Let’s face it – there are a few kitchen utensils or cookware items that really make a difference when you’re cooking ethnic food:
Mortar: I can’t imagine trying to cook Southeast Asian food without a good mortar (and pestle, of course). I like the very heavy stone one that I bought at a local Thai grocery. It holds about 2 cups – not that you ever grind that much, but it’s nice to have the room when you’re mashing things. They also sell eathenware mortars with wooden pestles, but if you come down with the pestle at the wrong angle, you can crack them. Still, they’re an inexpensive option. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can grind things in your food processor or blender, buy it’s laborious, and the texture is not the same.
Rice Steamer: I cook a lot of Lao food, so a stove-top rice steamer is indispensable for me (the Laotians eat glutinous rice, which is always steamed over simmering water). I also use my rice steamer to re-constitute left-over regular white rice. A Lao or Thai rice steamer is a two part item – an aluminum bottom to hold the water, and a woven bamboo top to hold the rice. You can substitute any other type of two-part steamer, with the top part lined with cheesecloth to hold the rice.
Paella Pan: Paella is so easy to make, and turns out so well if you use a paella pan, that (imho) it makes a very useful addition to your pots and pans collection. You can make paella in a skillet set in the oven, if you insist.
Wok: I hope everyone have a wok by now! I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely indispensable, but it does make stir-frying a whole lot easier. I use one that I bought in Chinatown. Sorry, but the teflon-coated ones I see for sale in fancy cookware shops are not the thing to use. The whole point of stir-frying is to use high heat for a short time – and you can’t heat teflon to the very high temperatures called for in Asian cooking. So buy a cast iron wok, and season it – it’s worth the time to do it right. Here’s a link that says it all: http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/features/wokcare.html
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