When you're a serious cook, mixing bowls are nearly as essential as cutting boards, knives, and pots and pans. I simply couldn't do without them, preferably in a good assortment of sizes. But that definitely doesn't mean any old bowl will do.
My ideal mixing bowl is metal—no other type of bowl meets all of my requirements:
- Durability. My bowls go through a lot of abuse. I don't want a bowl that will warp, dent, crack, or chip. For instance, the Pyrex Prepware 3-Piece Mixing Bowl Set, which often comes highly recommended, has a fatal flaw: The corners chip very easily. In some kitchens I've worked in, over half of the glass bowls had chips on their edges. Where do these glass bits go? On the floor? In the food? I'd rather not find out.
- Stain and Odor-Proof. Plastic bowls, like this popular set from Trudeau, can absorb odors from vinaigrettes or become discolored from canned tomatoes or oil-based products.
- An Appropriate Shape. Deeper bowls make it easier to stir batters and hydrate doughs and are generally better for bakers. Shallower, wider bowls are generally better for non-baking applications—they're easier to maneuver in for whisking vinaigrettes or whipping cream, or for creasing chicken cutlets. In either case, bowls with especially high sides, like the Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl Set from Cuisinart or these Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls from All-Clad, can make whisking and stirring difficult to do, and tossing large quantities of food downright impossible. As a general rule, a mixing bowl's height and radius should be within an inch or two of each other.
- Lightweight. The most efficient way to properly whisk ingredients in a bowl is to hold the bowl with one hand, rapidly shaking it back and forth, while whisking with the other hand. That means heavy bowls, like these ceramic ones, while very pretty, are taxing to use. Likewise, the best way to coat a large number of small pieces of food uniformly (say, when you're tossing potato chunks with olive oil, or bread crumbs with minced shallots) is to hold the bowl with two hands and toss foods toward you from the back lip—another challenge with heavy bowls.
- Stovetop-Capable. Setting a bowl on top of a pot of simmering water is the best way to make Hollandaise, melt chocolate, cook a delicate custard, or pull off any number of other kitchen projects. Occasionally, when I'm in a hurry, I'll even put the bowl directly over a low flame. While non-skid bases in products like OXO's Good Grips mixing bowl set are nice in many scenarios, they prevent you from using the bowls as a double boiler. Some non-skid bases aren't heatproof, but even when they are, the insulating properties of the coating make them inefficient at heat transfer. Oh, and forget about putting them directly on the stovetop.
- Microwave-Proof. I microwave things in bowls all the time. Whether it's for melting butter, steaming some greens, par-cooking pie fillings, or making five-minute ricotta, a bowl must be microwaveable. Fortunately for us, unless your microwave is a relic from the '80s, metal bowls are completely safe to put in the microwave. (Just don't put more than one metal object in at the same time, and keep the bowl away from the edges to prevent arcing.) In fact, the only bowls that aren't microwaveable are some of the plastic models. But we're avoiding them already, anyway.
The winning bowl, happily, also happens to be one of the most affordable. The bowls in the Stainless Mixing Bowl series from Fox Run have a width and depth that capture the best of both worlds—deep enough for baking purposes, but wide enough for easy whisking and tossing. They also come in multiple diameters, and you can purchase them individually rather than committing to a set of sizes you may not require. I'd recommend the 1.25-quart, the 2.75-quart and the 4.25-quart as a good starting set. If you have a good restaurant supply store near you, you can get cheaper, even more generic versions of these. Being thin and lightweight, they are also easy to store, since they take up virtually no extra space when you nest them. I have over a half dozen of these, and together they take up no more room than the single largest one does.
"But what about the features?!" you might ask. As far as I'm concerned, bowl design has been pretty much perfected.
As I mentioned, skidproof bottoms can be useful, but placing the bowl in a saucepot with a damp towel draped over the rim to stabilize it solves the wobbly-bowl problem better than any skidproofing I've ever come across. Skidproofing also prevents you from using the bowl in a double-boiler setup. Meanwhile, accompanying lids seem like a good idea at first, until you realize that your bowl is sitting in the fridge half-filled with potato salad, rather than on your shelf ready to use for making a vinaigrette when you need it. Finally, pouring spouts are, admittedly, a minor improvement, but largely unnecessary—if you've got a ladle and a funnel, there's nothing a spout's got on you.
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