For the biketour 2012 we need to find:
- 2 BIG cooking pots
- smaller pot/s
- 3 BIG spoons
- chopping boards
some valuable advice about cooking utensils from Barry
I was looking at the wiki for cooking utensils and thought with the years I spent standing over BT cooking places, burning myself for the common good, that maybe I could offer a few pointers about which equipment is best for BT (The 12 years I spent working as a professional chef before a career change to engineer may be also be relevant!)
Ok, so pots:
Some people are over-sensitive about aluminium. It is true that when cooking the wrong food-types, abusing or mis-using the pot can lead to small (teeny-tiny) amounts of aluminium entering the food. Even in the worst case scenario this total amount is a small fraction of our daily intake from other sources. I've worked in kitchens where some aluminium pots were 20 - 30 years old and still going strong whereas steel/copper/enamel were long consigned to the bin. Anyway, aluminium pots are lumped into the "aluminium bad" school of thought and I have seen some overly-sensitive types going hysterical because of aluminium on BT. I could have done a workshop on aluminium to allay their fears, but of course, they would not have listened.
Thin steel pots are excellent for boiling pastas etc but uneven heat distribution means food burns far too easily, especially over campfires. Steel is also heavier than aluminium (see bikes). Steel can take a hell of a lot of abuse and may be the cheapest option. There are many different grades of steel with corresponding suitability for different cooking methods.
Porcelain enamelled pots:
Excellent for home use and the most food-safe (apart from titanium). Prone to damage from campfires, amateur cooking (scraping the bottom with steel spoons), and on past bike tours when packing the trailers heavy items were often dropped into the pots while packing which cracks the enamel. The surface underneath the enamel is often one step away from being normal iron so rust becomes a common seasoning. Yummers.
NB - with all pots ensure there is the correct lid as you'll need twice the energy if there is none. This is especially important when cooking with gas!
Good quality wooden spoons are the best for stirring etc as for obvious reasons it's nearly impossible to burn your hand on a wooden spoon. Even the better quality wooden spoons only cost a few euro and the professional lengths mean they can safely reach the bottom whilst stirring in bigger pots. Avoid the crappy wooden spoons you see in normal markets as these are too soft a wood which crack and splinter leaving lumps of wood in the food. Wooden spoon also DON'T SCRATCH THE POT! ;o)
One or three wooden spoons should be sufficient to cover the tour allowing for the inevitable loss of at least two. While wooden spoons are good for stirring they are not suited to serving. Even cheap plastic spoons from the market are perfect for serving but you should also include a ladle or similar for serving sauces/soups. Bigger is better as the food line can be impatient. A few years back I donated lots of professional ladles/spoons/whisk but of course they are now decorating someone's flat. Maybe the entire budget for these items should be kept to a minimum ('cept for wooden spoons as mentioned).
It would be easy to blow the entire bike tour budget on professional quality knives. Professional quality knives mean amateur cuts and lots of them. The problem with a communal knife is that nobody really takes care of it because nobody really knows how to take care of it… A blunt knife is actually more dangerous than a sharp one because you need to press harder to cut so when the knife slips it meets your finger/kidney with far more force than it otherwise would. Everyone on bike tour comes with a knife which they do tend to look after and, more importantly, are familiar with using. These knives are fine for post-cycle feeding, especially if more people help with preparations.
Stainless steel all the way! Certain plastic bowls sold for kitchen use actually break down in heat and UV light which leaves the surface porous(made worse with BT washing). Food and oil residue can seep into these pores/scratches and become rancid which taints food and is a possible source of food contamination. A number of steel bowls are excellent for preparation as they hold washed/chopped ingredients and may also be used for serving salads/hots. 30cm would be a good minimum size. When buying ensure that they are all the same size so that they may be stacked together, it would also be preferable that you buy the bowls after you buy the pots so you know that the bowls can be stacked inside the pots. €20 could easily buy 5- 6 of the right size, they last forever, are incredibly versatile, and after bike tour they remain immaculate and could be passed on to some other group rather than just letting them gradually disappear.
