Batterie de Cuisine

Most cookery books start off by telling you that you need a vast array of implements. If you are reading this, it is unlikely that you will be able to afford any at all. Scrote of course doesn't believe in buying anything if he can avoid it and, by and large, won't have gadgets in his house. This is Scrote's list of the absolute basic things you will need. Some recipes need extra items- for instance it is pretty well impossible to roast or bake anything if you don't have an oven- but I will tell you if they do.

the main contents list

The Knife

Above all you need at least one sharp knife. Surprisingly, your first knife doesn't need to be either a cook's knife or very sharp to start with- you only need to be able to sharpen it yourself. Scrote's main knife when we were students (which he used for many years) was a second-hand, stainless steel, ordinary school dinner knife (the sort where the blade and the handle are about the same length and all one piece of metal). Scrote reckons stainless steel is better than hard steel for a cookery knife. It is true that stainless steel is not as hard, but it won't rust- ordinary steel is discoloured by onions and fruit acids and puts brown stains on the food. Anyway, it doesn't have to stay sharp forever because you are going to resharpen it, aren't you? Avoid all blades with serrated edges- you don't need them, they don't cut properly and you can't resharpen them.

The Stone

You need to be able to sharpen the knife, and for this you need a (carborundum) stone. Do not buy a 'steel', especially a second-hand one. They are, in Scrote's opinion, a complete waste of money, even if free. They are only an special sort of file made from hardened steel, and they are not really up to sharpening another sort of steel for long- they get blunt and that's why there are so many in the junkshops. Do not buy any silly gadgets with little wheels inside either, no matter what it claims on the label. You need a good old-fashioned stone. A proper carpenter's stone is quite expensive, but you may be able to beg, borrow or steal an old-fashioned round whetstone. These were used to sharpen scythes mainly and are quite coarse but they do have the necessarry 'bite' to put an edge (albeit somewhat ragged) on a very blunt knife.

The main thing when using a stone is to learn to keep the blade of the knife at the same constant angle each time you draw the edge across the stone. If you develop a rocking motion then you will put round shoulders on the edge, and spend most of your time trying to grind these off without actually touching the edge of the blade itself. With a flat stone, push the knife blade along the flat of the stone edge-first. With a round stone, pull the knife-blade across the stone with its edge trailing. In either case, it is better to use a motion away from yourself unless you really dislike your fingers and never, ever drop a sharpened knife into the washing-up. If you want to wash a sharp knife, hold it while you wipe it- Scrote has cut himself quite badly poking around in bowl full of soapy water with a sharp knife in it. Although putting your own blood into food shows a certain dedication, it tends to revolt unwary guests.

The Cooker

Well, let's face it, most of these recipes are for hot food. You are going to need something to cook on or in. You might get away with a small fire for some of them, but real fires tend to have certain disadvantages- they fill the place with smoke, they have only two settings (too hot or gone out) and there is nothing to rest the pot on. Really you need a cooker, preferably with an oven. It doesn't have to be a particularly good cooker though- you can probably get away with only two rings working and it could be either gas or electricity. Scrote prefers gas for the rings because it simmers at a lower heat, and some of the recipes like a really ferocious oven, but what-the-hell that's just him being picky. The one thing he says you don't need is a microwave, unless all the cookery you are planning to do is to warm things up.

The Chopping Board

Next you need some sort of surface to prepare the food on, and for this there is nothing to beat a good wooden chopping board, the bigger the better. Don't get a marble slab (that's for pastry) and don't use plastic, formica, melamine or the counter top unless you want to spend all your time resharpening your knife. If all else fails, see if you can lay your hands on an offcut from a big plank of wood, like a scaffolding plank. The main chore with wood is you have to scrub it hard after you cook, and put it somewhere it can drain dry without standing in water.

The Cooking Pot

Now you need something to cook in. I'm afraid this is the point where if you have got any money it is time to part with some of it. The absolute ideal is a particular sort of heavy, enamelled, cast-iron sauce-pan with a matching cast-iron lid which doubles as a frying pan. Each has an integral (cast-iron) handle. The French, who know a thing or two about these things make them. Unfortunately, although good, they are not cheap. It can be used as a saucepan on top of the stove with or without the lid, as a fair approximation to a Wok, as a separate small frying pan, as a casserole in the oven or as a roasting dish. It's big enough to hold a whole chicken or a boned joint, and holds enough to make two pints of soup or stew. You have just got to have one, I'm afraid. However the good news is you don't actually have to have anything else at all- any other pans are entirely up to you.

