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Essential tools of the trade


Some chefs stock their kitchens with all kinds of expensive high-tech tools, from sous vide machines to Vitamix blenders.

But even the pros like to rely on time-tested, old-school tools to whip up a risotto or sear off a pork tenderloin.

"We're the bare-bones cooks," said Duskie Estes of Zazu restaurant in Santa Rosa. "What excites me is the ingredients and the person behind the ingredients."

We asked a handful of chefs in Wine Country to share some of their favorite kitchen implements and gadgets that have withstood the test of time.

A few of these tools came from Dehillerin, a famous kitchen store that has supplied Paris since 1820. But most can be found at your favorite hardware or cooking store.

Mortar & Pestle: This primitive tool, consisting of a stone or ceramic bowl with a small club, has been used from Mexico to Malaysia to pound herbs and spices into pestos and chili pastes.

Chef/owner Charlie Palmer of the Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg uses a mortar & pestle, rather than a spice grinder, to grind peppercorns.

"You use small amounts," he said. "And it gives you better control of the grind."

Colleen McGlynn of DaVero Olive Oil in Healdsburg has a collection of mortar & pestles that she uses for making everything from aioli to salsa verde.

Knives: "Everybody likes old knives that they've had forever," said Franco Dunn of One World Sausages in Healdsburg. "Especially the old, carbon-steel ones that sharpen really easily."

John Stewart of Zazu restaurant is fond of the carbon-steel knives he bought at Dehillerin in Paris, as well as his new set of Bob Kramer knives sold at Sur La Table.

Justin Wangler of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates has a knife from each of his restaurant jobs, including a German Wusthof and a Damascus hand-hammered steel knife. He also likes the new Nenox line of knives from Japan.

Park Avenue Catering founder Bruce Riezenman is fond of his multipurpose cheese knife, which has big holes in it so that it doesn't stick to rind-ripened cheeses. It's also perfect for slicing cheesecakes and gooey, decadent chocolate cakes.

Cast-iron cookware: Hands-down, this is the most popular form of old-school cookware among chefs, and it has made a miraculous comeback in recent years.

"Lodge (cast-iron brand) was literally dying out," Palmer said. "Now it's booming again. They came up with a coating that is rust-resistant."

Cheap, durable and timeless, the heavy cast-iron skillet heats up gradually, conducts heat evenly and holds its heat. As a bonus, the metal handle allows it to slide easily from the stovetop to the oven.

Riezenman has three sizes of cast-iron skillets, which he uses for searing meat and cooking eggs. To wash them, he puts water in the pan, rubs it with a stainless-steel scrubber, cleans it with a paper towel, then puts a dab of olive oil on it and rubs it in.

Stewart claims he owns every piece of cast-iron that's ever been made.

"I coat them with bacon fat," he said. "We make a lot of pancakes and bacon and sausage, and my family is Irish, so we make soda bread in it."

The one drawback, Stewart warns, is that you don't want to cook anything acidic in cast iron, such as wine or tomatoes, because it reacts with the metal, creating an unpleasant metallic taste or damaging the surface of the pan.

Spoons: Both Dunn and Stewart own a collection of old, wooden spoons that are gentler than metal spatulas on high-end pans such as All-Clad brand.

"I like the feel. They're timeless," Stewart said. "I have gigantic ones for big stockpots that are close to three feet long."

Dunn's spoons have been used so much that they have flattened on the bottom, the better to scrape the rice off the bottom of the simmering risotto pot.

Mary Bergin, a private culinary instructor in Santa Rosa, would never go anywhere without her old, wooden risotto spoon, which is flat on the bottom and has a hole in the middle, for easier stirring.

For saucing a plate, Wangler often uses a dripless Gray Kunz Sauce spoon, designed by the New York chef in the late 1990s. At home, he uses lots of chopsticks, especially the stainless steel ones from Korea, for flipping meat and serving.

"I can get 20 pairs of chopsticks in my dishwasher," he said. "And I like eating with them, because it slows you down."

This recipe is from Mary Bergin, who stirs the ristto with her wooden risotto spoon

Lemon Risotto with Fried Leeks

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 large leek, cleaned and julienned

? to 1 cup canola or vegetable oil

— Sea salt

? cup extra virgin olive oil

? medium onion, finely diced

1? cups Arborio Rice

— Zest of 3 lemons

6 to 8 cups chicken stock, heated

1 cup dry white wine

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

? cup freshly grated parmesan

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium size skillet, heat canola oil. When the temperature reaches 350 degrees, fry the leeks in batches until they are golden brown. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt. Set aside until needed.

In a 10-to 12-inch saut?pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the rice and stir until thoroughly coated and opaque, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest.

Add a 4 to 6 ounce ladle of hot chicken stock and cook, stirring all the time, until the liquid is absorbed. Continue stirring and adding the stock, a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more stock, until the rice is tender and creamy but still al dente, about 18-20 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until the alcohol smell is gone, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter and parmesan, and stir vigorously for 25 seconds. Season with salt and pepper and garnish each serving with fried leeks. Serve immediately.

This cake is one of Bruce Riezenman's favorite desserts. The chef/owner of Park Avenue Catering uses his cheese knife with holes in it to cut this soft, decadent dessert.

"It has a great rich chocolate flavor, but is light and airy at the same time. When you bake it, it forms a crackly crust on top that contrasts with the rich interior. Served with some soft, lightly sweetened whipped cream, it is the perfect end to a meal. "

Chocolate Torte

Makes 8 to 10 servings

? pound butter

? pound chocolate, bittersweet, excellent quality

6 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar, granulated

2 teaspoons almonds, ground fine

4 teaspoons cake flour

1/3 cup sugar, granulated

6 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a mixing bowl over a water bath with simmering water.

Combine the egg yolks and the first amount of sugar. Whisk until the egg mixture is pale yellow.

Combine the cake flour and almond powder. (You can make almond powder in your food processor or by finely chopping almonds and sifting for the finer crumbs).

Whisk the butter/chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture.

With a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour/almond mix into the chocolate batter.

Whip egg whites and the second amount of sugar to a soft peak and gently fold this into the batter by adding a third of the whites and folding that in first. This loosens the batter and makes it easier to fold in the rest of the whipped egg whites.

Spray a 9-inch cake pan with non-stick spray. Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 325 degrees until center is creamy and the top is crackly and the top is nice and round all the way to the center of the cake. Remove and let it cool for at least a couple of hours.

Serve with soft whipped cream and any seasonal fruit or berries you'd like.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson @pressdemocrat.com.