Recommendations for the Student Kitchen
Everything You'll Need During Your Time At University
by Maurice Alexander
This is a guide for the student that is just beginning their four-year degree at university who either already has a passion for food and its creation or is just becoming interested in the ways of the kitchen. It may seem excessive, expensive and unrealistic for students, but everything mentioned here is what I use on a weekly basis. It must be said that you don’t need to get everything all at once. I pieced together my culinary arsenal naturally, piece by piece, over the course of a year as I needed them. You must remember that you will have these items for four years at least, so divide the upfront cost by four and everything will begin to seem reasonable. If finances are a problem, use what equipment your recipe instructs for moment in time and find similarly prepared recipes until you’re able to afford the next pot, platter or machine.
Stainless-Steel versus Non-Stick
You will see two types of cookware when you’re out shopping for your kitchen for the first time; stainless steel and non-stick. They differ greatly in their price and appearance, but you should purchase only stainless-steel kitchen equipment due to the superior qualities they possess in comparison to their non-stick equivalents.
The quality of greatest importance when using a stainless-steel pan is its ability to conduct heat evenly throughout its surface. This is due to the thickness of its base which is a centimetre of solid steel. This is why you’ll often find ‘heavy bottomed pans’ listed in recipes or as a branding on the packaging of such cookware. The thickness of the steel base allows heat to radiate throughout it and prevent pockets of heat forming where the base of the pan is in direct contact with a gas flame or a stovetop burner. This thickness has an additional quality which prevents the pans from warping out of shape when exposed to a high heat. The strength of the base is fortified by the additional thickness of the ‘heavy bottom’.
Stainless steel is also incredibly easy to clean. Hot water and dish-washing soap is sufficient to wipe away any sediment and leave a sparkling, mirrored surface. This surface is also without any special coating which means you don’t need to be careful with kitchen utensils. Light scratching is normal and avoidable, but a metal serving spoon scraping along the inside of the pan will not shorten its life. These resilient qualities mean that you will have a collection of reliable, quality cookware to accompany you throughout your four years of study.
Non-stick cookware was first used by the Ancient Greeks over three-thousand years ago, when their cookware was punctured with a multitude of miniscule holes which would have promoted the easy release of foods from the surface of their pans. These would have been the height of antiquarian gastronomic equipment, but in 2020, non-stick pans offer the lowest quality on the market. Non-stick pans are created with an aluminium alloy which is sealed with an inert, black, chemical coating. The function of this coating is to repel the components of food that adhere to the surface of traditional inner linings to pots, like steel, ceramic and cast-iron. Those with experience in the kitchen will find that non-stick pans offer no advantages over cookware other than their reduced price.
The lower quality of non-stick pans materialises as their thinner body. Unlike stainless steel equipment with that ‘heavy bottom’, most non-stick pans lack this. This means that the base of the pan is quite thin, meaning it is liable to warping after numerous uses under high heat. Warping shifts the shape of the pan, which translates into reality through not sitting perfectly flat on a surface, causing non-uniform heat exposure when placed onto a burner. This is a source of great difficulty when preparing foods.
The chemical coat that is applied to the inside lining of non-stick kitchenware causes another problem. All non-stick cookware recommends the use of plastic or wooden stirring and serving instruments only as stainless-steel implements scratch off the coating, ruining the pan.
The final point to address about non-stick cookware is the idea of ‘non-stick’. Things sticking to a pan is natural. This happens in a variety of different ways, an example being when searing chicken segments, which adhere to the inside surface before naturally releasing themselves when properly browned and crisp. You can’t properly brown anything in non-stick cookware due to the impossibility of them sticking to the pan for this crucial step, rendering you unable to sufficiently execute any recipes which call for browning.
Never limit your ability in the kitchen and invest in stainless steel cookware.
Pots and Pans
Pots have two handles close to their body and pans have a long, singular handle that leads away from its round centre. I prefer pans because the greater distance of the handle from the equipment’s hot body and the flaming stovetop burner means that the handle will be cool enough to handle without an oven mitten. The close handles of a pot get as hot as the pots body so you’ll need to always handle them with mittens, which I find quite cumbersome and impractical. However, if you prefer to use pots, just swap out ‘pan’ for ‘pot’ in the following recommendations.
