So you’ve been inspired to eat real food: a paleo diet.
Great! You’re taking a big step towards better health and more energy.
But as you survey your kitchen, you realize that your refrigerator contains only beer and condiments, your freezer is full of precooked industrial products, your pantry is full of bread and pasta, you’re eating out all the time anyway—and suddenly you’re expected to instantly know how to cook all your own food from scratch when you can’t even use the few recipes you know?
Fear not! We are eating like predators, but that doesn’t mean we have to eat raw wildebeest out of a mud puddle that an elephant crapped in.
Let’s get started!
Kitchen Tools and Utensils
You don’t need a cupboard full of gadgets to cook and eat delicious food. I am all about the 80% solution: 20% of the effort (and cash outlay) solves 80% of your problems. And frankly, these are tools you should own no matter what kind of food you cook.
For your convenience, I provide links to purchase many of these supplies from Amazon…but if you can find them cheaper locally, go for it! (All links and recommendations are up to date as of 2/2013.)
- You must have a good 12″ covered skillet.
If you’re a kitchen klutz who will burn or scratch a non-stick pan, get a cast-iron skillet. (Here’s the glass cover.) Cast iron takes longer to heat up, heats less evenly, and it’s more trouble to keep clean and seasoned, but you’ll never completely destroy it and it’ll sear a steak better. (Seasoning and maintaining cast iron is a whole another article in itself.)
However, I recommend a non-stick skillet: it heats up more evenly, cleans up more quickly, and is far more convenient to use. Non-stick cookware requires careful care, though: you must be careful to never overheat it, and you must NEVER use metal utensils. This one is quite usable, and here’s what I have. And here is a nylon spatula if you don’t already own one.
- You must have a decent chef’s knife, and a steel to keep it sharp.
You don’t need a $100+ Henckels, Shun, or Wusthof so long as it’s forged, high-carbon stainless and you know how to sharpen it. This is the cheapest usable set I’ve found because it includes the steel. If you’ve got a higher budget, I’ve owned these for over ten years. (They are likely to last the rest of my life.) And you can spend as much as you like…but if you want a handmade work of art, not just an expensive brand name, I would go here.
Note that you only need one chef’s knife: think of the smaller ones in the set as slightly inferior backups.
- You must have at least two large cutting boards.
This lets you dedicate one board to meat, so you don’t have to worry about cross-contamination. Also, an outer groove is important when you’re cutting lots of meat so you don’t get blood on your counter.
Wood is more hygenic, being naturally antibacterial, but you must keep it oiled or it’ll split—and if it doesn’t have rubber “feet”, you must prop it up to dry or it’ll warp. Here’s a reasonably priced, usable set: some swankier alternatives are here and here.
Plastic harbors far more bacteria than wood (reference—hat tip to reader Scotlyn), but it’s dishwasher-safe and nearly impossible to ruin. These are good and well-priced.
- You must have refrigerator storage containers to hold meat, veggies, and leftovers.
Stretching plastic wrap over bowls and plates gets old quickly: Gladware, Takealongs, and Ziploc are the three big brands of reusable containers. Get two that are large enough to hold a roast or a steak, several that are large enough to hold a few vegetables, like a partially-used onion, pepper, and avocado, and several to hold individual servings of food so you can freeze them, take them to work, or just store leftovers. Stay away from off-brands: they often don’t seal correctly.
These will be much cheaper at the supermarket—but if you can’t find the big ones, try here (click on “Large Rectangle”).
- You must have a 6-quart or larger slow cooker.
Get the kind with the lid that seals tightly: I like this one. (Here’s one with a thermometer shutoff, which is convenient but more expensive.) The inner ceramic pot doubles as an oven-safe container for roasts, stews, and chili.
Since seed oils are now off limits, you’ll need some delicious saturated fats to cook with!
- You must have at least one pound of butter in your refrigerator at all times.
This rule is not negotiable. Butter is cheap, it’s available everywhere, and it makes everything taste better. (Yes, there are paleo purists who eschew butter: unless you’re frankly allergic, I view this as re-enactment, not science.)
The downside of butter is that it burns at a relatively low temperature, so you’ll have to limit your high-temperature frying and sauteeing, or use something else, like…
- Strongly consider coconut oil.
Virgin oil tastes like coconut and burns a bit more easily…refined oil is more neutral-tasting and stands up better to hotter cooking temperatures. There are some claimed health benefits to the virgin/unrefined stuff, but it’s tough to cook with unless you want everything to taste like coconuts. I use organic refined coconut oil for most of my cooking.
Grocery stores often hide coconut oil in the “health food” section. If you can’t find it, I buy mine here.
- Consider ghee.
Ghee is butter from which the residual proteins, sugars, and water have been removed (‘clarified butter’), leaving only pure butterfat. It’s frequently used in Indian cooking, and is suitable for high-temperature cooking and frying. And it’s delicious!
Ghee is hard to find except at Indian markets: you can buy some here, and the big jar here. Make sure it’s real ghee: there exist synthetic seed-oil based ghee substitutes which are equivalent to margarine, and which are just as unhealthy.
It’s actually not difficult to make your own ghee from regular store-bought butter: you can make a big batch in about half an hour. Here’s a tutorial: the more you make at once, the easier it is to just pour off the ghee, as the solids mostly stay at the bottom.
- Consider beef tallow, preferably grass-fed.
Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to find because of rampant saturated fat phobia, but it’s my favorite cooking fat for meat dishes and potatoes. I only know one source, and it’s expensive, costing over $10/pound for 2.25 pounds (but under $3/pound if you buy 5 gallons). If you have time, you can wet-render your own: here’s a tutorial.
Live in freedom, live in beauty.
Are you getting hungry? Yes, you are. Continue to Part II: “The Paleo Scramble”, A Basic Technique For Real-World Cooking.
Have I missed something important? How can I improve this list? Please let me know by leaving a comment!