Kitchen equipment, opportunity-cost style!

Pseudo-confession time: I love cooking. And when I say cooking, I mean roasting, baking, sautéing, frying – you name it. As a lexicographically well-endowed person, it is my eternal shame that I use the word ‘cooking’ to refer to all of the aforementioned techniques, but for this I blame my family.

Cookies in Daniel's kitchen (still baking)

The struggle for me over the last few years has been balancing my culinary inclinations with my limited budget as a student. As much as I’d love to have the latest all-in-one super kitchen gadget, there were more pressing budget items, such as the food itself. Opportunity cost strikes again! So with my (extremely) finite resources, I had to prioritise which items were most important to my dream kitchen, and which would have to go on the backburner.

For the benefit of all of my fellow suffering student-chefs out there, here is my top five list of kitchen implements that are worth the investment. To clarify, I’m assuming you already have the mundane items such as cutlery, plates, etc.

Daniel’s Top Five Kitchen Items

  1. Good chef’s knife. The capacity to dismember things is vital in any kitchen, and precision is required. Decent knives seem a little expensive at first glance (a single one can set you back anywhere between $20 and $100), but remember that price is often signal of quality – that holds true here. Plus, investing in a decent knife will not only pay dividends in terms of food quality, it will also save you time and mental anguish. Take it from someone who suffered through blunt, crap knives for years.
  2. Quality frypan. Pans can be obtained pretty cheaply, and for most of your needs the seven-piece set from Kmart will serve you just fine. For messy, sticky jobs like dahl, frittatas, or eggs, you want something non-stick with a nice, thick base. Again, partially this is for quality reasons, but it is more for your health – both physical (cheap frying pans tend to impart bits of themselves onto your food) and mental (washing up a teflon pan is like bathing an angel compared to scrubbing for seemingly hours at its dreadful predecessor).
  3. Slow cooker (aka Crockpot). Boy, do I love my slow cooker. It does everything from soups to casseroles to slabs of meat, and has two big advantages: volume and intertemporal substitution of effort. The volume part speaks for itself (my slow cooker holds 5.5 litres, which usually does four days of dinners for two), and by intertemporal substitution of effort I mean you can do all of the hard work at the start of the day while you’re still fresh, and then come home to a cooked dinner and delicious-smelling house after uni or work. Plus they’re pretty cheap these days, so the cost/benefit ratio is comfortably in its favour.
  4. Electric mixer. This one is more for the baking-enthusiasts out there, since it doesn’t add much to main-meal preparation. As far as the production function for things like pancakes and choc-chip biscuits goes, though, substituting this small piece of capital can save you a whole lot of labour. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you want to delve into fancy creations like pavlovas or crèmes brûlées, an electric mixer is a sine qua non.

Actually, it turns out that I can only think of four indispensable kitchen items – with the above, plus the usual gear such as bowls, spoons, oven (don’t laugh – one of the apartments we inspected recently didn’t have one!), etc., I’ve made it through my student years in pretty good culinary and dietary shape!

What are your opportunity cost kitchen implements? Share your thoughts in the comment section 🙂