Believe me I've had arguments in the past on BT about which grater is best (or greater?). Unfortunately these arguments fell into what the other person believed was best against what the rest of the world knew was best. Some people believe those flat graters are best because they pack easily. This is of course bullshit but they never listened. Anyways, a box grater like this professional model http://www.nisbets.ie/Hand-Grater/DM021/ProductDetail.raction work best. Those flat graters only have a tiny surface dedicated to each type of grating whereas a box grater has a whole surface for each. This model is also stainless steel whereas the cheaper models you get in the market are only plated so quickly become blunt and rust. a good grater is absolutely ESSENTIAL as without it there's really no chance of having awesome shredded vegetable salads etc. Box graters are easier to hold and use without slipping. Slipping graters means the dinner is no longer Vegan...
There's no better way to cut yourself than to try peeling vegetables with a knife! Most people get away with it at home because their knives are shit. A vegetable peeler removes the absolute minimum of peel (if even necessary). There are many models available but they are all shite and guaranteed to break. The best model (and cheapest) is this type: http://www.nisbets.ie/Vegetable-Peeler/D050/ProductDetail.raction - a fixed blade in a fixed handle means durable. Sorted.
You would not believe how the shit hit the fan on this subject in the past! Wooden boards are better "chopping boards" - they're kinder to the knife, have better traction, left overnight they sterilise the cracks in their surface and can also be things of great beauty. It is for precisely these reasons (among others) that they are banned from professional kitchens! More relevant, then, is their suitability to bike tour or maybe it's better to say how they are not suitable to bike tour. First is cost as a decent hardwood chopping board would be about €20 and you would need 2 - 3 at least. Because they are hardwood they are heavy bastards so not really nice for the trailers. Cheaper pine/softwood boards will warp/split/crack after a week of BT normal use. That leaves us with polyethylene or plastic to the rest of us.
There are many different types of polymers used in the production of domestic chopping boards. All have their weaknesses but all are better suited than their cheap wooden counterparts. Whichever model you see on the market you should allow a big enough surface area so that food may be chopped on one part of the board with enough space to hold some chopped items on the other end. The whole idea of a chopping board is that food may be prepared on a clean surface so a small board where the food is constantly falling off would be silly. 20x30x5 is the normal domestic standard - around this size is perfect as they're light enough so that you can carry 3-4 at a minimum and cost about €3-4. Some people worry about contamination from plastic chopping boards - as you cut you scratch the surface; creating lots of little crevices in which food and pathogens can hide. When plastic boards are stacked against each other while wet it leads to the familiar "musty" smell. This is easily avoided by drying in the sun and if still damp before packing then a layer of salt between the boards kills EVERYTHING! (well, apart from viruses and halophiles but for our purposes we can consider them food-safe, especially since we won't be using any high-risk foods!).
Apart from that you'll obviously need a few plastic storage boxes with lids to keep, salt, sugar, spices, tea/coffee dry and dust-free.
Your best bet is to go to a local dedicated catering shop as they'll really appreciate the business and may even offer a nice discount in the hope of a sale. Stuff picked up in a market is a false investment and it's been shown that cheaper pots are contaminated with lead from shoddy third-world manufacturing processes. Shoddy equipment is a false investment as it inevitably breaks, causes injuries or just pisses everyone off. Also you know exactly how important food is on BT so it's one area where expenses shouldn't be cut. Nisbets ( www.nisbets.es ) are the crowd I normally order from - they sell all the quality stuff to professional kitchens. Their entire catalogue is online to get an idea of prices for comparison but really the local catering shop is the best bet. Remember that there are shops that pretend to be kitchen suppliers just to sell you designer cork-screws and designer crockery and as such are a total rip-off, your best bet is to ask at a local restaurant you may be familiar with and ask them where the good trade shops are.
Even in Dublin I could set up BT with a comfortable budget of €150, Spain should be a lot cheaper; especially if you're a business buyer and not paying VAT or whatever.