Did you make a resolution to improve your cooking skills in the new year? Then one place to start is with the basics: knives, pots and food. Tom Colicchio, owner/chef of New York’s Gramercy Tavern and Craft Restaurant, and author of “Think Like a Chef,” has some tips on what to look for.
HOW TO CHOOSE KNIVES
Buy the best quality knives that you can afford. It is better to buy a few really good knives than a whole set of lower quality ones. The two knives you’ll need to start your collection are an 8” to 10” Chef’s knife and a 3” to 4” paring knife.
If you hold the knife where the blade meets the handle, it should balance. This point should be the center of gravity for the longer knife. This gravity center makes the knife easier to control when you’re using it for dicing and slicing. Another way of pitting it: the knife should feel well balanced in your hand — the handle should not be heavier than the blade and vice versa.
Be sure to buy a knife whose steel is hard enough to hold an edge but soft enough to sharpen. If you have $100 to spend, use it to buy 1 chef’s knife and one paring knife, instead of a whole lot of cheaper ones.
HOW TO CHOOSE POTS AND PANS
Again, it is best to buy 3 or 4 high quality pots than an entire set of lower quality ones. Buy pots that are stainless steel and heavy-bottomed. Do not buy aluminum pans. The three types of pots and pans I recommend that you buy first are 1 large 10” to 12” sauté pan, one 6-quart saucepot and one smaller 2 quart saucepot. If you’ve got a bit of a bigger budget, a fourth pan I recommend buying is a black steel pan.
The pan itself should be a one piece construction (called “full tang” to those who know the lingo). This means that the handle should not be a totally separate piece that was drilled on to it. Good pots and pans should also come with a lifetime warranty. High quality pots are bonded with several layers of materials to ensure even heating.
HOW TO CHOOSE INGREDIENTS
Ingredients produced by small producers, in smaller batches, tend toward higher quality. This is especially true with vegetables. When choosing vegetables, think like an Italian peasant: Even an Italian of the most modest means will spend a few extra lire on the best tomato, the freshest herbs, the fruitiest olive oil. If you’ve eaten a simple tomato salad in Italy, you know what I mean. You should always buy the best you can afford. These ingredients aren’t more expensive because they are trendy or have a chic label. In fact, in the case of condiments, you will find yourself using less because the flavors are more intense and go farther.