We are looking at getting a set of frying pans for general use - steak, poached eggs and so on. Do you suggest cast iron, stone or aluminium? We like to put pans in the dishwasher. If we use non-stick are there good fish slices that can be used? Most home shows only give the benefits of their particular product.
- Thanks Peter Taylor
As an avid and almost obsessive collector of all things for the kitchen, I am of the slightly excessive view that you can never have enough pots and pans. After all, many are a thing of beauty and clever engineering. I recently bought a very old hand-operated egg beater from an antique shop in Bulls that I'll never use as it'll likely rust even more than it has already. But it's an example of wonderful ergonomic engineering, and besides, it looks great hanging in my London kitchen next to an old chip-scoop that once belonged to Elizabeth David.
However, it's your kitchen we're discussing, not mine, so to the point of your query. Let's start with the point that you like to wash things in the dishwasher. Non-stick pans aren't happy with this, as a year or two of placing them in contact with abrasive dishwashing powders will wear down their Teflon (or similar) coating and cause you to wonder why you invested so much money on them in the first place. However, the joy of a good non-stick pan is that it is very easy to clean if used properly, and you'll never have fish or eggs sticking to them. I have three in different sizes and depths (all with lids) and they are indispensable. I find the best are made from either reasonably heavy thick aluminium or stainless steel outer bodies. I tend still to use oil or butter when I cook in them and never put them over high heat (they work much better over low to medium-high heat anyway). Avoid metal spatulas (although the new generation non-sticks seem less affected). Once you've finished your cooking, fill with warm soapy water and leave to soak for a bit before scrubbing with a plastic brush or nylon scourer. You must never use a metal poly-pad.
Cast-iron cookware is great for even and often fierce heat distribution, but I don't like fry-pans made from it as I find them too heavy for lifting, tossing and the likes. I do have a few enamel coated cast-iron casserole dishes (great for oven and hob) and an old uncoated Swedish cast-iron casserole dish that I truly love, even when it turns a little rusty. Once heated up they can be left on the lowest heat imaginable and the contents will slowly bubble away on hob, barbecue or in the oven. I also have a ridged cast-iron skillet that I use for meat, vegetables and sardines, and I like this because the ridges hold the meat above the flat surface of the pan, which they might otherwise stick to, while the metal itself gives off a fierce heat which cooks the meat evenly, with pretty looking markings - which always impresses the guests. I find it's also good to grill lightly oiled toast for bruschetta - the smokiness it adds to the toast is a bonus. Most cast-iron works on induction hobs too which is something to consider depending on your hobs. Poaching eggs in them isn't advisable (the metal can rust) so you're best to avoid this. I've never seen a stone pot - but that does sound intriguing.
Aluminium, copper and stainless steel pans are a whole other field, often very cutting edge and technological. There are pots on the market made from numerous versions of coated and layered metals and alloys, many I've never heard of, supposedly bringing benefits that sound more like something you'd expect from a jet-fighter catalogue. Aluminium gives lightness and even heat distribution. Copper also conducts heat wonderfully and looks great. Stainless steel is often used to coat or laminate the various metals in myriad variations so that no chemicals pass from cookware to food. What they all supposedly do is cook your dinner evenly, without burning it, and clean easily.
At home, apart from my cast-iron, all of my cookware is stainless steel coated, even the non-stick pans. As is often the case, but especially in cookware, you mostly get what you pay for. A good pan can last several lifetimes, so don't look at that 34cm diameter, deep-sided non-stick fry-pan with tightly fitting lid as an extravagance, see it as an investment. But, if like me you like to shop, make sure you have enough cupboard space to store them in!
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