This is reprint of an earlier post from April 2005. Many readers have asked about pans so I thought it would be good to put this up again. This post was heavily quoted (with permission) in a recent article by the Anchorage Daily News pertaining to pots and pans…
A recent reader looking to replace beaten up old teflon pans emailed me asking what kinds of pans I might suggest. Instead of going into a lengthy treatise on pans, I will share with you instead the pans that are actually in one of my kitchens. I have not done any extensive research, but over time I have been very happy with the following choices in each of four categories: stainless steel, cast iron, enameled iron and copper. By the way, if your teflon pans have scratches and are starting to peel, change them immediately. You could be eating some pretty nasty material from the coating of your pans… First up, stainless steel. I have several pans (the back two in this picture) from Sitram’s catering line which is a sub-line of their classic commercial line. No nonsense, heavy gauge 18/10 stainless steel with straight sides and sturdy handles welded to the pan. This is my favorite line of pans. The base of the pots have a 2 mm copper plate sandwiched between the stainless exterior and interior of the pan. The copper plate helps to ensure the fastest and most even distribution of heat. Useful on a rangetop, it can be put in an oven as well. These also have a very nice weight and balance to them. Price ranges from $50-250+ depending on the size of the pot or pan. Sitrams are made in France. A second brand of pans I have are All-Clad (the front two pans in the photo) which I also like but sometimes find they are less balanced than the Sitrams. All-clads have an aluminium plate in the base as opposed to copper. These are more readily available in cooking stores throughout the U.S.
My second must have group of pans are good old-fashioned cast iron. Great for everything from pan-frying meat, hash-browned potatoes, to hitting a burglar over the head, these pans last a lifetime and serve you brilliantly. Literally made of cast iron, they are wickedly heavy and if you drop one on your foot you could easily sever some toes. By the way, did you know that if you cut off your ten toes you would have a really HARD time balancing and standing up? But I digress… These pans require care. They have to be “seasoned” which means you coat them with oil and heat them up in a hot oven until they start to have a skin or sheen of their own. When washing, be careful not to scrub off your sheen. The pans in this photo are virtual babies, having been used less than 20 times and are barely developing their sheen. Because they are pure iron, they react with acidic ingredients so it’s best not to cook with tomatoes, vinegar, lemon, wine, etc. in these pans. But they are brilliant for burgers, deep frying, steaks, etc. These pans are AMAZINGLY cheap and very durable – they should last a lifetime. I found some (Lodge brand) at the Gourdos store in Fort Bonifacio a year ago and bought almost a dozen. I like to give them to newly wed couples along with other pots and pans as I know they will be used and most likely outlast most marriages. Furthermore, they are the perfect pans when you have staff because they are nearly indestructible. Be good to your cast iron and it will be good to you. Too much scraping and you will get more than your daily recommended dosage of iron minerals together with your food.
My third group of pans are enameled pots and pans. These are essentially iron bases that have baked on smooth enamel on the exterior surfaces. The most well known brand and the one I like is Le Crueset but there are others such as Emile Henri, etc. I have loads of this line. They are heavy and great for stews, casseroles, soups, etc. They are great on a stovetop and you can put them in an oven too. They come in great colors for all those chi-chi people that must match their cookware to the color of their kitchen paint… I have white and blue ones. The one maintenance issue with these is that the enamel can scratch so you must use only rubber, wood or plastic utensils when cooking with these pots. They are available from Bacchus shops at the Shangrila hotels. I brought most of mine in from the States and France. I even have one casserole large enough to bathe a small baby in… One note on these pans, they can crack if dropped on the floor. And if the enamel or iron beneath it cracks, deadums.
Finally, there is copper. Many serious cooks have a love/hate relationship with copper pots and pans. While they are ancient and conduct heat well, they are a pain in the ass to keep clean and sometimes the copper/tin coatings can wear off if improperly used or cared for. I use copper when I am doing “black-tie” cooking… like the twice a year I acquire a foie gras or if I sear some superb scallops or fish fillets. Copper is wickedly priced and I acquired most of mine in France but still felt like I was buying couture, not off the rack (pun intended). The pot that I am carrying in the picture here is a large oval shaped fish pan – highly unusual and this one has never been used, thus the brilliant shine. Copper pots often feature prominently in “show kitchens” where the pans are hanging above a kitchen island, all pristine and highly polished.
I have no photographs of them but my kitchens are also stocked with teflon pans that are just downright practical. But I tend to change my teflon pans very often for fear of eating whatever teflon is made of. I also have clay pots and finally large aluminium stockpots or steamers.