See recipe below: Crispy Guinea Fowl Wings with Garlic and Chilli Sauce
I love tools, all sorts of tools. As a result, I have lots of kitchen tools.
Statistically, there is a strong, positive correlation between the love of tools and the actual number of tools purchased or collected.
In my case, that strong, positive correlation also manifests itself in a substantive number of under- or unutilized gadgets that consume a lot of shelf or drawer space in my kitchen (and elsewhere in the house).
Hoarding is in my blood and in my DNA; it comes naturally. Well aware that this is the case, I figured out that letting go of unnecessary things is far more difficult (emotionally), than avoiding purchasing them in the first place.
Thus, I have designed and adopted a non-acquisition policy. In simpler terms, it means I have stopped buying stuff. The cornerstone of this policy is quite simple: I avoid all forms of temptation (i.e. shops that sell kitchen tools).
If only this was easy. If the number of boxes on the kitchen floor (I am moving house) is any measure of how successful my policy has been over the past few years, I have sufficient proof that, despite my best efforts, I have achieved only modest success.
After I separated the boxes containing the tools that are essential for excellent cooking, from those containing only ‘nice-to-have-but-seldom-used’ artifacts, the latter proved larger in both number and volume. It is clear the unproductive ones dwarf my productive kitchen investments. I wasted scarce resources, lost focus and sacrificed valuable kitchen space. It is time to resume control. Here are the essential tools I believe no kitchen should be without.
Good quality knives: In my view the one tool no chef or cook could do without. Buy the best you can afford, and save to buy even better ones in the future. Cheap knives are not worth it. Look after your knives (don’t just dump them in a drawer along with other cutlery and utensils), and most important, keep them sharp. Use only good quality stones or steels; better even, get a professional to sharpen your knives. There is much more to sharpness than merely dragging your most prized kitchen possession over steel or stone. Believe me. If you can’t cut properly, you can’t cook properly. It is as simple as that.
- Thermometers: Cooking is all about temperature – hot or cold. Temperature is measureable and it would be silly not to measure it accurately, as most substances react in a predictable manner at specific temperatures. The difference between under- and over-cooked meat, or fish, is only a few degrees. Heat your luscious ice cream custard beyond 71°C and the eggs will coagulate. Want to make syrups, candy, brittles, caramels and other delightful sugar treats? Good luck if you think you could achieve even modest success without a good thermometer. No-one I know can tell the difference between soft ball, firm ball, hard ball, soft crack or hard crack stages by merely “eye balling” the syrup and no: you can’t use a body part to test the temperature. Sugar is not bath water. Instant read thermometers are best.
- Accurate scale(s): I know quite a few cooks and chefs that claim they can “eyeball” their ingredients. Some are better than others, but none are completely accurate. Without accurate measurements, even your most simple, favourite recipes will not produce consistent results. These days using cups, tablespoons and teaspoons are deemed flawed and inconsistent measures of volume; weights in grams or kilograms are better. Why? No two teaspoons, or cups or tablespoons are equal, despite all claims to the contrary. So, get a good quality digital scale. Period.
- Stand mixer: I am a big fan of machinery that puts an end to kitchen slavery. The stand mixer is a real hero to those who hate whisking, kneading and mixing. It saves time and the fact that many brands these days have diversified the functionally of their machines through modular attachments, makes it an even better economic investment. Just make sure you get a good, sturdy one with a real strong engine. If you like baking – breads or cakes – you’d want to get one of these earlier rather than later.
- Pestle and mortar: My one exception to the end-to-kitchen-slavery argument. Why? Because there is no substitute for this ancient tool as a means to vent anger. Had a bad day? Smash or pulverize something. The problem with electric blenders is that their blades rotate at such high speeds that the friction causes heat, which “cooks” fragile ingredients. Some of the industrial strength blenders can be used to make hot soup simply by blending the raw ingredients for long enough. A good thing if you want to make soup; not such good thing if you’re making curry pastes, spice mixes, bruised salads, or herbal butters.
- Thermal circulator: If it were not so difficult to get hold of these, it would have been up there with knives as the best ever kitchen investment. Trust me, within the next decade; this will be the number one kitchen tool for busy home cooks and professional chefs alike. I have no doubt that sous vide cooking will revolutionize our kitchens. It offers precision temperature control, loads of hands-free time, and low risk of over-cooking and thus great insurance against failure. Add to that the endless creative options and the relatively easy techniques required, and you will never look back.
