To an outsider, my kitchen looks tidy. Pots hang neatly from a pegboard. Next to the sink, an earthenware vase holds scrub brushes and sponges. Salt, pepper and olive oil — all in attractive vessels — take up position next to the range.
But please don’t open up my kitchen tool drawer. All hell has broken loose there. Decades’ worth of rarely used gadgets are buried under a patina of regrettable recent purchases. The dividers long ago ceased to perform their stated function.
My New Year’s resolution is to conquer that drawer, take a fearless inventory of its contents, then pare down to what I really need.
I began by spreading everything out on my living room floor. After some initial shock — because the contents of the drawer pretty much took up my whole living room floor — I began to see the patterns that would help me bring order out of chaos.
Too much of a good thing: I believe that every home cook needs tongs, whisks, vegetable peelers, spoons and spatulas. And if one of each is good, four, five or six is better, right? This is the logic that got me into this mess in the first place, but it’s faulty logic. With my limited space, I’m going to limit myself to two vegetable peelers (a horizontal-blade Kuhn Rikon and a vertical-blade OXO Good Grips), two whisks (large and small), and spoons and spatulas that are all different sizes and/or serve different functions. Sorry, I can’t part with any working tongs. They are just too useful. But I am going to hang the tongs on a hook near the range, and put all long spoons and spatulas in a canister on the counter.
Souvenirs: Years ago, when I toured the Pio Tosini prosciutto factory in Parma, I received a slender ham probe made out of a horse bone. The probe is poked into five different parts of the curing ham and, after each poke, it is smelled by the tester to assess any defects. This tool comes in its own custom-made leather pouch, from which I am prepared to unsheathe it the next time someone presents me with a ham that may or may not be defective. And if anyone presents me with a whole wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, my beautiful, wood-handled Parmesan knife (from the same trip) stands at the ready. Can we not talk about the molinillo (traditional Mexican hot-chocolate frother) I brought back from Mexico? In the end, I kept the Italian souvenirs, but gave the molinillo to a friend whose kitchen drawer is not my concern.
Oversaving: When useful items are free, I can’t bring myself to throw them out. To avoid oil rings on the counter, I like to keep my olive-oil carafe on a tomato-can lid. So, of course, I never throw out tomato-can lids. Someday I will find uses for the superstrong rubber bands used to bundle broccoli and asparagus, and the white paper rounds that are pressed into the tops of Fage yogurt. I have dozens of them. I used to give my dad a hard time about all the jam jars he saved for some future use in his shop. Insert apple-tree joke here. Still, these items take up very little space; I moved them into another drawer.
Incremental improvements: I can’t remember when I first fell in love with instant-read thermometers, but I’ve been buying them for decades. I started with cheap ones from the restaurant-supply store, most of which failed after a year or two. I kept them on hand and advanced to midpriced thermometers which, I discovered, don’t last forever, either. They got added to the collection. Now, however, I’ve purchased two items from ThermoWorks, the Utah-based company that produces gold-standard temperature calibration tools. The ThermoWorks digital instant-read Thermapen retails for $79 and has a lifetime guarantee. For good measure, I also bought a ThermoWorks DOT probe thermometer ($39) which stays in meat while it roasts, and relays the temperature to a digital readout via a cord that’s oven safe up to 700 degrees. I am so confident of these new thermometers, I’ve gotten rid of the old ones.
Aspirational delusion: The pump fitted for jars of Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup. The oyster shucking knife. The other oyster shucking knife. The lame (French pronunciation: “lahm”), a razor-sharp blade for slashing baguette dough. The graduated stainless steel ring molds. The candy thermometer. The crinkle-cut pickle knife. These would all be invaluable . . . if I ever made egg creams, shucked oysters, baked bread, molded tuna tartar, made fudge or crinkle-cut pickles. Hope springs eternal, though. I’ve pruned this group to one oyster-shucking knife and the candy thermometer.
Occupational hazards: I’m not going to lie. Being a food writer means I wind up with more kitchen gadgets than the average home cook. Newsday photo shoots sometimes require tools that are more photogenic than whatever I have hanging around. Anyone recall the story I did in 2014 about frozen pizza? I still have the four pizza cutters to prove it. Mostly, though, my habit is abetted by the gadget manufacturers who bombard me with new ones all year long so that I’ll share them with you. Yes, I realize your own kitchen drawer may harbor some excess equipment for which I bear responsibility. I apologize. Let me know if you need a pizza cutter.
There are worse things than having too many kitchen tools — like not having enough. Here’s the bare minimum:
2 spring-loaded tongs (1 short, 1 long)
2 wooden spoons (1 round, 1 angled)
2 whisks (1 large, 1 small)
2 vegetable peelers (1 horizontal blade, 1 vertical)
1 silicone mixing spatula
1 thin, flexible turning spatula
1 pair of poultry shears
1 oversized straining spoon or Chinese spider
1 set of measuring cups
1 set of measuring spoons
1 can opener
1 microplane grater
1 instant-read thermometer
3 knives (1 chef’s knife, 1 serrated bread knife, 1 paring knife)