15 improvised kitchen tools for summer house cooking

photo: maria robledo

In summer, we sometimes find ourselves spending time in the badly-equipped kitchens of rented or borrowed summer houses that can be a great challenge to cook in. So we apply the concept of makeshift: When you find you don’t have a particular piece of equipment you need, improvise a substitute or “shift” the dish you are making to accommodate it.

When it comes to equipment, makeshift is an antidote to the inhibiting, very modern reliance on matching sets of pots and stylishly outfitted kitchens.  It cuts to the heart of the matter: rather than letting a piece of equipment stand in the way, you come up with a makeshift solution, as resourceful people have for eons, so you can still make the delicious dish you were planning. Use a label-less wine bottle to roll out pastry dough, a coffee cup for a ladle and get by just fine with one good sharp knife (we often travel with a folding Opinel picnic knife). We heard of a woman who pulled out her ironing board when she needed more counter space.

We’ve come up with an array of makeshift solutions over the years. The example below (with a couple of recipe) will give you a sense of possibility for devising your own makeshift equipment when you need it. There’s only one rule: whatever works.

skillet chicken under a brick (or a rock)

photo: ellen silverman

For example, our favorite chicken dish is a whole bird, butterflied and browned in a skillet with a weight on top, Italian style. The result is succulent chicken – both white meat and dark –  with a delectable crisp skin, and with much more flavor than the ubiquitous boneless breast (loss of bones always means loss of flavor).  In Italy, such a chicken would be cooked al mattone, “under a brick” of heated, specially-made terracotta. In our makeshift version, we cook the chicken in a nonstick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet with a weight on top,  such as a smaller cast iron skillet or a saucepan with a heavy can in it, or even a rock from the back yard.

puree raw garlic with a rock

photo: maria robledo

Perhaps our favorite makeshift solution is using a rock as a pestle to pound garlic to a puree. Pounding, rather than chopping garlic, is the secret to a pure, mellow – not bitter – garlic flavor. Rather than use a mortar, we pound the peeled clove right on the counter with a little coarse salt. We mix the puree into commercial mayonnaise along with some extra-virgin olive oil to make a fast, unpolished version of aioli, the Mediterranean’s classic sauce. It’s great on sandwiches, with roasted meats and poultry and, especially, chilled shrimp, octopus and salmon.

Here are some other favorite makeshift kitchen tools:

–citrus juicer:  a dinner fork (halve a lemon or lime and hold over a bowl; press the tines of a fork into a half and rotate the fruit to ream it.

-meat pounder:  a flat rock, the side of a cleaver or a flat-bottomed iron skillet

–cookie/biscuit cutter: a clean glass with a thin lip or a clean can (with the label removed)

-double boiler/bain marie: Fit a medium saucepan with a bowl just large enough to be suspended over, but not in,  water in the pan. Cover with a lid. Alternatively, use ramekins or 1-inch balls compressed out of foil, as “feet” to elevate the bowl.

-flame tamer/ heat diffuser: use an iron skillet set on a burner. Place the saucepan inside it,

-mortar: stainless steel bowl; you can also mash and crush foods right on the work surface

-pestle: a smooth heavy stone, door knob, heavy jar or can (these are also good for pitting olives or cherries)

-aluminum foil can be molded into a roasting pan

-plates make fine pot lids

-chopsticks make famously great tongs and stirrers

What are some of your desperate kitchen makeshift?

5 Responses to 15 improvised kitchen tools for summer house cooking

  1. James Gourlay 07.13.2012 at 6:51am #

    Hi Folks,

    I sometimes teach wilderness cooking classes – here are some artifices I came up with:-

    oven – half buried filling cabinet draw raised on bricks with a hot fire between them, old drain pipe for chimney, covered in soil. Wonderful pizzas, bread and baked potatoes came out of it. A pot hung above the chimney provided warm water for washing up.

    large fish smoker – a trash can style incinerator buried in the ground, a car wheel hub filled with burning oak chips was lowered into it on stiff wire. Trout and mackerel hot smoked above the chips suspended from coat hangers.

    eel smoker – biscuit tin with holes pierced in the top, oak shavings in the bottom, place eels unskinned on a chicken wire “grill” above the shavings. Put the tin on a fire or spirit stove to get the shavings smouldering.

    spit – a tai-chi sword supported by two forked sticks beside a fire, silverside -yum :)

    tumblers – preserving jars

    pie dish – any oven proof dish

    roasting dish – cast iron pan with wooden handle unscrewed

    baking beans – for holding grease paper when baking blind use chick peas / gravel

    baking foil – large leaves I have used comfrey, burdock and wild garlic leaves

    rolling pin – wine bottle, full works better. For some reason my pastry is less even when I use an empty bottle ;)

  2. Sally 07.13.2012 at 3:11pm #

    Spit made from a tai chi sword!!! eel smoker!! And leaves as baking foil, I love all these ideas. Totally resourceful and brilliant. Thanks so much for sharing. I want to take a wilderness cooking class!

  3. Stephanie 07.16.2012 at 3:48pm #

    Hammer-crush ice inside a sandwich bag. Also use hammer as a nutcracker.

  4. Kyle 12.24.2012 at 10:16pm #

    When buying frozen rolls of ground beef, to “cut” into smaller portions, rather then thawing or trying to saw through frozen meat, I’ve taken a clean chisel and a 3 lb sledge hammer to the meat.

  5. Sally 12.27.2012 at 1:59pm #

    “A clean chisel and a 3 lb sledge hammer.” Wonderful!

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