I've made the comment on more than one occasion that I don't really like to cook. I love to eat. Cooking is just a necessary precondition. That's mostly true. It's not that I mind cooking, per se, but I can certainly think of about 20 things I'd rather spend the time on.
Over time I've developed a hypothesis that food that tastes good is the result of exactly one of two processes. The process available to the home cook is time. Flavors take time to develop and anything that "speeds up" the process of cooking will have some amount of impact on the flavor of the final dish. The process available to the industrial food complex is cheating. Usually by isolating individual flavor chemicals and putting them where they're not supposed to be. Also salt. Lots and lots of salt.
That's it. Those are the two ways that you get to flavor. If you have access to an industrial food laboratory you, too, can make Doritos from scratch. Otherwise you have to invest time. I don't make the rules.
In the context of an RV kitchen this means two things that I think are critical. The first thing is that at no point does my hypothesis require the home cook to own a bunch of gadgets. I think that most gadgets are at best a shortcut around not knowing how to use a traditional kitchen tool and at worst (and most often,) are kind of a scam. The second thing is that the kitchen needs to be dedicated to cooking. If I need to spend four hours putting together a decent marinara I can't be trying to find new homes for all the things that shouldn't have been living in the kitchen in the first place.
I think I mentioned this a bit in my last post, Meditations on Minimalism, but I've opted to go with an intentional selection of very good kitchen equipment:
- A very nice Wüsthof chef's knife.
- A less nice Ikea chef's knife. (For guests.)
- A Victorinox paring knife.
- A bread knife I inherited from an old roommate.
- A Kiwi vegetable cleaver. (Best $8 you'll spend on Amazon.)
- A teak cutting board.
- A Cuisinart MultiClad 2-quart saucepan.
- An All-Clad 10-inch stainless steel frying pan.
- A positively ancient Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker.
- A Ninja blender.
- An Anova immersion circulator (sous vide.)
- A Hamilton-Beach food processor.
- A Tofuture tofu press.
I think most of that list speaks for itself, but there's a few items that might warrant a bit of additional explanation.
Why a wooden cutting board?
They require a bit more care in the form of routine oiling, but studies have shown that wood is a much less hospitable place for bacteria, which makes one really good wooden cutting board better than a whole fleet of plastic ones. Wood is also much nicer on my fancy knives.
Why stainless steel and not non-stick or cast iron?
Non-stick pots and pans can't develop what the french call "fond" which is the secret to all manner of delicious flavors. It's one of the reasons that food tastes better at restaurants. (The other reasons are butter and salt. Lots and lots of butter and salt.) Stainless can also go from the cook top to the oven, can be heated hotter, and can be abused harder without worrying about hurting the non-stick coating.
Cast iron is great, but it's heavy. The RV has a weight limit. It's something in the neighborhood of 26,000 lbs, but that's all-inclusive. Everything from the clothes in my dresser to the Jeep I tow behind counts against that 26,000 lbs. One pan probably won't make a difference, but when you start looking at an entire kitchen's worth of equipment it can pay for itself to be "weight frugal."
What about your gadgets didn't you just call them a scam?
Are you seriously calling a rice cooker a gadget? Ring ring. Pick up the phone. Who's that? It's Asia. There's a reason they're pervasive in Chinese and Japanese restaurants, and it's because the computer is WAY better at cooking rice than people are. The quality difference is huge. If you eat a lot of rice, and I do, it's a solid investment both in being able to multi-task and in the quality of the finished product.
I could live without the blender. I'm keeping it as an experiment currently. I have dreams of making margaritas in the middle of nowhere. We'll see.
The food processor is another we'll see. Usually I only use it to save time grating cheese and chopping onions, but it's technically the gateway to many interesting sauces and condiments that I don't usually make at home. I really should make more chimichurri. It's good on everything.
I'd also call the sous vide setup a we'll see. I did some amazing things with it back in my sticks and bricks kitchen, and the circulator itself takes up almost no room. It's something I'm prepared to let go if I find myself needing the space for something else.
Okay the Tofuture is a gadget. Listen, I said "most" gadgets are a scam. This one I think is actually worth it, if you eat enough tofu to justify it. I eat tofu once or twice a week, and I think that's enough. It's a fancy tofu press which makes the texture of the tofu much better and saves me having to break out two dishes and some cans to press the water out. I could absolutely live without it, but I've found it does a better job at doing the thing it's specifically designed to do than the common shortcut.
So those are the things I've decided to keep for now, the question becomes where to keep them. This is where the "nothing should live on the counter top" problem comes in. It's tempting to make things have a permanent home on the counter top. I think even with the best of intentions, a small number of things will still live there whether I like it or not.
I've been futzing around with the kitchen space almost since day one, and I think I'm starting to approach a level of organization that is both functional and sustainable. All of the cabinets in the "kitchen area" are storing something related to the kitchen at this point. The cabinets on the "passenger" side of the RV, where the refrigerator and oven are, are all dedicated to implements. The cabinets on the "driver" side of the RV where my office and computer are, is mostly a "pantry" plus home to the larger appliances.
Bonus points, it looks like the kitchen of an adult, something that hasn't been true of my kitchen for most of the time I've been an adult. So there's that.