The Refrigerator

It is rather unusual to include a refrigerator in the Batterie de Cuisine, but to Scrote's mind it is the single greatest contribution to cookery since the invention of fire. You absolutely have to have one. Without it, you would not be reading this book or contemplating cooking anything. You are a busy modern person, right? You are on your own or both of you work, yes? There's no-one at home during the day, yes? Without a fridge, you would have to shop before just about every meal and any fresh ingredients would be of limited choice, very seasonal and of poorer quality. In winter little would be available and in summer nothing would keep- meat would go off and milk would go sour the same day. You would be able to earn a living or you could shop & cook, but you would not be able to do both. In other words, someone would have to cook for you- a parent, a spouse, a landlady (or landlord, of course) or an institution.


That's it- that's the absolute bare minimum that you need to cook. You won't be able to cook everything, but you will be able to cook good food. Of course, a few other things would be quite useful: a plate and bowl to eat off; a knife and fork and spoon to eat with; a bit of wood such as a spatula or a chopstick Eleanor, my daughter, is a whizz with chopsticks- but
then she is also the only person Scrote knows who can eat soup with a fork. to stir your cooking with (not a wooden spoon); a wineglass and a coffee cup.

You will need a tin-opener to open plum tomatoes and tuna tins (the only tinned ingredients Scrote uses in this book) and a corkscrew to open your bottle of wine (unless your index finger is strong enough to push the cork down into the wine- it can be done). Keep the wine bottle and wash the label off, a straight-sided green glass bottle is all you need for a rolling-pin. A thing called a Cafetiere or a jug filter is pretty necessary if you are going to make reasonable coffee. A grater is almost (but not quite) essential, and one of those little gadgets for peeling potatoes can make life less laborious.

Some extra pans, plates, cutlery, and cups will enable you to make larger meals and invite people to share your food. You will find that you will need either a pestle and mortar or a spare peppermill if you buy your spices whole (as you should) in order to grind them. A shallow oven-proof dish is necessary for some of the recipes (Scrote's is Pyrex glass) and a mixing bowl (also Pyrex). A set of scales and a measuring jug is also pretty helpful in some recipes, although not absolutely essential. A balloon whisk is needed for the egg-white in the chocolate mousse, and authentic skewers add something to the kebabs. You don't need an apron unless you really want to pose, but a linen drying up cloth tucked into a waist-belt loop comes in useful for handling hot pans as well as drying up.

The Store Cupboard

You will find your store cupboard gradually accumulates ingredients, spices and herbs as you cook. At first you will have to buy all the ingredients for each meal you cook, but eventually you will find many of the ingredients are already in your cupboard. Scrote's store cupboard has:

Weights and Measures

There aren't any in most of the recipes. Occasionally, where the ratio is important, Scrote will give exact amounts, but for most of the recipes a forgiving inexactitude is part of their attraction. Fruits and vegetables are not all the same size- two small onions can be smaller than one big onion. Similarly, ovens vary in temperature even between examples of the same model, different parts within the interior are hotter or cooler, and a different results are produced by gas and electricity, by the quantity loaded into them, and by the way it affects the circulation. When Scrote says a medium oven, Scrote means wind the knobby-thing about halfway round the dial!

Most of the recipes are for three or four servings, and can be scaled up if more are required. Sometimes people become flustered and over-cook when there are a number of guests, particularly when several different dishes are planned, and produce more than can be eaten. But it is fairly obvious that the total servings in each course should not greatly exceed the number of people who are going to eat them and that most people cannot eat more than three or four courses. When calculating what constitutes a serving, it is useful to have in mind what a typical person will eat, if necessary by imagining a typical plateful of the dish in question. For instance, it is easy to realise that 4 ounces (100 grams) of meat is an adequate portion for an adult within a meal- if you have ever eaten a 'quarter-pounder' beefburger. Knowing that there are six large glasses of wine to a bottle and reckoning how many glasses get you drunk will enable you to calculate with fair accuracy how much alcohol to provide.