Kitchen Work Surfaces
It is essential that all working surfaces should be both flat and easy to clean. This applies to unit work tops and to any boards which are used for preparation of food.
Most kitchen units have laminated surfaces (Formica and Melamine are the most common). These look attractive and are cool and easy to keep clean. They are good for general food preparation, including rolling out pastry, but you should never chop directly on to a laminated work top because chopping scores the surface and produces scratches which not only destroy good looks but also encourage bacterial growth.
Wipe clean with a damp cloth and non-abrasive cleaner such as a washing-up liquid. Laminated surfaces are not heat-resistant either, so never put a casserole straight from the oven on to your work top or you will produce a burn mark.
Wood is a traditional work surface with many advantages. You can chop on to a wooden board without damaging it and, provided you scrub it regularly it should remain in good condition for years. The snags about wood are that it retains smells, is stained irrevocably by substances like blood and beetroot juice, and burns if hot pans are placed on it. It is not sensible to have all your work surfaces made of wood because of these problems, but at least two wooden boards are essential in any kitchen.
A fairly thin board is ideal for cutting foods such as bread or cheese. For more energetic work, such as preparing vegetables, cutting meat and general chopping, you will need a more solid wooden board, at least 1 inch thick to provide a heavy base which will not slip when you chop, and large enough to cope comfortably with large quantities when, for example, making a stew. If you have a board with two chopping sides it is worth reserving one side for savory food and the other for sweet, so you don't get, say, onion-tasting apricots. Carve a nick on one side or mark it with something that won't come off when washed. Alternatively, use two separate boards. Scrub wooden boards thoroughly after each use (always following the grain) and rub with a cut lemon to eliminate smells. Never leave wooden boards to soak in water or they will warp and, in time, crack and splinter. As an added protection against drying out, rub them with oil (any edible oil will do) from time to time.
A marble pastry board used to be part of every kitchen's basic equipment. Marble is excellent for keeping pastry cool when working and rolling it out but large marble pastry boards are very expensive today. Unless you are a frequent and large-scale pastry cook, it is probably not worth buying as a piece of essential kitchen equipment. But it is definitely worth keeping an eye out for an odd off-cut of marble, such as part of an old mantelpiece or wash-stand, which you can scrub up for use.
Glass makes an excellent food preparation surface because it is easily cleaned and doesn't retain smells; it is particularly suitable for preparing fish. Chopping boards made of glass look elegant enough to double as a serving platter for some desserts or cheese. Because glass is so heavy, these boards are usually quite small (large ones are unwieldy and liable to get dropped and broken). The best models have little raised knobs all over one side so that any juices and blood can drain away from food being prepared.
Things to consider
When choosing boards to supplement your unit work surfaces, consider shape as well as material. Round ones look nice but will roll about when stored vertically.
Some boards have small rubber feet which, although helpful for stability, means you cannot use the underside. A small channel running round the edge is useful for catching liquids and juices which would otherwise go to waste.