Chances are if you’re a real cooking nerd, you’ve dreamt about becoming a superstar chef. These days we all have access to the tools top chefs use. Previously super expensive kit that only top restaurants could afford is now available to the home cook at realistic prices.
Whether you want to whip up a fancy foam, cook the perfect steak at low temps or cold-smoke your own salmon, these are the best kitchen gadgets to emulate your idols at home.
Sous vide stick
Home version: $600-$1000
Pro version: $8000-$12000
Sous vide is a method of cooking food at temperatures lower than 100℃ usually in a temperature-controlled water bath. The food is vacuum sealed in bags and placed into the bath until it reaches the desired temperature.
Most food is considered cooked at around 70℃ but cooking food sealed in a bag at temperatures lower than this can yield some interesting results like precisely medium rare steaks, gently cooked fish or buttery tender meat that is rare (and pink) all the way through. Like magic!
Restaurants tend to have large commercial baths with powerful heating elements built in. These can handle dozens of bags at once, or large whole cuts of meat. But over the last decade, technology has improved massively and home versions have become affordable. The best option is a sous vide stick. This is an all-in-one device which turns any heat-proof container into a temperature-controlled water bath. It contains a heating element and water circulator so all you have to do is fill up the pot, turn it on and select the temperature.
You don’t even need a fancy vacuum packing machine. You can seal the food in ziplock bags and dunk the food-filled bag in water to remove the air before sealing it.
One of the best applications for the technique is cooking a steak. A perfect medium rare, right from edge to edge, is achieved by cooking a steak at 55℃. It takes about 45 minutes to reach that temperature, depending on the thickness. After it’s cooked, sear the steak in a very hot pan to caramelise the exterior producing a satisfying smokey crust.
Home version: $100-$200
Pro version: $250-$500
Gas Refill: $50
A blowtorch is a useful little fella to have around the kitchen for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a cool way to light the stove. It’s also a quick method for crisping up fish skin or blackening peppers for peeling. And it’s the best way to perfectly caramelise sugar on a creme brulee or meringue. A blowtorch also allows you to add an intense blast of heat to food already on the plate just before serving.
It’s particularly useful in conjunction with the sous vide technique which leaves food cooked perfectly, but without a seared exterior. This won’t do. Use the blowtorch to get that delicious caramelised outer coating without overcooking the inside.
Home/Pro Version: $600-$1000
Wood chips: $50
Imagine an electric bong shaped like a gun. A smoking gun allows you to easily (ie. without building a fire in your kitchen) produce flavoured smoke to infuse into whatever meat, fish or veg you desire.
Just add your preferred flavour of wood chips (or something more quirky like tea, spices, leather or leaves) to the grate in the top, light ‘em up and turn her on. A fan behind the burning chips blows the smoke into a flexible plastic tube which can be used to direct the delicious aroma at the desired target.
This could be a cocktail, cooked meats, cheeses or even ice cream. One of my favourite applications is cold-smoked fish. Make sure your fillet is nice and fresh, cure it with some salt, sugar and maybe some black pepper, dill or lemon zest. Once it firms up, rinse off the excess and leave fillet uncovered in the fridge to dry a little. Now you’re ready to get your smoke on! You’ll be amazed by the difference in flavour when you cure and smoke your own fish.
Home Version: $250-$300
Pro Version: $1000-$2000
This will really impress at your next dinner party (or house party!?). A whipping syphon is that space age metal canister that you see in modern kitchens and cocktail bars. It works just like a can of squirty cream, except you can fill it with whatever you want.
The reason cream whips so well is because it’s full of fat which helps to keep the liquid stable while trapping the gas bubbles inside. To use make thinner liquids suitable, you need to add starch, gelatin, eggs or a thickening agent like agar. Add the liquid to the canister, charge it up with a couple of nitrous oxide cartridges and you’ve made your very own airy, melt-in-the-mouth foam.
Try making savoury foams like cheese and beer, truffle or horseradish. Or you can make sweet or tangy foams like lemon, yoghurt or vanilla to lighten up desserts. You can foam up soups for an unexpected texture, or serve your white wine sauce as a foam on a main course. Or try a coffee foam on an espresso martini.
The best part is you can prepare the foam ahead of time and then deploy the syphon at the table to really show off. Squirting your foam straight onto someone’s plate or cocktail in front of their eyes.
Home Version: $200-$500
Pro Version: $2000-$40000
A dehydrator might not be at the top of your gift list, but it’s used surprisingly often in high-end kitchens. It’s essentially a multi-layered, low temperature oven. You lay out ingredients on mesh trays which allows warm air to circulate. Over time, this pulls the water from the food which intensifies flavour, crisps things up or just dries them out enough to be blended into a powder.
Dehydrators are responsible for those fancy crisps you see on Michelin star plates as well as a whole load of other common food stuff: beef jerky, fruit leathers, all sorts of powders, tuiles, crispy fish skins, “sun-dried” tomatoes, fruit chips and basically anything else you can think of that’s been dried. Sun-drying came first, but dehydrators are quicker and more efficient with space. You can also use your oven on the lowest setting. Just be sure to keep an eye on it to prevent burning.
The dehydrator is most useful for using up leftovers like vegetable trimmings, purees, fruit and vegetable peel, trimmings and seeds. Drying like this is a way of preserving food, but in the process it produces delicious treats with that appealing crunchy texture.
But if all else fails, just sprinkle tiny herbs on everything.