Cooking is not difficult. Look for a recipe, commit to it, get the ingredients, and head back home to whip it all up. (Note: It is especially not difficult when drinking a glass of wine or cold beer while doing it.) However, there are things that one can do to facilitate the process and a major one is just having the proper cookware that will set you up for success—especially when cooking complex cuisines like Mexican food and the rest of the cuisines of Latin America.
While the cooking essentials that you may already have in your kitchen are good enough to get you started in your journey to the foods of Mexico, Central, and South America. Here is a list of some Latin American essentials that you should pick up sooner rather than later because they will vastly improve your home cooking arsenal and therefore your confidence in the certain dishes that they are used to make. Once you break them in and use them a few times, you will be cooking like a seasoned abuela in no time.
Copper is the best heat conductor there is in a kitchen. It is the best metal to cook sweets like dulce de leche and many other Mexican candies such as candied nuts and fruit candies. It is also the ideal cooking vessel to get the best possible caramelization on carnitas. If nothing else, having one in your kitchen will take you back to walking the streets of Mexico and all of the delicious memories of eating street food.
You will never, ever achieve the texture in a salsa or guacamole made in a molcajete anywhere else, no matter how fancy the gadget or how well you think you may have hacked it to replicate the texture. (People who swear that “pulsing” gets you the same chunky texture, you are wrong.)
A molcajete deserves a permanent spot in your kitchen counter if only for the endless amount of heaven-level creamy guacamoles. Not to mention that it also makes a perfect gift for friends who like to cook. Make sure to “cure” it before using it to ensure that it will last you as long as possible. It also makes for a stunning plate to serve things like carne asada and grilled seafood.
You will never go back to store-bought packaged tortillas after learning how to make your own. Start by buying really good masa made with just corn, water, and lime (the mineral, not fruit). Learning the ability to make tortillas from scratch will change your game in the kitchen forever. They are stunning enough to even make a quesadilla one of the best meals you will ever eat. Mind you, you will also need a sturdy but thin plastic bag to help you squish the tortillas and peel without them sticking to the metal.
Some foods just taste better when cooked on earthenware. Beans, braised meats and veggie dishes known as guisados, just to name a couple. Beans especially, because they love the constant heat and the round shape helps hold in moisture in them. The slow, even heat and natural clay are considered the best way to cook beans, actually. Ask any Mexican grandmother and they will agree.
A comal is the most versatile piece of cooking equipment in a Mexican kitchen. The thin steel heats up fast, which builds a great toasty crust and texture on anything that you put on there: tortillas, arepas, pupusas, dried chiles, and yes, even leftover pizza. It also doubles a griddle when you grease it up a little bit, for things like pancakes. Yep, this is one of our favorites.