A final note, you should only purchase cooking equipment that is wholly stainless steel and is without a plastic or wooden handle. Some recipes call for ingredients to be seared or sautéed on the stovetop before being finished within the hot cavity of an oven. Plastic handles will melt and wooden handles will burn, leaving stainless-steel as your only option.
The smallest of pans; think if a mug was turned into a pan. Its main job is the melting of butter for its addition to recipes, which you’ll do for crepes, cakes and to create clarified butter for dishes requiring a sautéed ingredient. Clarified butter is superior to oil, as it possesses the butter flavour with a similar smoking point to oil. Butter melting pans are also good at reducing wines before adding to risottos.
It helps to think of saucepans in terms of general size rather that their volume, but a small saucepan typically holds just over a litre of water and is perfect for serving dishes for one to four people. Tasks for small saucepans include, but are in no way limited to, braising vegetables with butter, wine, sugar and salt till just tender enough to pricked by the tongs of fork, steaming white rice till fluffy and light, reheating soup from a tin to restore its flavour, caressing porridge oats in a pool of milk, sugar and butter till plump, and finally for reducing sugar and water together in the pursuit of an amber caramel.
Medium saucepans hold close to two litres of liquid. They are the natural inbetweener whose main function is to step up the challenge when cooking for many people at once (think more than 4). Even in most households, the medium saucepan is underutilised so you can safely skip this item if you don’t plan on cooking for your entire flat often.
Large saucepans hold three to four litres in volume. You will become great friends with this piece of equipment as it will become your most used item since it is perfect for batch cooking (think chiles, curries, Bolognese). You can also use it as a stovetop fryer, exerting a great amount of caution when you do so. You won’t deep fry often, but everyone gets a craving for fried food from time to time!
Stockpot / Extra Large Pan
Stockpots are an enormous piece of kitchen equipment; larger than the largest saucepans, they hold an incredible depth of liquid for their intended purpose of making stocks from carcass bones and root vegetables. I have a five-litre stockpot for no other purpose that for boiling pasta. The incredibly wide mouth of the pan means that the long hard strands of linguine, spaghetti, bucatini or any other length pasta cut and easily be placed into the boiling water with no need for you to attempt to push it down for a moment. The great volume stockpots can hold mean that you will always have enough water flowing around to prevent the pasta from sticking together. A must have for pasta lovers in halls of residence!
Frying pans are a wide shallow pan with deep, curved edges. This is the principle distinction from sauté pans, whose edges are completely vertical. Get the largest frying pan available to you (I have one with a twelve-inch diameter) as the wide face of the pan accompanies a large number of items for frying. Frying pans are essential, you can think of it as the breakfast pan as you’ll be using it mainly for omelettes, crepes, scrambled eggs, pancakes and the occasional quick lunchtime pasta dishes.
As described above, sauté pans separate themselves from frying pans by their tall, upright edges and their possession of lid. If you’re a passionate cook with experience in using them, I would get one. They are on the expensive side, but a lot of recipes do call for things to be covered with a lid to allow them to steam on the stovetop for several minutes and you just can do that with a frying pan. You’ll know the types of recipes I’m talking about, especially if you have attempted them in a frying pan and tried to substitute the lid for a large metal plate or several sheets for kitchen foil. If you’re just starting out, I would skip this recommendation.
Casserole dishes will be your most handsome piece of kitchenware; a round cast-iron pot, brilliantly coloured with a smooth, heavy lid flowing to the centre towards a round handle. They prove themselves very useful when preparing risottos or any dish that requires searing on the stovetop before being placed into an oven, like coq au vin. You can also make cakes in them, if you’re eccentric. You might be wondering what size. I have one sized at a 20cm diameter and its proven itself useful one a whole variety of recipes. One drawback is that they are quite expensive.
A major self-discovery I had whilst writing this brief guide is that I never cook any Asiatic dishes but because I am aware that students rely on stir-fried dishes on a daily basis. If you are someone who enjoys the flavours of the Orient, then I would invest in one as a first purchase, as you can prepare both lunch and dinner in them as well as fry eggs for breakfast.
