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.
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.
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?