- Pressure cooker: For a very long time I feared pressure cookers. The mere sight of one of these monstrosities steaming and puffing away put the fear of God into me. So I avoided them until a few years back. It took a lot of serious research to convince me that these devices are safe. These days, I am happy to report, I am a convert. Fully. Traditionally used for tough cuts of meat, I have discovered (through focused research I might add) a plethora of new uses for my pressure cooker. Chicken or beef drippings. Stocks. Braises. Stews. Tough ingredients such as dried beans. Pressure cookers are fast and efficient and tenderizes in blink of an eye. Like the Blues, pressure cookers have gone electric and by doing so improved their versatility and safety.
- Ice cream machine: I admit, not really an essential kitchen tool, but one hell of essential luxury. I just have to slip this one in. History showed that armies fight more efficiently when backed-up with regular supplies of ice cream. Well-made homemade ice cream is the one special treat no one should ever do without; in fact I would argue it should be regarded as the ultimate crime against humanity. If you decide to make ice cream at home there are two types of ice cream makers to consider. One type requires the bowl to be refrigerated for about a day before using. The second has a build-in compressor. Which to buy? In my view, the second, if you can afford it that is. In my experience, once you get into home made ice cream, you’ll quickly get annoyed with the former and the time it takes to prepare the machine. By the time you’re ready to make your second batch, you would want an upgrade. Immediately.
- Electric blender: Health food fanatics, this one is for you. A good quality blender takes all the effort out of making smoothies, nut butters, purees, soups, and emulsions (such as mayonnaise). If speed and smoothness is your thing, a good blender is essential. Good blades and motors are essential unless you want to swear a lot. A cheaper, yet almost equally good, alternative is a good stick blender.
- Dehydrator: One for the survivalists and DIY home cooks. Great for preserving excess fruit and vegetables by turning them into leathers or crisps. Crispy nuts and seeds. Sprouted and spent-grain flour. Personally, I dehydrate fruits and vegetables until they are dry enough to blend into a powder. This I use as seasoning, just as one would use salt. My cupboard is filled with jars containing beetroot, smoked sausage, strawberry, cucumber and !nabba powder. These powders are often added to soups or stews for an extra flavour punch. Mix and match these flavours to make your own powdered soups, or mix some dried fruit leathers with nuts and seeds for your own personal trail-mix.
Off-course you could still produce great food without any of these tools. They just make life in the kitchen a little easier, and they do provide more options for being creative.
This week I continue to explore one of our own -often-neglected – ingredients: Guinea fowl. I had some wings left over and I wanted to do something special with them, so I adapted one of the recipes from Modernist Cuisine at Home to combine Africa and Asia into something delicious. If you do not have, or cannot find, guinea fowl wings, chicken wings will do. But you want to be a bit more adventurous, don’t you? I promise you will be surprised at how tasty these common birds can be.
1 kg Guinea Fowl or (Chicken) Wings, Wing tips removed, cut into two sections along the middle joint
1/3 cup Rice wine or dry white wine
3 1/2 teaspoons Soy sauce
1/2 cup Peanut oil
1 1/4 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon Toasted-sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Castor sugar
1/2 cup Potato flour or tapioca flour
Canola oil, Enough for deep frying
1/2 cup Garlic and Chilli Sauce
1/3 cup Castor sugar
5 teaspoons Soy sauce
2 tablespoons Rice wine or dry sherry
1 1/2 tablespoons Toasted-sesame oil
1. Prepare the wings by cutting off the boney wing tips along the first joint. Discard the tips. Cut the remaining wing sections in two along the second joint.
2. Add all the ingredients for the marinade in a mixing bowl and mix together until the sugar and salt is dissolved. Add the wings and toss until all the pieces are well covered. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. After 30 minutes remove the wings from the marinade. Add the flour to a second mixing bowl and toss them in the flour to make sure they are well coated. Shake off all excess flour and set aside.
4. Add all the sauce ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk together until the sugar is dissolved.
5. Pour enough oil into pot for deep frying; about 1/3 to 1/2 the volume of the pot. The more oil you add to the pot, the less the temperature of the oil will drop when you cook the wings. If you have a deep-fryer, fill it to the recommended volume. Heat the oil to 176℃. When the oil gets to temperature, add the 1/3 of the wings. Deep-fry until golden-brown about 5 to 7 minutes depending on the size of your wings. If you are using guinea fowl wings, 5 minutes will be enough. Chicken wings are larger and will take 2 to 3 more minutes. Once the wings are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper to drain excess oil. Wait until the oil returns to 176℃ before frying the second batch. Repeat until all the wings are cooked.
6. Dress the wings with sauce and toss until they are well-coated. Serve immediately whilst the wings are still hot.