When it comes to cooking, you need the right tools for the job. No matter what facilities you have access to in your college, you will always be in control of the equipment you choose to buy and use. If, like me, you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, it may be tempting to buy every utensil, appliance, and gadget you can lay your eyes on. However, at university it’s better to arm yourself with equipment that you will use regularly. In some cases, it’s worth making an investment on items that, if properly looked after, will provide you with many years of reliable service. In this vain, I have lined up a selection of six essential tools that will form the backbone of your Cambridge kitchen and make cooking so much easier.

The first and by far the most important tool you need in the kitchen is a chef’s knife. Choosing a knife can seem overwhelming, given the extensive ranges available to choose from — not to mention some astronomical prices. However, the brand and price matter less than how the knife feels in your hand. You want something that’s comfortable, well balanced, and natural to grip. Always try before you buy. There’s no need to spend a fortune here, but a good quality chef’s knife is worth the cost because it will be sharper and more durable than the one you picked up from Ikea. If you want to maintain that razor-sharp edge, then you will need both a sharpener and a honing steel (note the difference!). These two go hand in hand. They ensure that the knife edge is properly sharpened and aligned, and allow you to make the most precise cuts possible.

The natural partner to a chef’s knife is a chopping board. You may have got a great deal on three of them at Ikea, but they are hopelessly undersized, unstable, and food just rolls off them left, right, and centre. You want to acquire as large a cutting surface as your kitchen can muster. Bigger is always better, because a larger chopping board allows you to prepare multiple ingredients at once and move your knife freely without knocking them around. Wood or plastic is a matter of personal preference, but in this case, size really does matter.

Callum Wainstein

Moving on to the hotter side of things, you will definitely need a decent frying pan. Stainless steel frying pans are best avoided at university because they are cumbersome, can be difficult to use, and require regular maintenance. A non-stick frying pan will always make life easier as you never have to worry that your dinner will become hopelessly glued to its surface. It’s better to buy large frying pans. They give you more space to cook multiple things at once. High walls are also ideal to prevent food flying out when sautéing or stirring vigorously. 

Next up comes the saucepan. In this case, stainless steel is the way to go, because when making dishes you actually want food to stick to the bottom and form a layer of fond. What is fond, you ask? When meat or vegetables are prepared in a saucepan, a caramel-coloured deposit of browned sugars, carbohydrates, and proteins builds up on the bottom of the pan, along with any rendered fat. This is known as the fond, and it’s the base of the richest, deepest, and most complex flavours of all saucepan-based dishes. Make sure you get a saucepan with a lid, so that you can simmer liquids without them reducing in volume too much.

Callum Wainstein

When cooking, it’s never ideal to use your cutlery to move food around, as you will inevitably scratch your saucepan or frying pan. Instead, reach for a trusty rubber spatula. This is a versatile implement that has multiple uses in the kitchen. Thanks to its flexibility, it’s ideal for scraping and stirring, especially when transferring food from pans to plates, or for getting every last morsel out of jars, tins, and containers.

An instant-read thermometer is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated kitchen tools. It will teach you to better understand your food through mastering the art of temperature and timing. Not to mention the fact that it will save you the trouble of butchering your meat and fish, as you will no longer have to cut into them to check if they are properly cooked. A thermometer will not necessarily make you a better chef, but it will certainly make you a more consistent one. You can pick one up for under £15, and it’s easily the best way to get your steak cooked to a rosy medium-rare every single time.

Every now and again, a dish won’t come together quite right, and make you question why you even bothered. But a good workman never blames his tools.

 Once you have all your shiny new equipment ready, it may take some time to get used to it. Every now and again, a dish won’t come together quite right, and you may begin to question why you even bothered. In those times, remember that a good workman never blames his tools. Cooking is all about having confidence in yourself, and trust in your equipment. Now, with that in mind, go out there and cook your heart out!

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