Kitchen gadgets are often high on the foodie Christmas wish-list. While we might be taken with the latest sexy time-saver or the spruikings of a celebrity chef, however, not all the gadgets under the tree will still be in use when Christmas rolls around next year. We asked a range of experts to assess some of the most popular kitchen tools to make sure your next gadget buy is a good one.
Ladro head chef Darren Mercaldi says it's difficult to make a perfect pizza at home because domestic ovens don't reach the required temperatures. That's where a pizza stone comes in. It retains heat and transfers that heat to the dough quickly. Melbourne-based Mercaldi says a cheap pizza stone is more likely to crack so it pays to invest in quality. "My preferred brand is Pizza at Home, because they have an element underneath the stone and an element in the roof of the lid, creating a high temperature," he says. Mercaldi says you would need to be making pizza at least once a month to make the investment in a stone or Pizza at Home unit worthwhile.
Pizza stones range from $9.95 to $60. Pizza makers range from $25 to $125.
Pauline Nguyen of Red Lantern estimates that 30 kilograms of cooked rice, prepared in commercial rice cookers, is consumed at the restaurant each day but says a rice cooker is easily the best way to prepare rice at home too. "[You just] press the button and walk away. So convenient and consistent." And there is very little that can go wrong, she says. "I have had domestic rice cookers that have lasted many, many years." And they are versatile. "You can cook meat, vegetables, soups - even make steamed cakes and puddings in them. Just experiment." Nguyen says rice cookers are so inexpensive that even using one just a few times a year will be worth the investment.
Rice cookers start range from $20 to $130 for major brand versions.
Frank Camorra from MoVida in Sydney and Melbourne knows paella pans and says they're not just for making the classic Spanish dish. "The pans are good for cooking other types of Spanish rice dishes, and are also great as a large frying pan." But he says you really need a paella pan if you want to make an authentic paella as the wide bottom pan allows the rice to be cooked in a thin layer. He recommends a steel pan for achieving a better crust but says enamel pans are often easier to clean. Both are very affordable. Camorra says the key to a good paella is to flavour it with a small amount of quality ingredients - "you don't want a pizza with the lot scenario" - and never stir the rice after it has boiled.
Stainless steel pans start from $25 (6 serves).
The author, television cook and owner of Melbourne restaurant Maha, Shane Delia, is a big fan of tagines and says with their conical lids, they are designed to maximise flavour and moisture. The name tagine refers to both the dish and the pot. "If you cook a tagine in anything other than a tagine it is no longer a tagine; it becomes a casserole," he says. Delia says you need to make sure you buy the correct tagine for your stovetop. "There's no use buying a pretty ceramic tagine if all you have at home is an induction cooktop." He says a tagine will give you the "wow" factor, is great for family style sharing menus and entertaining and as a one-pot dish it is low-maintenance.
Ceramic tagines range from $60 to $200.
Ian Hemphill of Herbie's Spices prefers using a heavy stone mortar and pestle to a spice grinder. "Spices vary considerably in hardness, oil content and size, so the only implement that grinds everything is a mortar and pestle. A lot of coffee grinders are sold as spice grinders, but are really only suitable for grinding seed spices and anything that is not much harder than a coffee bean," he says. Hemphill recommends buying ground spices only if you use them often and in large quantities, but for spices bought in small quantities, he suggests buying them whole and grinding them yourself. If you limit grinding to seed spices only, Hemphill says Breville grinders will do the job.
Large stone mortar and pestles range from $35 to $60. Spice grinders range from $25 to $200.
Mr Wong executive chef Dan Hong grew up in a Vietnamese family and like many Vietnamese cooks he didn't use a wok. His first experience using the ubiquitous Asian pan was as a first-year apprentice at Longrain in 2001. Hong says you can use woks to cook just about anything from stir frying to steaming, blanching, caramelising, deep frying and braising. "Many Italian chefs I know [even] cook pasta in a wok," he says. Hong recommends a light wok that will allow you to get the charry "breath of the wok" when stir frying and says that as long as it's seasoned every now and then, it could last forever. Hong says a wok is a must-have in any kitchen and can replace most of the pots and pans in your kitchen.
Carbon steel woks start at $15 at Asian grocers. Cast iron, anodised or brand name woks range from $60 to $160.
Ice cream maker
Nick Palumbo of Gelato Messina says the goal of any ice cream machine is to convert a 4 degree liquid mix into a -7 degree ice cream in under 15 minutes. Palumbo says domestic ice cream machines take upwards of 35 minutes to churn the liquid mix into ice cream, so you will never achieve the same texture although you can certainly match the quality and taste. "Generally, the more you pay, the better the machine. You can spend upwards of $4000 for a domestic machine that will give you a great result but under $500 you will have to eat the ice cream on the day of churning or it will become hard and icy." To get the most out of your ice cream machine Palumbo says you really should be making ice cream at least once a month. But "if you love ice cream, you really need to have one", he says.