To someone who is unfamiliar with cookery, the sheer amount of information can make ones head swim! There’s always room for tweaking to personal preference, but when I started expanding my knowledge I was utterly befuddled by all the tools and gadgets and the myriad of spices the world has to offer.
There’s a lot of stuff out there; a lot of really cool things and a lot of things you really don’t need. So, for basic cookery I’ve put together lists, divided by sections, on the handy items to have around. If you decide to delve further into specific foods obviously you can expand your kitchen, but for now this’ll do ya just fine.
Soups encompass quite a bit of territory on its own; soups, chili’s, stocks, broths, bases and roux’s, stews, and gumbo. You might not currently make these things, but they are good territory to ease yourself into, if you’re wishing to expand your cookery. This post will tell you what you need to accomplish this.
Now, this first section of equipment is a bit of a hodge-podge. I will also be referring to all dishes by the generalized term of soup, which encompasses every liquid dish that you can make (chili, stew, etc), to keep this as rather easy referencing.
If you’re going to be making soups from scratch, you’ll need at least one of the above pots. I recommend both the stock pot and the dutch oven, which are both pictured up top. I suggest an 8 qt cooking pot and a 5 – 6 qt one. But, it all depends on the actual amounts of a recipe you intend to make or if you’ll be cooking a carcass for stock. Large amounts of making stock from scratch, you’ll definitely need a larger size; small amounts or using pre-prepared stock, then a smaller one would be fine.
If you’ll be making any bases or rouxs (flour and butter as a thickener base in soup) or sautéing certain ingredients which will go into the soup, then a deep skillet will come in handy. A lot of times a recipe calls for making the roux directly in the cooking pot, but you can always choose which is easier to you. Sometimes it’s just to difficult to get at it (in the edges of the pot) to make sure it’s not sticking or to keep it smooth. So, I’ve utilized both methods.
If you make soups and want to re-heat small portions later, it’s best to have a small sauce pan; a 1.5 – 3 qt, depending upon your preference. You may, however, have a microwave that you wish to use this for, but of course the saucepan can be used in baking and general cooking, so you’ll probably want one if you don’t already have one.
All of these can be purchased second hand. Just make sure the cooking pots or sauce pan come with a lid, and make sure that the handles of all items are in proper order.
We’ll talk about the following three items first and get back to the first one in a minute. A liquid measure is needed if you use bouillon, which are perfectly acceptable in cookery. The most frequently used bouillon at my house? Chicken. The most common varieties are chicken, beef, pork, and vegetable in either cube or powder form. You might be able to find shrimp or a seafood version where you live. You do not always need cans or cartons of pre-made stock from the store (as in chicken broth, etc), and you don’t always need to make your own. So, if you’ll be making a lot of soups, this measure is something you will certainly need.
A whisk is important in the preparation of rouxs. I’m from the south and a stones throw from New Orleans, so I call everything roux (pronounced roo). Other names are base or starter. It’s about the same as making a base for a gravy or a cream sauce that you need to be slightly thick. The thickening and cooking of flour in a liquid; either oil, butter, or stock. The basic principle in sauce and gravy recipes is the same for a soup that calls for a base or a roux. And you’ll have to have a whisk (or you may use a stainless steel fork with great results) to get everything incorporated, to make it smooth and to keep it that way, as well as to keep it from sticking to the pan.
Spoons are absolutely a necessity when making soups; for stirring, incorporating, straining, adding, and ladling. You might wish for various types of spoons (a ladle, a slotted spoon, a large spoon, some small spoons), but I’ll leave the types up to you and how you think you might best use them. Also, the style does not matter, I just happen to prefer wooden spoons for the most part. But you can certainly use melamine, plastic, or metal.
All of these can be purchased second hand. Just make sure everything’s in good condition; the liquid measure being crack or chip free, the whisks not missing silicon parts (if it has this) and are rust free, and that the spoons aren’t heavily stained, chipped, or cracked; and if it’s wood, then no splintering or large dings.
Back to the first item, the Immersion Blender, falls into the category of necessity or extra, depending on you. We have a very old one that’s still in excellent working order, and it gets a lot of use. We use it to cream items for various dishes, but mainly making our homemade mashed potatoes all smooth and creamy (it even works for milkshakes). However, it does get quite a bit of use in the soups department; with various soups that need to be smoothed, like our homemade split pea or my homemade butternut squash.
However, if you like lumpy mashed potatoes (or can already get them smooth), don’t have any recipes (soup or otherwise) that you’ll be rendering smooth, then this would go into the luxury extras category for you.
They are not as dear as they once were (my parents paid about $70 for the one we still use, back in the late 1980s – and that was the cheapest one you could get.) and I did go ahead and price a few for y’all at various retailers. I chose the low – medium price range, so this list does not include the most expensive items in this category.
* Target: $13 – $45
* Walmart: $26
* Bed, Bath, & Beyond: $30 – $60
* Amazon: $14 – $30
You’ll need to configure spices to your needs, your tastes, and your recipes, but this is what I suggest for basic recipes.
First off, we’re a pretty big chili family and make it pretty often. We have one recipe that I’ve worked to perfection. Most people in America eat chili, which is why I’ve included my go-to spices for this recipe. I wouldn’t toot my own horn, so to speak, but people that try my chili really, really love it. That chili includes, taco seasoning, cumin, chili powder and cocoa powder. Yes, chocolate. Very Mexican, though they don’t actually eat chili, they eat chocolate and chili pepper spiced things like their hot chocolate, and in some of their desserts. Trust me. The Mexicans certainly know what they are doing, since they were pairing these things since before the Spanish even came onto the scene; so yes, chocolate and chilis are sublime together.
If you want to take your chili to an ultimate level, add cocoa. Not chocolate syrup, but 100% real, unsweetened cacao, otherwise known as Unsweetened cocoa or baking cocoa.
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder seem to be the holy quad of spices, as they’re a general base for almost any recipe, and even if you only have these four, you can make flavourful food. Never underestimate these four; and these four out of all the spices would be the ones I would recommend to anyone. And if you’re just starting out, these four you can get by with for a long time before advancing into other spices.
Ground Thyme is a good, basic, all-around spice for soups, as well as general cookery. You won’t use it all of the time, but if you don’t have a lot of spices, you can use this one as a bonus to the holy quad above and take things up a whole other level. You can use it more often, because it pairs well with foods, more than other spices like basil or rosemary, or cumin. Using cumin in anything will automatically remind you of Mexican food. There’s a reason, since it’s used in so many Mexican dishes. Basil and rosemary will always take your food on the Italian route. So, if you don’t want these certain flavours, Thyme is the great alternative.
Bouillon, as I mentioned previously, is a great soup base. We always keep bouillon, in cubes, stocked in the house. On average they are less expensive than canned or cartoned broth, and sometimes you don’t have time to prepare stock from scratch, or you simply don’t have the fish parts or poultry carcass or pork or beef bones on hand. We keep chicken, beef, and pork bouillon in the house, but honestly chicken is the one we use most; and chicken is the basic of all soup stocks, so I’d suggest having this version on hand.