Pots and Pans- Aug. 2010

The perfect kitchen has a set of gleaming copper pots hanging from hooks above a clean and functional workspace, but most of us do not have this kitchen. We might have a small working  space, and we probably have a collection of pots and pans from here and there;  an unused wok or Dutch oven taking up a huge amount of room,  a frying pan that has been with you since college, and some pots and pans of indeterminate material  that heat up too quickly and burn things.

But what if you wanted to set up the dream kitchen in your new house?  Advice from chefs, mothers and the blathering internet will tell you to buy a small set of high quality expensive products and to add to the set when you recognize what you use and need.

Cheap pots make for frustrating cooking experiences and may deter someone from ‘actual’ cooking, or as it is called by today’s hipsters, ‘slow cooking’, in contrast with heating frozen and prepared meals.  The zeitgeist these days is to return to cooking fresh ingredients in ‘real’ time in real pots.

And although we often hear about the importance of sitting down to a proper meal with our loved ones, for many busy families, “Pots and pans are almost obsolete” says Nicole Edwards, “which I think is a shame”, referring to the busy modern family’s propensity to heat up prepared food in the microwave.

Ironically she and her husband Carson, the Chef of Dune View Inn in Bouctouche, are so busy running their inn, restaurant and organic farm that a sit down dinner with their four children is something they barely have time for in the summer.  But they care about good food and Carson has very strong opinions about his pots and pans.

“If I was buying a set for someone”, says Carson, “I would buy them a set from Paderno or Lagotstina”, arguing that a good set of pots will be more economical over time. “Both of these companies guarantee their pots for life. If you buy a cheap set it will last you only three or four years, so it is cheaper to buy the one really good set that will last for life”.

When Carson was studying to become a chef his older sister insisted that he get a good quality set of pots from Lagostina; three sauce pans, a fry pan and all the covers. From there he added new pieces at the yearly sales that such companies hold.

In his opinion, “Every kitchen should have a cast iron frying pan” says Carson, “and a steamer , (a double pot that and you can cook your spaghetti in and lift it out, but that is also good for steaming lobster or mussels), and all kitchens should have  a good baked enamel Dutch oven”.  Carson also advises to buy your utensils after you buy your set, so that they fit the pots.  In his professional kitchen he uses a good nonstick Teflon frying pan, “with a diamond hard surface that does not scratch at all” and a high quality wok.

Jillian Walton, the manager of Padreno in Moncton, agrees with this philosophy, saying that a small set that can be added to is the perfect way to start.  She says people are drawn to Paderno pots because of the high quality and the fact that “We are the only Canadian pot manufacturer, especially in the Maritimes where they are made in P.E.I.”. She says that they still sell a classic series of pots that they started with thirty years ago, but their recent biggest seller is a set called the Fusion Five. 

According to Jillian, the pots are a very high grade of steel (1810 stainless steel) and they have an aluminum pad on the bottom so they heat very well.  She says that although the dream is to have “the biggest set”, a lot of people start off with either a smaller set or just a few pieces that they need. Her advice is to “start out with a couple of sauce pans and maybe a Dutch oven”.

Walton also advises to keep  your eyes on the sales , “Whenever we have factory sales they put different pieces on special so you can add as you go”, she says,  “People circle what they need to complete their set and every time a flyer comes out they’ll see if that is on sale”.

TIPS

Don’t invest in a full set of expensive cookware until you truly know what you love. Invest more money on your skillet and sauté pan than on pans to boil pasta.  – (straight from The Joy of Cooking)

Basic Pots and Pans:

4 Saucepans of assorted sizes with lids

12 inch sauté pan with lid

Small lightweight skillet with a nonstick service

Large stewing or soup pot

Stock pot

Double Boiler

6 to 8 quart Dutch oven or other lidded enameled pot

Strainers

Questions to Ask Yourself

How much space do I have in the kitchen for storage?

Do I find lifting heavy pans difficult?

Am I concerned about possible health hazards of Teflon of aluminum?

Are the handles strong and are they heat resistant?

Do the lids fit well?

Do I actually make roasts or large pots of beans? (Do I really need that pot?)

Quick Tips on Different types of Pots:

Copper

Copper looks beautiful if it is gleaming (clean with cloth dipped in vinegar and salt mixture then rinse in hot water) but it is best in a heavier gauge. Unless the surfaces are lined with stainless steel the pan will be affected by acids and can be toxic (too much copper in diet is not recommended).

Treat copper with care, don’t use on high heat, don’t scratch surface and don’t clean with abrasive cleaners.  A good copper pan lined with stainless steel will not melt, wear away or need relining.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is non-reactive with food, easy to clean, affordable and looks new after many uses.

However, stainless steel has poor heat conductivity so these pots are best if they have an inner core of aluminum or copper.

Cast Iron

Cast Iron is good for a dish that starts on the top of the stove and ends up inside the oven; it is oven safe. Cast Iron absorbs heat slowly but retains it longer; good for slow pan frying or searing.

Never put your cast iron in the dishwasher. Keep pan clean and oiled or it can rust. Not a good pan for those with arthritis in their hands because it is very heavy.

Non Stick Pans

The chemical used in the non-stick substance, PTFE, is a suspected carcinogen, but studies have been inconclusive. Always use medium heat with these pans as high heat releases harmful gases.  Always treat gently, use wooden or plastic utensils and wash gently.

Aluminum

Aluminum pans are light weight and conduct heat well. However, as aluminum can be toxic the pan should be coated with stainless steel or anodized (treated to become non-reactive).

Because of possible link between Alzheimer’s and aluminum, avoid cooking or storing food for long periods in aluminum. Leafy vegetables and acidic foods absorb aluminum so they should not be cooked in these pots.

The pots stain easily – but can be cleaned by boiling in the pan 4 cups of water with 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar.

Tempered Glass

This type of glass has been treated to be stable at high temperatures. Can be good for baking but is also known for chipping and cracking.

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