Even the most experienced professional chefs sometimes overlook the value of specialized restaurant supplies. If you have ever inherited a box of unidentifiable kitchen contraptions from your grandmother, you have probably seen some strange-looking, specialized tools. Decades have passed since these gadgets were common to the majority of households, but do not throw out your grandmother’s treasures. A lot of these tools are just as useful today as they were then, and other specialized items have been developed that you can purchase from a restaurant supply store. These utensils offer a great addition to both residential or commercial kitchens. With a little creativity, you can find all kinds of ways to use them.
Using a knife to cut a melon is messy and time-consuming, and the end result is lacking in presentation. Melon ballers offer the perfect solution. They resemble a small spoon with a hole in the middle to allow air and water through. Simply twist the baller to scoop out the melon flesh. If you believe that you do not prepare enough melon to merit the purchase of a melon baller, think again. They are perfect for forming a spherical garnish out of just about anything, including the following:
• Ice cream
• Cooked potato
There are a variety of other potential uses, including scooping out the cores and/or seeds of other fruits and vegetables. When making stuffed cherry tomatoes or mushrooms, use a melon baller to remove the unwanted cores. Just be careful not to go too wild with your baller, or you might find yourself serving little spheres of every food imaginable.
Anyone who does a lot of baking, whether at home or in the commercial kitchen, should invest in a baking mat. If your grandmother knew you had one, she would be jealous. Baking mats are reusable, non-stick pan liners made of laminated silicone. They are oven-, freezer- and microwave-safe. Since they can be used thousands of times, they are cost-effective and good for the environment, eliminating the need for greasing the pan or lining it with single-use parchment paper. The mats also serve as the perfect non-stick surface for kneading and rolling dough. They are an essential addition to your restaurant supplies, but make sure you store your baking mats flat or rolled-up, rather than folded, since any creases will ruin their functionality.
Although rotary models exist, a simple potato ricer looks like a giant garlic press and functions similarly. It processes food by forcing it through tiny holes about the size of a grain of rice. Originally, potato ricers were designed for cooked potatoes, producing creamier, more velvety mashed potatoes than a mere potato masher could ever achieve. However, they can be used to process a huge variety of other foods, including the following:
• Roasted garlic
You can use a ricer to puree any cooked vegetable, like cassava and carrots, or to make baby food, chopped liver or pumpkin pie. It is also perfect for creating butter dots to cut into flour, squeezing the water from thawed or cooked spinach, cutting eggs for egg salad, and, of course, making hair out of Play-Doh.
Everyone wants a fair share of the pie. Using a pie marker will guarantee even slicing. The metal teeth on the tool “mark” the pie so that it is easy to cut into uniformly sized pieces. While pie markers represent one of the most specialized tools, they are not just for dessert pies. You can also use a pie marker to evenly slice the following:
• Flat breads
Pie markers are available in restaurant supply stores with as little as five cuts or as many as twelve. Any pizza place or bakery should have a variety of pie markers available at any given time for slicing pizzas, pies and cakes of all sizes. Pie markers are also useful for creating perfect slices in the home kitchen, and they are always a good excuse for the houseguest that “just wants a little piece” to take a temporary break from dieting.
China Caps and Chinois
China caps and chinois, which is French for “Chinese,” resemble their name-sake: a conical Chinese hat. A china cap is made of perforated metal and is suitable for straining seeds or large chunks out of sauces, juices and soups, while a chinois is made of mesh that is fine enough to strain custards, drinks or sauces into a smoother texture.
Use a dowel, a matching cone or a small ladle to apply pressure on the mixture and force it through the strainer. For the smoothest possible consistency, you can use a cheesecloth in conjunction with the chinois. This is perfect for making smooth drinks, like almond milk. The chinois or china cap can also be used to evenly dust food with a layer of powdered sugar. Just make sure any children lurking nearby know that it is not actually a “cap,” or they will have a finely powdered mop of hair.
Corers and Slicers
A modern day food processor simply cannot cut with the accuracy of a traditional hand-held slicer or cutter. When it comes to cutting fries or coring an apple, there is no substitute for a manually powered utensil. The following kitchen gadgets can save a lot of labor in the kitchen:
• Tomato corers, or “tomato sharks,” and tomato wedgers
• Melon peelers
• Onion wedgers
• Egg slicers
• French fry cutters
• Apple slicers, corers and peelers
These tools speed up the process of coring and slicing, and they are also safer than using a knife. Whether you are preparing food in a commercial kitchen or at home, specialized corers and slicers will save you a lot of time, and maybe even a finger.
Reasons to Purchase Specialized Supplies
Specialized restaurant supplies open up new opportunities. Without an onion slicer, you probably would not realize how much time you waste cutting onions, and you certainly would not consider serving a blooming onion. You never thought you needed one, but if a melon baller is not available in your kitchen, you may not even think to add spherical cuts and garnishes to your menu items. The more specialized tools you add to your residential or restaurant supply, the greater your opportunities for culinary creativity.