Preparing an entire holiday meal can be a labor-intensive undertaking for anyone who insists on making everything on the menu from scratch. The challenge is managing all the details so you don’t wind up with cloudy stocks, broken gravy, or such main course tragedies as a roast that lands on the floor or is overcooked and dried out.
So, when it comes to getting such an enterprise off the ground and on its way to success and memories, you wouldn’t refuse some outside help, would you?
Over the years, we’ve discovered a variety of useful kitchen equipment, tools, and gadgets that elevate the quality of your final results–not necessarily big time-savers, but you’ll be proud of everything you bring to the celebration table.
Here are some of our favorites.
The first three items go hand in hand to produce a richly colored gravy that has exceptional flavor and smoothness, perfect consistency, and a beautiful sheen.
- A stock skimmer sort of looks like a hand-held tennis racket with a fine mesh screen that removes foam from simmering stock to help ensure a clear result. The other important point about clear stock is to maintain a steady simmer. Do not let stock boil. If stock boils, the fat breaks down, and you’ll wind up with a greasier mouth-feel.
- A gravy separator is the ultimate device for removing fat from stock. It looks like a measuring cup with a spout coming from the bottom. Fat rises to the surface and fat-free stock is left at the bottom to be removed first by the down-low spout. Simply pour out the stock and leave the fat behind.
- Cheese cloth is handy for two reasons: First, in making stock, use cheese cloth as a liner for your colander when you want to drain the stock to separate aromatic vegetables and whole spices from the stock itself. Second, draping a roast with cheese cloth helps enhance the color and retain moisture of whatever you are roasting. The cloth absorbs basting liquids and holds them to the surface longer so there’s more caramelization, deeper color, and richer flavor.
- Spice mills are not limited to pepper grinders–handy as they are. That same grinder can be turned into a salt mill to tame hard-crystal sea salts. There are other types of mills designed for other types of spices and herbs–a nutmeg grinder, for example. The point is: Fresh ground spices and herbs taste better than pre-ground spices that have been sitting in your cupboard since who-knows-when. Jarred spices simply lose their flavor if kept too long. The intensity of the aroma gives away their usability.
- There is absolutely no substitute for an instant-read thermometer. Without one, you are stumbling in the dark to attempt gauging the doneness of your roast, steak, burger, poultry, or chop with any sort of accuracy.
- Roast lifters make getting a roast–particularly such large roasts as turkeys or bone-in rib roasts–out of a deep roasting pan without having to use towels or your hands in direct contact with a hot roast. There are different types–some look like a pair of small pitchforks, while others are a sling type.
- A roasting rack exposes more surface of any roast to the heat so it actually roasts to a crispy surface and a golden brown hue, rather than steaming to a pale off-white and limp texture. The rack sits inside the roasting pan and the roast of your choice sits on the rack. This way, you can add aromatics, vegetables, spices, and varying liquids (such as wine, water, or stock) to the bottom of the pan to capture juices that will be the foundation of your gravy. The roast easily lifts out of the pan giving you clear access to the pan’s bottom so you can pour out the liquid and solids and then deglaze the pan on the stovetop.
- The problem with trussing a turkey with traditional kitchen twine and trussing pins is that sometimes the skin crisps, breaks from the stitches, and then the stuffing starts falling out. One gadget that can help solve this problem is the Nifty brand Poultry Shield, a triangular piece of stainless steel that fits inside the neck opening and has a wire attachment that holds the legs in place. It takes seconds to put in place and spares you from wrestling your turkey.