One of my favorite tools is a small offset spatula (Williams-sonoma.com, $12). Essentially, it is a thin metal spatula with a built-in bend. Though meant for smoothing icing on a cake or batter in those hard-to-reach corners of a pan, I mostly use it to turn over smaller, delicate items that I cook on the stovetop, like potato pancakes.
Many cuisines suggest toasting whole spices, seeds, or nuts to bring out their full flavor before using them in a recipe. If you have ever thrown away an entire batch of extra-pricey pine nuts because you left them in the oven just one minute too long, consider buying a Kotobuki stainless sesame seed roaster (Amazon.com, $14.95). It works for all spices, seeds, and nuts and sits on your stovetop, allowing you to keep track of the toasting color and aroma. One tip: since it is a thin pan, the spices cook very quickly, so it’s best to keep it on medium-low heat.
SERIOUS EGG SLICER
Who needs an egg slicer in 2020? Anyone who wants to speed up the prep process. This tool (Crateandbarrel.com, $11.95) performs its magic on all sorts of foods—not just hard-boiled eggs. Use it to slice mushrooms caps, cooked beets, small cooked potatoes, raw zucchini, avocados, bananas, butter, mozzarella cheese, and strawberries. Be sure to buy a sturdy one from the many available on the market.
The aptly named gadget (Surlatable.com, $22) looks like a slightly concave spider web on a long handle. Its main purpose is to stir and turn over food as it cooks in a deep-fat fryer. But I also employ it to take the place of a colander. I retrieve vegetables and smaller shapes of pasta from boiling water with the spider. It makes it easier to transfer al dente pasta, in particular, to a skillet of sauce or waiting bowls.
U-M MUSICAL BOTTLE OPENER
OK, this is hardly essential, but, boy, does it make me smile. The action of popping off the cap of a bottle with this opener (Mden.com, $10.95) sets off the U-M fight song, “The Victors.” It gets me dancing every time.
Cookbook author Sara Moulton (saramoulton.com) is currently the host of the public television show “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.”