Sunday, April 22, 2018

Saladosity, Part 11: The Right Equipment

[This is the eleventh post in a long series.  You may wish to start at the beginning.  Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

Finally we’ve bought all our food and we can start looking at equipment.  If you’re a fan of Good Eats, Alton would say we’re done with the software and now we can move on to the hardware.1  Now, for this post in particular, I’m going to be throwing a whole bunch of links at you.  That’s mainly so you can see what I’m talking about.  I’m not saying you have to buy these exact brands.  In fact, I’m not even particularly recommending these brands.  I literally just found the most appopriate picture, is all.

Now, you probably think I’m going to tell you the most important piece of equipment you need is a good knife.  Nope.  I personally think the most important thing you need to make a good salad is a good cutting board.  You want something big and solid and made of wood—you can never cut raw meat on it, of course, but we won’t need any raw meat for any of our salads.  I like the style that has a removable tray in it, but there are lots of options.  Main thing is, you want it to be big enough to work comfortably without running out of space, but small enough to fit in your sink sideways for easy rinsing.  (Perfectly fine if you need to flip it around to get the other side because it sticks up out of the sink so much.)  The tray makes it nice because you just sweep the chopped veggies into it and it’s easy to dump things into your bowl or other container.

Of course, a good knife is absolutely the second most important thing.  You have a couple of options here.  Personally, I thnk the all-around best knife is the chef’s knife.  Nice, solid, easy-to-grip handle, wide, heavy blade, perfect for chopping.  I like ones made of all metal, but, again, there are lots of styles to choose from.  Your other good option is a Santoku knife.  Again, I like the all metal style, but whatever floats your boat.  The Santoku lacks the sharp point on the end, which is probably a good thing (it’s one less thing to stab yourself with), and it has cullens (those scalloped depressions on the sides) which reduce cutting friction.  So it has a few advantages.  But it’s not as heavy, and the shape is a little less ideal, at least in my hand.  But I still like the Santoku, especially for cutting onions (for some reason).  So I commonly switch back and forth between the two.

The next thing you’ll need is a good vegetable peeler.  Now, there are like a zillion different kinds of peelers out there.  On the advice of Alton Brown,2 I prefer a “Y peeler” style.3  The Mother, on the other hand, absolutely hates that style,4 and likes the old fashioned metal pieces of garbage that leave grooves in your palm and are prone to twisting unexpectedly and slicing the tips of your fingers off.  Which is nice if you’re trying to elude the police and don’t want to leave fingerprints any more, I suppose, but otherwise seems less than ideal.  The main thing I use it for is peeling cucumbers, which are my all-time favorite salad vegetable, but perhaps you like other veggies that need peeling.  And also there’s apples, although many people like to leave the peels on those.  Personally I’m not a big peel fan, regardless of the type of produce.  The main thing here is that you want something that feels comfortable in your hand and that will more often peel veggies than you.

Now that you can chop all your veggies, you’ll need a way to make your dressings.  In other words, you need a good food processor.  Now, there like a zillion different options for that, and you can spend as much or as little as you like getting one.  But I’ll tell you the one I particularly like: the Ninja kitchen system.  It’s a bit pricey, but you can often get a good deal on one at Costco, and, in addition to making excellent dressings, you can make smoothies too.  Which is a mega-bonus, as far as I’m concerned.  But as long as you can both chop and puree, that’s all you really need.

And now it’s time to move from the obviously-necessary to the so-you-think-you-can-live-without-it category.  Perfect example: an apple corer-slicer.  Perhaps you’ve not actually seen one of these; it’s a small circle of metal inside a larger circle of metal with 6 or 8 “spokes” connecting the two.  Sometimes the outside circle is actually plastic, as in this model, which also has nice rubber grips.  Basically, you put the small circle over the core of the apple and just push down, and: voilà.  Perfect apple slices, just about every time.  Now, you may think you don’t need such a thing—after all, can’t you just use a paring knife?  Well, sure ... you could.  But the whole point of this series is making eating healthy easy.  With one of these babies, you can get 6 or 8 perfect slices of apple in about 10 seconds, and at least half of that is spent just lining up the circles.  Practically the only time you have to spend preparing an apple is peeling it, and, if you’re okay with eating apple peel,5 then you’re spending no time at all.  Easy prep means you’re more likely to eat the fruit.