The number of plates to buy depends again on the number of people you’ll be catering for throughout the year. You really want to have all the plates matching, because it is unsightly if everyone is eating on different ones. I would get four large plates for dinner parties and four smaller plates to serve lunch or dessert on.
Forks, Butterknives, Soup Spoons and Dessertspoons
Everyone knows what a fork looks like and butterknives are those blunted knives sold alongside them which may have very slight serration to their blades. People can be ignorant about the difference between the two spoon types; soup spoons are those with a circular well and dessert spoons are those with a pointed egg shape to their well. For entertaining four, get four sets of cutlery. For entertaining six, get six sets of cutlery. You are free to get one set for yourself or two sets if you were to have lunch or dessert with a friend from time to time. The number all depends on how active you think social life will become.
Trivets are an intricately woven piece of metal that stands on clawed-feet. It has its use when serving food to guests, like when you serve a dish from your handsome casserole dish straight from the oven. The clawed feet lift the bottom of hot pans from the table, preventing damage and the gaps in their form allow a greater amount of heat to radiate out into the air rather than collect in one area of a table or work-surface. I use my trivet daily, as I find it’s the best way to take a pan off the heat, rather than transferring it to a different burner.
These may seem like a needless expense, but their compact size is just perfect for a flavoursome coffee fresh from the French press. Get as many as you feel you will need for coffee with friends.
The larger volume mugs can hold are perfect for tea. Espresso cups are simply too small to fulfil their duty for providing an invigorating drink of tea upon waking up in the dark, frosted mornings of November or returning home from a marathon of lectures.
A Large French Press
A French press is a glass pitcher enclosed within a stainless-steel frame attached to a handle. The pitcher is topped by a domed lid holds a fine mesh filter which you plunge down through the body of the pitcher to segregate coffee grounds, spices, herbs, tea-leaves, strips of citrus fruit or anything else you have allowed to brew. You might be tempted to get a small one that accompanies enough volume for one or two people, but what happens when there’s four of you? You can’t tell them to wait for there’s whilst you and another enjoy your own. A large French press avoids this problem; you get to use it everyday for your morning coffee, but you can also entertain a coffee morning or brunch with friends. With a French press, you can also try out traditional tea recipes; boiled water with a variety of spices and cut fruits that infuse in the water, being pushed down away from the spout by the press.
Ensures that you can stay in your room studying and drinking for a great length of time without having to get up and fill a glass of water every few minutes. The larger the better, since you can stay focussed for longer studying whatever material for an essay, report or project and you also get to entertain guests with chilled water along with lunch or dinner. If they pitcher is quite attractive, it can also double as a vase for fresh flowers to decorate the dining table in the kitchen.
For braised, glazed vegetables, mashed potatoes, pureed vegetables and for accompaniments to desserts like custard or gently whipped cream. I would get two or three, since its typically the amount of vegetable side-dishes you have with a meal.
Large Pasta Dish
A pasta dish is a wide, somewhat shallow, bowl. It comes into play when you have friends round, where the pasta goes in at the countertop and is brought to the table and placed in front of all the guests as a marvellous presentation of the delicious pasta dish you’ve just made, before being distributed to each guests individual plate.
Platters are essentially flat presentation plates. They can be circular, oval, square or rectangular of varying width and length. Food is laid upon platters in an aesthetically pleasing way on the kitchen counter and brought to table. They can be used for cuts of meat, braised vegetables or for a cake. Think a tumble of steamed cabbage wedges, cuts of tender rare steaks gently overlapping one another slathered in a reduction sauce or a parade of slices of cake. They principally dinner party items but I use them in an almost daily basis as it heightens the dining experience.
For general purpose stirring of liquids in pans.
Necessary for dishes that have a tendency to stick to the bottom and sides of a pan, like scrambled eggs. You’ll probably think a spatula wouldn’t make much be better than a spoon, but it makes a world of difference.
Irreplaceable feature of a cutlery drawer. For flipping eggs, crepes, pancakes, and turning over searing segments of meat.
