With spring starting to feel a little more sprung, it’s perhaps time to turn your thoughts to spring cleaning your kitchen.
Not just in the sense of wiping those surfaces and giving the oven a good scrub, but in terms of paring all that clutter down to the essentials. We all have kitchen gadgets we never use, and ingredients that sit around gathering dust, while we tell ourselves we’ll use them one day.
Why not clear these out and make space for things you’ll benefit from almost every day? Here’s my guide to the kitchen equipment and ingredients worth making space for, and some ideas on what you could purge in a fit of minimalist decluttering.
Don’t necessarily let these go to waste, though – unwanted kitchen equipment can be donated to charity shops, and unwanted ingredients still in date can go to food banks or food sharing projects like Olio.
Five things you really do need in your kitchen…
A mini chopper
Like a food processor but conveniently compact, these will make short work of nearly all kitchen tasks – chopping nuts, blending up salad dressings, making breadcrumbs with leftover bread, grinding curry pastes – without the faff of cleaning and storing a big piece of equipment. Most jobs can be done in a mini chopper if you don’t have space for a big food processor – you just might have to do some in batches as they’re smaller. I use mine nearly every day and there’s very little it can’t do.
This versatile oil has a high smoke point, meaning it’s safe to cook with at high temperatures. Don’t waste expensive extra virgin olive oil in your stir-fries and on your roasted vegetables – rapeseed works beautifully for pan-frying, roasting and also has a lovely mellow flavour for sauces and salad dressings. If you don’t want to waste space with a vast oil collection, this is the only one you really need. Try and buy a local brand to support small businesses.
A silicon baking mat
Non-stick, dishwasher safe and useful for almost everything. Put it on your oven trays before baking cakes, cookies and bread to stop them sticking, and use to line trays before putting anything potentially messy in the oven. It saves paper because you won’t need endless pieces of baking parchment (which can sometimes not be as non-stick as you’d like) and they store and wash easily.
A pot of good bouillon powder
This vegetable-based stock powder has a great depth of flavour and can be used in any recipe that calls for any type of stock. It comes in powder rather than cube form so it’s easier to use small quantities if a recipe calls for, say, 100ml of stock. Plus, it’s vegetarian. Just have the one tub in your cupboard and you have no need to store myriad varieties of different stock cubes (and they can go hard and unappetizing if not used within the sell-by date).
A really good grater
Box graters are good for vegetables like carrots and courgettes, and of course cheese. Invest in a decent one, and it will be sharp enough to use the finer-holed side for pesky things like zesting citrus fruits and grating fresh ginger, which require a decent blade to do the job. This saves you storing multiple pieces of equipment, as you can use the one for all jobs.
….and five you really don’t.
Dried herbs (with exceptions)
You may as well sprinkle dust on your food. Buy fresh herbs like parsley, mint and coriander in small quantities and store in a cup of water in the fridge like a bunch of flowers – they’ll keep for at least a week this way, and give much more flavour. Basil doesn’t like the cold so buy fresh and use as quickly as possible, or buy a plant. Leftover herbs can be frozen and chopped up from frozen next time you want to use them – the stalks are particularly flavoursome blitzed in a food processor into a salad dressing or pesto. Don’t freeze basil or mint, though. The only herbs that are reasonably flavoursome when dried are sage, thyme and rosemary, and dried oregano if you’re a pizza fan.
Infused olive oils
These make lovely gifts, which is why if you’re a food-lover you’ll probably have ended up with a cupboard-full from well-meaning friends and family. If you’re anything like me, you’ll always forget to use them and they’ll sit in the cupboard turning rancid and losing their flavour. Far better to blitz up a little olive oil with your chosen flavouring in small quantities when you actually need it – just whizz it up in the above-mentioned mini chopper. Basil, chillies, lemon zest, garlic and herbs all work well; just be sure to use it quickly and store in the fridge for a couple of weeks if necessary so it doesn’t go off (which can cause botulism – not good).
Silly kitchen gadgets
Apple corers, boiled egg slicers, egg poaching pods, hilariously-shaped pizza cutters, spaghetti timers, I’m looking at you. All of these kitchen jobs can be done with a good knife and/or a good pan, and some common sense (or help from the internet). The exception is a novelty bagel guillotine. If you have one of these, I salute you.
Chopped and/or toasted nuts
I’ve always been confused by the fact that you can buy pre-toasted nuts in supermarkets. Toasting nuts in a dry frying pan really brings out their aromatic flavour, but this is something best done as and when you want to use the nuts, as the flavour quickly disappears. Pre-toasted nuts are a false economy, and are usually more expensive. It’s a five-minute job to toast nuts in a hot pan or a medium oven, and you’ll be rewarded with a delicious aroma and flavour. Just keep your eye on them as they burn easily. Similarly, pre-chopped nuts lose their freshness more quickly than the whole variety, and it takes a few seconds to chop them yourself (especially if you have a mini chopper). The exception is flaked almonds, because it’s nigh impossible to sliver almonds that thinly yourself. I’ll let you off for buying those.
Pre-made curry sauces
I’m not saying we don’t all need a quick kitchen cheat once in a while for speedy meals at busy times. But, in that case, cheat by using a pre-made curry paste rather than a sauce. You can buy very good Thai and Indian curry pastes these days, and all that’s needed to transform them is a tin of coconut milk, some stock or some chopped tomatoes before you add your meat or veg. Frying the curry paste in a hot pan is where all the flavour comes from, before you add your chosen sauce ingredients, so you’ll end up with a much more flavoursome result if you don’t skip this step. Plus, it allows you to vary the sauce to your own liking, if you wanted to add a little extra chilli, coriander, lime juice, et cetera. It also avoids any preservatives or hefty added sugar or salt that might be lurking in pre-made sauces.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for travel and all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes or planning her next cultural odyssey, she is an English literature academic, specialising in children’s literature.