About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, March 26, 2007
Risk vs. Reward Reloaded
(Image courtesy Matt Amendariz)

I was checking out Mattbites the other day when Matt pointed to another post in the blog guardedly optimistic titled fruit: a risk vs. reward analysis. It was Justin's too funny assessment of various fruits we eat and when I finished laughing, immediately felt like Oscar Wilde at a dinner party when one of his friends had said something brilliantly witty and Oscar said, "Wished I thought of that." to which the speaker replied, "Don't worry Oscar, you soon will."

No, I'm not exactly stealing Justin's work, but I did ask if he would mind if I borrowed his theme and put my own spin on it, to which he very kindly agreed, and a big thanks to Matt also for letting me use his image to tie the whole thing together. Why I was keen on it was that I thought it would work really well with kitchen equipment, so without further ado, here is my assessment of all things kitchenalia.

equipment: potato peeler
risk: moderate
reward: moderate
analysis: The humble potato peeler is the mousetrap of the kitchen world. No, it will never snap down on your fingers, but it may take the skin from one of your knuckles. A very good example of clever and simple engineering designed to to do but one thing, rid vegetables of their unpalatable outer skins. Unfortunately, what is a great engineering idea is often let down by manufacture. Made to be cheap, the swiveling blade is very often its downfall, sometimes cutting in one direction only, maddeningly sometimes not cutting at all. When you find a good one, a thing to be treasured and hidden when your friends come over, for they will pocket it. There is a wonderful model made by the ever efficient Swiss. Big and chunky, it always peels in both directions, takes just the right amount of peel, and no, you are not invited over.

equipment: mandoline
risk: extremely high
reward: high
analysis: What can you say about a piece of equipment that has a single, large, horizontal, razor sharp blade and many smaller upright blades that are designed to take slices of food whilst you hold that food with your bare and vulnerable hands against the blades and pull it through? If this was workplace equipment, the relevant authority would have banned it for being so dangerous, even professional chefs have been known to slice a sliver of flesh. However the payoff is twofold, what you get are perfect slices of uniform thickness that could never be achieved with a knife alone and there is a certain cheffiness that attaches to using one, it's not your everyday piece of equipment. Other pluses include the ability to shred a cabbage into perfect coleslaw in seconds, perfect julienne without raising a sweat and chips so uniform that you might be bored eating them. These days some models do come with food holding devices, but you still have to clean it when finished...

equipment: copper cookware
risk: low
reward: very high
analysis: So why do people pay three or four hundred dollars a piece when they could have an equivalent pan a quarter the price? Prestige, baby, prestige. Owning a few pieces of copperware says something about you like no other piece of equipment does. If it were a car, it would be a Mercedes Benz. Timeless, uncluttered lines and does exactly what you bought it for, cooks perfectly, thanks to copper's unique ability with heat transference. Copper, tin-lined saute pans, however, are not such a great idea to actually use. The melting point of tin is around 230 C (450 f), which is a temperature your oven can easily reach. These days there are stainless steel lined pans which are less stressful to use, but if you have tin lined, leave them hanging from butcher hooks on a kitchen display rack, that way you will also never have to keep polishing the copper after each use, but then again, if you can afford copperware, you probably have servants.

equipment: sugar thermometer
risk: moderate
reward: moderate
analysis: More useful than you think. Can double up as a deep frying thermometer as well as an easy way to check on the progress of jams. The risk comes from the situations where you use one, rather than any inherent dangers. Interestingly, a hot oil burn seems less worse than a molten sugar burn, which can feel like a drop of lava suddenly attaching itself to your skin even though most stages of sugar cooking are cooler than frying temperatures, ladies who wax would understand why this is so. The only downside is that every time you pull it out to use, you find yourself humming the song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Candy Man.

equipment: box grater
risk: high
reward: low
analysis: A very basic piece of equipment that does a wholly unremarkable job, for which no-one will ever thank you. It is simply folded metal with various sized grooves for reducing food to shreds, the grooves are not really sharp but it is possible to get a cut. The real danger lies in the side where tiny holes have been punched through producing small metallic shards that will reduce food to a pulp and take the skin straight from your knuckles, staining your food pink, which is amazingly unappetising. It is a bastard to clean as food gets caught up in the tiny holes meaning you are at risk of grating yourself twice. Designed by the devil.

equipment: chinois sieve
risk: very low
reward: moderate
analysis: a piece of equipment that allows you to feel very cheffy if you know how to use it properly, if you don't, you would probably throw it in the bin after a single use. Its principal use is to strain sauces rather than blending which introduces air, so you probably won't find one of these at El Bulli. The problem is that the tiny holes clog up straight away and its conical shape means you can't leave it suspended over a bowl to drain, your stuck holding the stupid thing if you don't know to plunge a small ladle quickly up and down, releasing all the liquid. If you own and use one of these, you are one step away from working in a restaurant. Throw it in the bin. Now!