A device that removes the tough outer skin of a variety of vegetables. This hastens their cooking dramatically so be sure to get one as you’ll be so thankful for their invention during the lead up to exams when time runs short.
Large slotted spoon
Essential when frying anything from doughnuts to whitebait. The punctured surface of the spoon allows the searing oil to flow through back into the saucepan whilst allowing you to get what you’re frying.
This is a large, often stainless steel, spoon. A must-have for getting reasonable portions in one or two spoonfuls from the pot to the plate. Tipping a pot onto a plate never goes as planned and is always messy. It’s also no way to serve food to guests at a dinner party!
Think a ladle with large, blunt, upright teeth. These capture strands of pasta as they flow around the boiling waters with the greatest of ease when you’re testing their bite. You can use a fork instead but it’s a technique that requires some perfecting and cast-iron hands.
This broad sheet of deep-sided metal is for roasting whole chickens, lamb shanks, a segment of beef either to serve whole at the table or to shred up for sandwiches at the library.
A flat piece of metal. Once lined with parchment or kitchen foil, it can be used for placing frozen food into the oven, chips, burger patties, frozen pizzas as well pastries like croissants and cinnamon rolls.
You’ll discover that a lot of your hallmates will attempt to drain the pasta through holding the lid slightly ajar and pouring the water out into the sink. Save yourself a lot of effort and get a colander. There are two main designs; one with a large single handle and one that is claw-footed. Either do the job of catching the hot pastas and allowing the salted, starchy water to flow through its holes and into the drain, but the claw footed ones mean you can just place it directly into the sink and it will support itself and not fall over. You can also place it into a large bowl to catch the contents of a stew in order to obtain a flavoursome cooking liquid to serve as a base for sauces.
I have a complete set of vintage stainless-steel bowls. They’re not heavy, being much lighter and better conductors of heat than ceramic of glass. There’s also no chance of them chipping, cracking or breaking if you were to drop them. The largest is wider than myself, being used for whipping egg whites. The smallest bowls are around the palm of my hand and are used for holding cut vegetables and ingredients to free up space on a chopping board.
Essential for making sauces in a small saucepan- balloon whisk is too bulking. These are used when adding pieces of butter one at a time or incorporating a great volume of stock or oil into a sauce base via thin, yet constant, trickle.
For beating egg whites to their maximum volume- the eggs stretch over the bulbous head and capturing as much air and they collapse in on themselves. The larger whisk the better, as they allow more air to be incorporated into the egg whites. Get one with an ergonomic handle, as balloon whisks with a think wire handle or a straight bulbous one can cut into the palm of your hand when you’re vigorously whisking for a great length of time.
A nine-inch cake pan is the best size that fits most recipes and is easily available at all retailers. Traditional recipes for cake only typically call for one slab of sponge, but if you want a cake with two or three tiers, you’ll have to by one for each.
For transporting cake and other sweet goods you might bring somewhere, either to a friend’s house or to serve as an pleasant surprise at a team meeting for an assignment. whether they are brownies, peanut brittle or generous slices of a moist cake topped with a luscious, decadent frosting.
These trays have usually a dozen of small, deep depressions that are to hold the paper cases for muffins and cupcakes. These can be used for an easy baked good to make for friends when you’re pressed for time or when you’ve got an extra hour in the morning for some breakfast muffins. If you’re involved in societies (which you definitely should be) you might get roped into a bake sale; you’ll be able to contribute to the funding effort and keep everyone happy!
A food processor is for someone that knows they’re going to invest time and effort into the kitchen. I use it for making flavoured butters, mayonnaise and getting fresh white breadcrumbs to coat chicken pieces, fish segments and to top vegetable dishes. Essential for getting into tart making- it’s so much quicker and easier to add the ingredients in one by one and pulse until properly amalgamated. The machine avoids the problem of the heat of your hands taking the chill off of the dough. A student owning one of these seems ridiculous, but they really are useful. There also exists cake recipes that are prepared entirely in food processor too. Remember that you will be studying for the next 4 years, so £60 divided by four is only £20 a year. Well worth it for securing that fresh breadcrumb supply!