What Are the Bare Essentials of a Kitchen?

My wife and I recently went through a cross-country move. In addition to all the challenges that come with such an adventure, we wound up being without our shipped belongings (including all our cookware and utensils) for close to two months. While we were very prepared to survive on frozen pizza and carry-out for up to a couple weeks, it eventually became clear that we couldn’t rely on any prompt delivery of our belongings. Acknowledging that we couldn’t continue leaning on pre-made food products, we had to start making some purchases of things we already owned, but were “in-transit”, so that we could do some basic cooking for ourselves.

It was like this for almost two months!

My brother-in-law and his family live nearby, and he was kind enough to loan us a 9″ sauté pan, a dutch oven, and a couple cooking utensils, but only so much can be done with those things (not to mention, before we’d moved, I was very proud of the fully-equipped home kitchen I’d managed to assemble). I was used to having just about anything at my disposal when cooking at home. But I had to start deciding what were the bare essential materials I felt I needed in order to just cook basic food for my wife and I, on a daily basis.

So, what were the essential things I needed to do basic cooking?

My relationship with my wife started with, and continues to be founded on breakfast food; specifically, eggs. So the first thing I needed to get was a non-stick pan. Followed shortly by a cheap chef’s knife and cutting board, a box of kosher salt, a jar of black peppercorns with the grinder attachment on top, and a rubber spatula. We brought our toaster and coffee maker with us in the car, so we did have those staple appliances.

What else…?

Cooking fat/oil: I chose to go with clarified butter. It’s is a cooking fat that is relatively flavor neutral (unlike olive oil), has a high smoke point (unlike whole butter), and it’s low in trans-fat (unlike canola oil). Not to mention, it can be stored at room temperature.

Tin/aluminum foil: Foil can be used to fashion into a makeshift sheet tray or baking sheet, in addition to helping cover and preserve foods and surfaces.

I bought a three-pack of wooden spoons. I only needed one, but it was $4 for the three, and why not? I bought a small saucepan (maybe 24oz.) because I’d actually been looking for one that size for a long time, as well as an equally small chinois. Side note: why is a small saucepan so hard to find in a retail market that’s geared primarily toward people who typically are only cooking for <4 people?! Get your shit together, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sur le Table, and Williams Sonoma!

Once I had all these things, I was able to cook breakfast dishes: hashes, omelettes, eggs any way, etc. Having a knife and cutting board, I now could slice vegetables to make salads, or toppings for sandwiches. My car was shipped separately, and I’d stowed my knife/tool kit (that I use at work) in the trunk, so when my car was delivered a week later, I had my full compliment of knives and small tools. Combine that with the cutting board, and I was able to buy a whole chicken, that I could break down, set in brine (made with the small saucepan), and take to my brother-in-law’s place for fried chicken night. The dutch oven, when used as a large pot, allowed me to boil things, as well as for roasting. And having salt and pepper allowed me to appropriately season anything, as any flavoring/seasoning beyond salt and pepper is not what I consider to be vital.

So, to recap the vital tools upon which any kitchen is founded: a chef’s knife and cutting board (plastic/polymer, not wood), a non-stick frying pan, a large pot and a small pot, tin/aluminum foil, a rubber spatula and a wooden spoon. As for ingredients: salt, pepper and cooking oil. Everything else is just details.

(tin foil not pictured)

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