Friday, 19 April 2013

Old Stuff Better Than New Stuff: Cookware


Staub cocotte: the workhorse of my kitchen.
You may remember a few weeks ago I opined that ye olde-timey razors are better than new twenty-blade behemoths. Well, I am about to make some outrageous claims about old-style cookware that has fallen out of favor. Strap in for more bromidic blogging.

(I have no association with any products mentioned here.)

How many "non-stick" pans have you thrown out over the years? 100? 200? Me too.

Or are you concerned about non-stick fumes causing you flu-like symptoms, killing your pet birds or, according to the hype, the big C?

I'm only mildly perturbed by the health scaremongering. My main concern with non-stick cookware is suitability for a task. In most cases I am unhappy with the performance and economics of non-stick cookware.

Chasseur frypan.
In my kitchen, there is an embarrassingly large collection of enameled cast-iron cookware. It has built up steadily over the years through judicious purchasing. Enameled cast-iron cookware is low-maintenance (no seasoning) and very durable. The red cocotte pictured at the top of this post is over a decade old, has cooked 500+ meals and is in nearly perfect condition. It may even cater at my wake, though I don't intend for that to happen for many decades yet.

I mentioned performance before. Cast-iron cookware is non-reactive and retains heat excellently. It won't cool down when adding ingredients to the pan. It can be used on the hob, then put in the oven and finally used as a beautiful serving dish at the table.

These pans are ideal for any sauce-based meal: stews, casseroles, curry, pasta sauce etc. I would not try to fry an egg, these are not non-stick and you will have the devil's job scouring the pan.

Staub saute braiser
I have tried quite a few cast-iron pans, from Chinese cheapies to expensive French beauties. The cheap pans are good for a trial, $30 and you are away. But the enamel will crack and the quality control is quite shoddy (check that the pan will sit flat without rocking!). I wouldn't expect a cheap pan to last more than a year or two.

The top-line Frenchies are expensive but do come on sale. I don't think I have paid more than 50% of the RRP for a pan. In my experience, Staub and Le Creuset are the best of the best. Staub gets my nod for being a little more practical and a lot cheaper due to heavy discounts at sale. Le Creuset doesn't discount much and tries to maintain airs by appearing alongside celebrities on TV. Chasseur is also excellent, and cheaper, but not quite in the same league as the other two brands mentioned. Price is a barrier to cast-iron cookware but a quick calculation reveals that the red cocotte at the start of this post has cost me approximately 27c/week, with that figure falling over time.


de Buyer carbon steel crepe pan
nestling in a fry pan
So, what would I fry an egg in? Did you hear of my love affair with my carbon steel crepe pan?

Carbon steel is a non-stainless steel. It corrodes if not cared for. It must be seasoned and maintained properly to keep it at peak performance. It can be heated to insanely high temperatures and is ideal for frying an egg, a steak or any meat. The seal and sear imparted by a carbon steel pan is unobtainable with a non-stick pan, making for a much more delectable meal.

Once a carbon steel pan is properly seasoned, it is practically non-stick. I have no hesitation frying eggs or other notoriously difficult proteins in my pans. I would shirk at simmering a sauce, though. These pans are reactive and acidic ingredients will eat away at the surface.

Once again, wait for sales and you can snag some great items at crazy discounts.

The weather is cooling and more hearty meals will be finding their way to our plates via the cast-iron pots. Cometh the casserole, cometh the pan.
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2 comments:

  1. But there are so many options for materials and metals, coatings, and pieces — stainless steel, PFOA, anodized aluminum, copper, titanium, Teflon.Cookware Reviews are here to help and provide a compilation of reviews of the best nonstick cookware. We have provided you with a list of what’s in our kitchens.

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  2. Enamel over steel - this method develops a piece that has a non-reactive, heat distribution of carbon steel and a low stick surface area. Enamel over steel is perfect for huge pans that are utilized primarily in water based food preparation. Therefore, it is a popular piece of pots and pans for outdoor camping circumstances since of its light-weight function. Frigidaire Induction Cooktop

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