equipment: truffle slicer
risk: very high
reward: very high
analysis: very similar to a mandoline but without the shredding ability. A little screw enables one to control the thickness of the slices so that for instance if you were showing off to friends that mattered little, you would produce the thinnest possible slices and they would still be very impressed and your stocks would still skyrocket. If it was for you and your partner, you would cut a little thicker being very careful not to cut yourself. There is nothing like emergency medical treatment of any sort for destroying a mood and believe me, truffles for your loved one will produce a mood you won't forget in a hurry.

equipment: KitchenAid stand mixer
risk: low
reward: high
analysis: I don't think there isn't anyone who doesn't want to own a KitchenAid. It is the finest piece of kitchen equipment that America has ever produced. If you could teach it to do your shopping and take out the rubbish, there wouldn't be a single thing it couldn't do. Mixes, whisks, kneads, grinds, blends, juices, opens cans, sausage maker, pasta maker, the list goes on and on. At the heart of it is a motor that is the equivalent of a thumpin' V8, it just never stops or gets tired. You've got one of these babies and you feel like a pro, no matter how your food turns out. Welcome to the dream, risk free.

equipment: wire whisk
risk: low
reward: low
analysis: the wire whisk is probably the first piece of kitchen equipment ever invented. Simple and efficient at what it does, it has largely been superseded by KitchenAid and others. If you were about losing weight, it might be an idea to whisk everything by hand as it does require a fair effort, but whipping cream for instance is just sheer torture, for the moment you start to get tired and cramping the cream actually thickens up making it even harder to whisk. No-one will ever say "Oh, you whisked that by hand, I really noticed the difference." Of course, you will have a very strong arm from all that whisking, meaning you now have a crushing handshake, but why bother? Whisking by hand was the reason electricity was invented.

equipment: wooden spoon
risk: low
reward: moderate
analysis: the wooden spoon is the most elemental piece of kitchen equipment you will ever use. There is something comforting about using one, knowing that our caveman ancestors probably fashioned wooden spoons out of tree branches for stirring mastodon stew and even though mankind has passed through all the metal ages with their possibilities for spoons, the wooden spoon has stood the test of time. Pretty much all of us have happy memories of our parents and grandparents using one and we are continuing a long line of cooks when we first purchase one. Wooden spoons are easy to use and do their job with a complete lack of drama, which makes them quite soothing. Very inexpensive, its easy to build up a collection. There is one teensy problem with them, if you leave one in a pot on a gas stove, there will always be a black, burnt spot on the handle, some think it's not really a proper wooden spoon until it has this particular badge of honour.

equipment: chef's knife
risk: high
reward: high
analysis: there is no more serious stating of intentions that you want and like to cook than buying your first chef's knife, every other piece of equipment you buy is just adornment. Nothing says cooking like a proper knife. The risk here is obvious, you have an instrument that is razor sharp, slicing through food whilst your trembling fingers are millimetres away. The danger strangely lies in inverse proportion to how sharp your knife actually is, the duller the blade the more likely you are to cut yourself. This is because of the greater effort it takes to push the knife when blunt, making it more likely to slip sideways with catastrophic results; the more you grunt and groan when cutting, the deeper the cut. Just as there are fake Rolex's, there are also imitation chef's knives. The real ones come from Germany and Japan and cost a bomb, there is no such thing as a cheap, quality chef's knife. Get your hands on a good one, properly sharpened, and you will feel like a chef, the only problem is, some knife manufactures have more models than car companies. The only function you need to consider is does the knife cut well and hold its edge, 'nuff said.

Labels:

 
  posted at 11:08 am
  5 comments



5 Comments:
At 10:44 am, Anonymous matt said...

FAN-FREAKIN-TASTIC!!!!!


Thanks to you for making me laugh, and thanks to Justin for letting us have fun with his brilliance!

 
At 11:21 am, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Now, if I tell you how many of those I don't have do I get some label.
Most Excellent - again - my friend.

 
At 1:57 pm, Blogger Lydia said...

I'm laughing out loud! I happen to have most of these things -- no truffle slicer, and no copper cookware (too much maintenance) -- but the only one I couldn't live without is a chef's knife. Oh, and don't try to separate me from my KitchenAid....

 
At 5:09 pm, Blogger Pille said...

Fun:) Now that I've got my Kitchen Aid mixer, I'm thinking of buying a mandoline. Any recommendations? I see that Chubby Hubby endorses de Buyer La Mandoline V Professionnelle, DeliciousDays a Bron mandoline. Decisions, decisions..

 
At 3:06 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi matt, yes, we all have to thank Justin, it was such a great idea.

Hi tanna, sad to say I have all of those except one, the KitchenAid, but that is on my list. I think I saw a new label or something over at your blog, very sweet.

Hi lydia, I'm with you on the chef's knife, there is no way to do without one. Glad you liked it.

Hi pille, we've got a Zyliss which actually came with the potato peeler I talked about. We have had no complaints with it and no cuts either because it comes with a food holding device. I know that Gourmet magazine did a comparison a couple of years ago and the Zyliss went well but wasn't the top choice.

 

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