13 Essential Tools for French Cooking
French technique is the basis for so much of the cooking we do today. From thickening your Thanksgiving gravy with a roux to making a quiche with the flakiest pie crust, it all comes back to French basics. So, if you're looking to become a better cook and master the French essentials, then you'll need the right equipment to do it. With the help of these carefully chosen pots, pans, utensils, and French recipes to match, you'll have everything you need to whip up the perfect omelet, get a golden-brown sear on a fillet of fish or bake pillowy macaron. This is the equipment that every professional kitchen relies on and what we use every day in our Test Kitchen. Stock up on these equipment essentials (and a good bottle of red wine) and you're on your way to cooking like a French chef.
1. Fish Spatula
Ask any professional cook, we guarantee that their fish spatula will be one of their most-used pieces of kitchen equipment. This thin, malleable metal spatula is strong but delicate enough to slide under thin pancakes, crepes, or a rendering piece of fish skin. If you love a crispy, lacey-edged fried egg, it's the perfect tool for gently lifting and allowing the excess oil (or butter) to drip away before being placed on your plate or atop a slice of crusty bread. It's best used on cast-iron or stainless steel, but you can use it carefully on your non-stick pans or opt for this silicone-lined one.
To buy: 6.5-inch fish spatula, $6 at amazon.com
2. 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
An 8-inch chef's knife is an all-purpose shape and length for just about every cooking task. The Shun Sora knife is a great choice for beginners who want to work on their knife skills and do some serious cooking. It's made by a reputable maker, so the Japanese-style blade is sharp and holds its edge for a long time. The plastic handle is also light in the hand and makes the knife more affordable.
To buy: Shun Sora 8-inch Chef's Knife, $60 at williams-sonoma.com
3. Braising Pan
For an escargot appetizer, roasting a cornish hen, or making a mini beef bourguignon for two, this small braiser is the best option. The smooth interior of the enameled cast-iron pan allows for the right amount of caramelization while preventing sticking. It's dishwasher safe, oven safe up to 500 degrees, and requires no seasoning. Sear proteins or vegetables first on high heat and then cover and let it all simmer for deeper and more delicious flavors. Many color options make it perfect to take from the oven or stovetop straight to the table for serving.
To buy: Le Creuset 2.25-Quart Braiser, $180 (originally $250) at lecreuset.com
4. Metal Tongs
When you're working efficiently in the kitchen, tongs become an extension of your arm. This pair from OXO is lightweight but sturdy enough to turn a thick bone-in rib-eye or retrieve a chicken leg from a simmering braise. In our experience, 12-inches is the perfect in-between length for cooking on your stovetop and working on the outdoor grill.
To buy: OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs, $13 at amazon.com
5. Rimmed Baking Sheet
When buying baking sheets, chefs always invest in thick aluminum pans. The extra thickness will help prevent warping and the metal surface will give you better caramelization on roasted vegetables than those dark "non-stick" ones. Also, rimmed sides are key when it comes to keeping everything on the pan. Use for everything from cookies to roast chicken.
To buy: Nordic Ware Half Sheet Pan (set of 2), $23 at amazon.com
6. Non-Stick Skillets
For a perfectly seared piece of fish with extra-crispy skin, a good non-stick skillet is a must. Also, unless you enjoy scrubbing pans for hours, it's the only skillet we'll ever cook eggs in. Nonstick pans do not last forever, but this reliable set from Calphalon will hold up to heavy cooking, especially where French food is concerned. The 10-inch is the perfect size for most of your cooking needs, while the 12-inch is great to have on hand when cooking enough fish for four or making a large frittata.
To buy: Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick Fry Pan Set, 10" & 12", $50 at amazon.com
7. Silicone Baking Mat
Silicone baking mats do a much better job of protecting your food from the heat of the pan than parchment paper. You don't need a mat if your intent is to brown vegetables or meat, but they create an even heat that is ideal for baked goods and French desserts. Try it out with cookies or French macaron, then wipe off the mat or toss it in the dishwasher when you're done. A half-sheet pan size mat will fit a standard home kitchen's rimmed baking sheet.
To buy: Silicone Baking Mat Half-Sheet Pan (set of 2), $33 at amazon.com
8. Linen Kitchen Towels
Every classically trained chef has a stack of clean linen kitchen towels within arm's reach. Use these cloth towels to wipe your space clean, to get hot pans in and out of the oven, or to wrap a loaf of warm bread or cover the pain au chocolat on the table. These Ikea towels have a classic bistro look but cost about $1 each.
To buy: Ikea Tekla Red and White Kitchen Towels (pack of 20), $31 at amazon.com
9. Round Dutch Oven
A Dutch oven is an essential piece of equipment for long braises like Coq Au Vin and Beef Bourguignon. The thick, enameled cast-iron walls conduct heat evenly (so there are no hot spots inside the pot) and help retain it. The heavy lid traps moisture inside the casserole and then it drips back down onto your food, making what's cooking inside tender and moist. Le Creuset is an iconic brand with plenty of style, so their pots can go from the stovetop to the oven to the table. The 6-quart is a good standard size if you're often cooking for four people or less.
10. Tart Pan
Whether it's filled with rustic apples, a savory egg custard, or a generous amount of caramelized onions, the French love their tarts. The tender-crumbed pastry can go sweet or savory, so make one for brunch, lunch, or dinner. This 8-inch pan has a non-stick surface and a removable bottom, making serving and slicing beyond easy.
To buy: 8-inch Non-Stick Tart Pan (Set of 2), $13 at amazon.com
One can never have too many ramekins. If you're unsure about what size to buy, an 8-ounce (or 1 cup) capacity ramekin is pretty standard and an ideal size for classic French soufflés, crème brûlée, pot pies, or crisps.
To buy: 8-ounce Porcelain Ramekins (set of 4), $11 at amazon.com
12. Oval Baking Dish
A ceramic baking dish is both versatile and makes for an elegant presentation. Use this 11-inch Le Creuset dish for a traditional French clafoutis, a classic dessert made with fruit and a pancake-like batter, or a scalloped potato gratin cooked in bubbling cream.
Le Creuset 11-inch Stoneware Oval Gratin, $50 at williams-sonoma.com
13. High-Powered Blender
For a light and airy hollandaise or a perfectly smooth vichyssoise, a high-functioning blender is key. While you'll see $400+ blenders in professional kitchens, we like this slightly more affordable and home cook-friendly KitchenAid blender. The 60-ounce pitcher is large enough for a batch of soup and the 5-speeds give you more control over consistency.
To buy: Kitchen-Aid 5-Speed Blender, $100 at amazon.com