When we were thinking of the different pots and pans to use, we decided to focus on the truly essential pieces, the ones that no kitchen should be without. These are the ones that we think are the most important.
The Big Bowl
With one large bowl, you can make a variety of dishes, from salads to ceviches. We prefer metal to glass because we can bang it around on the counter and in the sink without worrying that it will break. Wood is fine for salads, but don’t use it for ceviche because the bowl will get a fishy smell. Mixing bowls are one of the few pieces of equipment that you can cheap out on. Save your money for a good quality skillet, roasting pan, or Dutch oven instead.
Instead of making a big investment in an expensive nonstick skillet, buy an inexpensive one that has moderate heft and a comfortable, welded-on handle (the screwed-on handles can come loose an get wobbly with time). You really shouldn’t spend more than fifty bucks on a nonstick skillet. A twelve-inch nonstick can fry a frittata just as well as it can accommodate long fish fillets. It’s the size we recommend to start with; though a small eight-inch nonstick comes in handy for frying eggs.
Whether you call it a frying pan, a skillet, or a sauté pan, a good-quality, evenly weighted skillet is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your kitchen. This is the pan you’ll turn to time and time again for searing meats, sautéing vegetables, and making pan sauces. The handle should be oven-safe so the pan can go from the stovetop to the oven or broiler without a problem. Enameled cast iron works well, too, but we find it on the heavy side. If you want to work on your biceps while you cook, though, go for it! As with the nonstick skillet, a twelve-inch skillet is the size to start with.
This is a piece of equipment worth investing in. It’s used for slow, wet cooking methods, such as braising short ribs in beer or slow-cooking lamb shanks with wine. Since it’s constructed for stovetop-to-oven cooking, a Dutch oven is usually made of heavier material that can withstand long stays in a hot oven. A six-quart Dutch oven can comfortably hold big pieces of meat and roasts and is deep enough to contain any liquid you add for the cooking process. In a pinch you can make soup, boil water for pasta, and deep-fry in a Dutch oven, making it a really valuable all-around player in the kitchen.
When you’re dry roasting without much liquid, this is the pan to choose. It should be large and deep enough to hold a six-bone prime rib or a Thanksgiving turkey, with handles that are easy to get a good, solid grip on. Invest in a roasting pan with a thick, even, and heavy-gauge bottom. If you can’t devote that kind of money to a pan, then you can always place a baking sheet underneath a flimsier roasting pan to provide a little more support. Be sure to purchase a roasting rack along with your roasting pan if it doesn’t come with one. These are handy for elevating chickens or pork loins to circulate air for more even browning.
We use a 9 by 13-inch 3-quart glass baking dish for all of our desserts. You could get all fancy here if you wanted and buy a pricey glazed porcelain or clayware baking dish, but we opt for the tried and true (and cheap) glass Pyrex dish for a few reasons. One, it’s cool to peek into the oven and see right through the baking dish to check the color of what’s baking (which is why we also prefer glass over metal baking pans). Two, its curved corners are easy to clean. Three, if it breaks, it’s no problem. Got to any department store or even a grocery store and you can replace it for less than fifteen dollars.
We didn’t include a saucepan chapter in our book because you can’t really make a meal in a saucepan. That said, a saucepan is useful for lots of things, such as making rice, polenta, fruit compotes and sauces, and cream sauces (crème anglaise, béarnaise, and more); heating stock; and blanching small-cut vegetables. Saucepans have straight edges and sharp corners while sauciers have rounded corners; they’re fairly interchangeable, though sauciers are a little better for making cream sauces because you can really get into the corners. We tend to prefer good-quality heavy-gauge steel-clad aluminum- or copper-core saucepans because they heat evenly and retain heat—qualities that are vital for rice and cream sauces. We like long handles to keep our hands away from the heat, and we prefer welded handles or riveted ones to those attached to the base by screws that can come loose with time. A good 2- or 3-quart saucepan should last awhile.
Excerpted from Two Dudes One Pan: Maximum Flavor from a Minimalist Kitchen by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2008