Similarly, many people think you don’t really need an egg slicer.  And there are some downsides to having one, such as being bitchy to clean, and, if the “strings” get warped, it gets harder to open back up.  But they’re cheap, and way easier (and faster) than trying to slice a hard-boiled egg with a knife.  And two bonus points:  First, your slices of eggs are perfectly consistent, every time, which you can never manage with a knife, because you’re constantly trying to slice something which is both round and slippery.  Secondly, after you turn the egg into slices, you can then turn it 90 degrees and slice it crosswise, thus turning your slices into chunks, so you have options.  Personally, I own the OXO model, but I’m sure many others are just as lovely.

Another thing you may think you can live without (but you would be wrong) is a good stick blenderat least I’ve always called it a “stick blender,” but apparently the proper name is “immersion blender.”  This is another item which comes in many different flavors: you can even get one with a whisk attachment.  But you don’t need anything fancy.  Now, a stick blender is excellent for making soup, and that alone would make it worth the 20 bucks (or even less).  But where it really shines is making mayonnaise.  See, mayonnaise is one of those things that is very difficult to find made out of anything other than crappy ingredients like soybean oil.  And, you can make it yourself, but it takes forever and it’s really easy to screw up.  Unless you have a stick blender.  If you have a stick blender, it takes about a minute of prep time, and maybe 30 seconds worth of actual work.  Trust me: you need one of these.

Now, I also mentioned earlier that you were going to need a good pepper grinder.  Can you live without one of these?  No, you cannot.  Do not try to substitute crappy pepper dust for freshly-cracked peppercorns.  The tastes are only vaguely related, like trying to substitute cheap lemon flavoring for actual lemon juice.  Now, I personally prefer a shorter model with good rubber grips,6 because I think those tall skinny models are more awkward than stylish: give me functional any day.  But the main thing is to have an adjustable grind and to be easy to refill.  I think having a transparent barrel, so you can quickly see when you’re about to run out, is pretty handy too, but some people favor form over function.  Whatever works for you.

Finally, we move into the category of you-don’t-absolutely-have-to-have-it-but-you’ll-be-happier-if-you-do.  For instance, take the electric lemon juicer.  Could you juice lemons without one?  Of course you can.  But it’s a huge pain in the ass.  And remember: we’re all about making it quick and easy.  The kind of juicer I have is a basic Black & Decker model with an adjustable pulp filter, two sizes of reamers, and an auto-reverse function.  Yep, believe it or not, that’s a pretty simple one—you can get all kinds of complex above and beyond that.  But that’s all you really need.

Once you make your dressings, you can just keep them in bowls, or tupperware-style containers.  But it’s much nicer if you have a big funnel and some glass bottles.  As far as bottles go, you certainly could buy them from Amazon, but why bother?  Just save some of the bottles from other salad dressings that you buy: peel the lables off, throw ’em in the dishwasher, and Bob’s yer uncle.  As far as funnels go, I (perhaps predictably) favor the OXO, but, really, one funnel is as good as another, for the most part.

The very last thing you could live without but won’t want to is a decent salad spinner.  Our plan is to make a big batch of veggies, then keep them around for at least a week.  That way, any time you want salad, it’s right there at your fingertips, and you’re only chopping up massive quantities of produce once a week or so.  But in order for this plan to work, you’re going to need to be able to store that big batch in such a way that it will last a week without getting yucky.  And, for that, a salad spinner is absolutely the best tool.  You can toss your veggies in it, you can use the magic of centrifugal force to whisk off excess moisture, and then throw the whole spinner in the fridge, where it will keep your salad moist enough not to dry out and get disgusting but not so moist it starts to decompose and become disgusting.  A salad spinner is the most super-awesome innovation in salad-making technology in the past century, I would say.  Do not fail to take advantage of it.

That’s all the equipment we’ll need, unless of course I think of more along the way.  But it’s probably sufficient.  Next time, let’s put all this equipment to use and start chopping up some of those veggies we bought.


1 Although, to be fair, AB generally does the hardware first.  But I wanted to get the software out of the way because it’s way more complicated.

2 Did I mention I’m a Good Eats fan?

3 That is actually the exact peeler I own, as Amazon helpfully reminded when I brought that page up.

4 Probably because Alton Brown likes it.  She has an unreasonable distaste for that man.

5 Blech.

6 Again, this is actual model I own.  I must have a thing for OXO, which somehow I never realized before I started writing this post.