Like a lot of guys, I’m really into gadgets and gear. And much to my darling wife’s chagrin, because I have (in her opinion) way too many interests, this means I’m constantly oohing and aahing over all kinds of new toys, from the latest smartphone to a custom-made bicycle part to, of course, all kinds of awesome equipment with which to fill our kitchen. Fortunately, this last category is one in which S also shares a passion and hence allows me to indulge my urges to buy shiny new things.
Over the last half year, we’ve picked up a number of nifty items, some of which I like so much that I feel compelled to write about them. Some are simple everyday tools; others are more specialized. All are pretty darned cool and stuff I am sure you will also love.
Lacor Home Vacuum Packing Machine
S and I spotted this small and portable vacuum packer on an early morning trip to Sia Huat, Singapore’s best industrial kitchen supply store. We were surprised by how affordable the unit was. After the ubiquitous Sia Huat discount, given, from what I can tell, to everyone who walks in the store, the vacuum packer was just a little more that SGD$70. With a price like that, we couldn’t help but pick it up, with several packets of Lacor vacuum packing bags. As soon as we got home, S went on a packing spree, vacuum packing nuts and chocolates and a dozen other edible and perishable items that we had lying around our walk-in chiller. The machine has two settings. You can “vacuum & seal” or just “seal”. The latter we have found handy for sealing sauces and cooked foods, which we can then toss into the freezer for later use.
Most recently, I’ve been experimenting with trying to cook some items sous-vide. With careful timing (and a bit of practice), I’ve been able to vacuum pack raw food items with a bit of liquid (like olive oil for example). Because this is a domestic vacuum packer and not a commerical “chamber” vacuum packer (which seals wet foods and liquids with no fuss), this can be a bit tricky. Time things wrong and liquid can shoot out of the mouth of the bag and into the machine, which is a quick way to ruin it. But get the timing right and you can seal foods in a bag with a well-flavoured marinade. Just this past weekend, I cooked some salmon sous-vide, trapping the slices in a bag with some grapeseed oil, salt, pepper and orange rind. I let the salmon marinade for half a day and then the bag was submerged in 45 degree Celsius water and cooked for 20 minutes. It came out beautifullly soft, tender and full of flavour. (Fortunately, my Miele induction hobs allow me to maintain some pretty even cooking temperatures.) I’ve also made some confit baby potatoes following a Thomas Keller recipe in Under Pressure that has worked very well. I’ll be trying out several more preparations over the coming months.
Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting the (new) Singapore distributor for MAC Knives. Of course, I’d already known of and admired this brand for quite a while. I remembered a great post that Michael from Cooking for Engineers had written way back in 2005 in which he tested several knife brands. It was an amazingly thorough series of tests that Michael put several great knife brands through. And MAC’s very gorgeous knives came out either as the first or second highest ranked knife in each test. Furthermore, Michael’s favourite knife, after all the tests were done, was the MAC MTH-80 Mighty Chef 8 inch blade with dimples.
So, of course, when I finally found out that MAC knives were available here, I quickly picked up one of the MTH-80s. I also fell in love with the BSC-85 Sushi Chef Knife; this cool looking, razor-sharp and super light knife has an 8.5 inch blade that is covered with a black nonstick coating. Both these knives are gorgeous and very functional. They are joy to hold and to work with and have fast become two of my favourite blades (for use in very different ways of course).
MAC also has a Damascus series, which I am also in lust with. I’m dying to pick up the DA-BK-240, a beautiful chef’s knife with a 9.5 inch blade made up of 64 layers of stainless steel folded over a core of “stain-resistant MAC steel”. S is equally enamored with this series but she wants the DA-JU-180, a Japanese vegetable knife with a rectangular 7 inch blade.
New West Knifeworks knives
Last year, I wrote about the beautiful 7 inch Santoku that Corey Milligan gifted me with. I was so pleased with that knife that a few months later I ordered New West’s gorgeous fusionwood 8 inch Chef’s Knife. This is a really beautiful blade, to look at, to hold, and to use. The fact that it arrived in a super-slick leather sheath was just the icing on a very sharp but tasty cake. I adore the handle on this knife. It’s a work of art, with a colourful pattern I never get tired of looking at. It’s also surprisingly comfortable — I say “surprisingly” because this knife’s handle is uncommonly long (6 inches). The blade, forged from a special high-carbon stainless Japanese steel, retains a very keen edge and is really great to work with. This is a knife that I’ll be using for a long time to come. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t want another New West knife; I already have my eye on The 9, a Damascus forged welded 9 inch blade with dimples that looks dangerously sleek. And I want to order it with the bright red (“hot”) corian handle.
A New West knife that I also really want but won’t be able to afford any time soon is the Michael Radar Santoku with a Maple Burl Handle. This one of a kind custom knife is simply stunning. Take a look at it yourself. I’m sure if you’re a gearhead like me you’ll be drooling at your screen.
Philips HR1651 Mixer Grinder
This ingenious mixer and grinder, which comes with 4 different jars, was developed for the Indian market. Chefs and foodies who are familiar with Indian food might be familiar with the Sumeet Asia Kitchen Machine (which is commonly just reffered to as a “Sumeet”). It is the most commonly used grinder/mixer in India that can handle both dry and wet grinding tasks and has blades strong enough to grind even the hardest spices. I don’t think I’d be far off from claiming that almost every Indian family that takes their food seriously has a Sumeet in their kitchen. Despite its widespread use, the Sumeet is far from perfect. In fact, it is pretty imperfectly made. Ours, which we made a friend carry back for us from India (Mustafa is perpetually sold out), broke down after just a couple of years.
Well, the rather smart folks at Philips realized two things: (1) the Sumeet is a pretty amazing and unique mixer/grinder; and (2) it could be better made. So, they reverse-engineered it and came up with their own, much improved, much more powerful and simply all around more functional Mixer Grinder. Each unit comes with, as I said, 4 jars: one for wet grinding; one for chutneys; one multi-purpose jar; and a blender jar.
S and I found out about this model last year and were able to get our hands on one. So far, it’s been performing perfectly. It’s quiet, stable and easy to use and to clean. I hope that Philips realizes just how marketable this machine is and starts selling it outside of India. I’m pretty sure that it would be a hit across Southeast Asia, at the very least.
DeBuyer Piston Funnel
S has wanted a piston funnel for years. I, however, never really shared her interest in this particular kitchen tool until last year, when I watched a chef fill dozens of empty egg shells with perfectly portioned custard using one of these. After that, I was pretty much sold and on one of our many visits to Sia Huat, we picked up this very functional but still cool looking model by DeBuyer.
For those of you who don’t know what this does, a piston funnel gives you control over portioning out whatever liquid or ingredients you have filled the funnel with. Using the lever, you can open and close the funnel. It’s a great tool for filling small bowls or other containers without the danger of spillage.