Every January, many of us make New Year’s resolutions about food, often unsustainable ones.
y this point of the month, these goals are mostly forgotten, but one simple change you can make for healthier eating in 2023 is to do more home cooking.
And for that, you’ll need the right tools. To ensure you’re properly equipped, we asked some of Ireland’s top chefs to share their most invaluable pieces of kitchen kit.
The one essential that came up time and again was a good chef’s knife. Catherine Fulvio of Ballyknocken House and Cookery School likes the chef’s knife from German manufacturer F Dick (€65.99, Nisbets.ie).
“My chef’s knife is my workhorse. I use an 8-inch, which gives me great control. This particular knife does all the chopping, slicing and dicing with ease. It’s easy to sharpen and keep sharp, and it simply glides through anything I need to cut,” she says. “As I’m left-handed, I find some knives more difficult to use than others.
“My chopping knife has rounded steel on top so it doesn’t cut into your fingers when you grip the knife, and the handle is nicely shaped for ease of grip.”
On a lower budget, Jordan Bailey, chef at the two-Michelin-starred Aimsir in Celbridge, Co Kildare, recommends Swiss brand Victorinox (chef’s knife from €30.99, Nisbets.ie).
“Everyone needs even just one good chef’s knife,” he says. “Every chef has had a Victorinox knife in their collection or probably still has one from way back when — they last you a very long time and they’re very easy to sharpen.”
The brand sells its own sharpener (€34.99, Nisbets.ie), which Jordan advises keeping in your cutlery drawer. “They don’t stay sharp on their own, so you need to look after them, even just running your blade through it after every couple of times you’ve used it,” he says.
Rory O’Connell of Ballymaloe Cookery School is also a fan of Victorinox, which he says makes “very nice knives” at a good price. “You can spend a fortune on knives, but you don’t need to,” says Rory.
“Really, if you have these four, you’ll be grand: a chopping knife, a flexible filleting knife, what’s called a fruit knife or an office knife — a small little knife — and then definitely a serrated bread knife. And that’s it, you’d be fine with all of that.”
Once you have decent knives, Rory says the other essential item is a good chopping board. “I would definitely recommend a heavy timber chopping board rather than a plastic one. There are good timber chopping boards being made in Ireland. The reality is timber chopping boards are more hygienic than plastic ones,” he says.
Chef and Odlums ambassador Adrian Martin (ChefAdrian.ie) prefers wooden boards too. “Look for a really good, heavy duty wooden chopping board that’s good quality wood and chunky.” Meath-based Caulfield Country Boards make chopping blocks from beech ($57, Meadows & Byrne), which include a drip ring and inset side handles for easier lifting.
Adrian and Rory emphasized that proper care is required to preserve wooden boards.
“When you’re cleaning it, never soak it in water and never, ever put it in the dishwasher,” says Rory. “Just a tiny bit of detergent and some warm soapy water, give it a scrub and then dry it really well or leave it standing up in your kitchen to dry.”
Adrian adds: “I wash mine with lemon and salt, just scrubbing it with a lemon and some sea salt to remove any kind of grime off it.”
For other utensils, Adrian suggests the Stellar peeler (€5.99, Homestore and More). “I have tried every speed peeler under the sun and this one for me is king of all. Potatoes are done in seconds. It’s so good,” he says. “It’s the easiest and it’s always been sharp as well.”
Adrian also recommends a Microplane grater (€33.95, TheKitchenWhiskie.ie). “I used to always use a box grater and now everything’s done on the Microplane. It’s so much quicker, so much easier and way easier to wash as well,” he says. “I’ve tried loads of graters and I honestly swear by this thing.”
For the “perfect mash”, Catherine advises getting a “good, strong potato ricer”, such as the one from Joseph Joseph (€34.50, Stock Design Store). “A potato ricer is the most foolproof way to get the softest, fluffiest, mashed potato — guaranteed lump-free,” she says.
When choosing a new pan, Le Creuset was the unanimous favorite among our experts. Eunice Power, chef, food writer and owner of Andchips in Dungarvan, has an earlier version of the cast iron shallow casserole (€210, Kildare Village), which comes with a lid.
“I have been cooking with this for the past 20 years. It’s brilliant for slow cooking, risottos, simmering curries and stews. It’s solid and oozes comfort. Its heavy base enhances caramelisation — everything seems to look and taste better. And after 20 winters’ daily use, it’s still respectable enough to bring to the table,” she says. “Needless to say, I never put this in the dishwasher, just a gentle wash in warm soapy water as, over the years, it has built up a natural non-stick patina.”
Jordan also highlights the Le Creuset casserole, although he uses a deeper version (€236.65, Kildare Village) for slow cooking, braising meats and even baking sourdough bread. “We use it for everything, basically. Once you buy one, as long as you don’t drop it and smash it, it’ll last you a lifetime,” he says.
There are plenty of countertop appliances that can be put to a variety of uses, such as the Ninja Foodi Dual Zone air fryer ($239.99, Currys), of which Adrian is a great enthusiast.
“I think it is totally revolutionary because I use it for everything — baking cookies, doing chips, toast, even just making dinners throughout the week. You don’t have to switch on the oven so you save seriously on electricity. It’s just so quick and convenient,” he says.
Jordan says his most-used appliance at home is a George Foreman grill ($69.95, Harvey Norman). “We use it for everything, mainly because it’s fast, it’s quick, and it’s healthy. But you can also make it unhealthy if you’re treating yourself,” he says, noting that he particularly likes it for making toasties or grilling chicken and vegetables.
“We work pretty long days and you want something really easy to make when you get home or even in the mornings on the weekends. It’s a very easy thing just to switch on and grill a bagel or croissant.”