Sunday, February 14, 2016

New Cookware: A Saga, Part 2 — Research

The outcasts (not including the roasting rack; I'm too lazy to find a spot for it).

A couple of weeks ago, after we sold the new condo, I decided that my reward for NOT moving would be new cookware. Six years of waiting and possibly poisoning ourselves with worn Teflon was too long. I was happy to have the distraction.

I took stock and decided to begin by replacing the pieces I'd used most, which fit so nicely in the drawer: my small frying pan, 1-1/2 and 2-1/2 quart saucepans, and the 4-quart rounded pot that holds mac-and-cheese and other large recipes I make when I am tense, because it's strangely calming to make too much food. There's also a 10" "everyday" pan with a glass lid and short handles, which serves as a second skillet and small casserole. In tight spaces (including a 24" cooktop) short handles are great. We also have cheap 1- and 3-quart steel saucepans from my husband's bachelor days that are all I've been using lately, even though I planned to get rid of them when our wedding cookware arrived in 1997. Now I'm ready to let them go.

I do have a few other good items I use regularly and store in cabinets, including my Le Creuset Dutch oven, which is too big for much besides soups, and a 4-quart steel pot for cooking pasta (the steamer insert drains a pound of it perfectly).

I had three Williams-Sonoma gift cards I'd received from my brother over the past few Christmases. I went there, and to Sur la Table, and to Kitchenwares, and looked around and lifted pans. I got confused; I went home. This was going to be complicated. There's a ton of stainless steel cookware out there in every price range. I regard all of it as "stick" cookware. It mostly looks and feels the same to me, and I see it all, in my mind's eye, coated with burned-on eggs, cheese, and so on, soaking in my sink overnight.

There's copper cookware, of course. It always looks so lovely and it reminds me of happy hours spent browsing in Dehillerin in Paris. It is supposed to heat like a dream, but plenty of good stainless cookware has a copper core. And copper cookware is lined with steel (rather than tin) if it's any good, so you might as well just get stainless if you ask me. Because you never, ever have to polish steel. I love to polish silver but I hate to polish copper. And there is nothing more depressing than tarnished copper cookware sitting around, making the entire kitchen seem dirty and unloved. So copper is right out.

Lots of cookware has big, stupid wooden or synthetic handles that can't go into the oven. Most of the best-quality cookware has metal lids so we can't see what we're burning. Lids are a storage issue in my kitchen. (I seldom use them, but if I threw them out I'd immediately have some reason to need them.) They have to tuck away neatly in my drawer, so they can't have tall knobs or handles that will jam it.

Then there's cast-iron, enameled and plain, which weighs a ton and either costs a fortune or is almost irresistibly cheap. The cheap stuff requires seasoning and fussing, at least in the beginning, so I prefer expensive enameled, of course, but then I'd need to commit to a color, and I have too many decisions already. And cast-iron takes a while to heat up and you know me, I'm impatient and I graduated from the I Can't Be Bothered School of Cooking.

There are many new brands of cookware with high-tech ceramic nonstick coatings that are supposed to be completely safe, unlike the old Teflon-y stuff. But they still wear out pretty fast, or so I've heard. And the better ones are expensive. There are also very cheap ceramic pans. But they're, you know, cheap.

I decided it was time to go all Julia Child and learn to cook in safe, traditional, metal pans, with lots of oil and butter, and techniques and temperatures to keep food from sticking. But there always has to be a nonstick frying pan around for my husband to use and abuse. Cheap ceramic, here I come.

I decided I never wanted to go through the trouble of cookware shopping again so I was going to get the very best basic pots and pans I could afford. I would get a few superb saucepans so I never had to think about saucepans again. I also wanted one wonderful frying pan that would work for everything from omelets to searing meat. I wanted a crèpe pan because I've always wanted one and didn't want to wait any longer. And I needed a tallish 4-quart pan with curved sides for my special macaroni-and-cheese, which starts as a roux and then becomes a Béchamel and a Mornay, with lots of stirring.

I kept visiting stores and talking to salespeople, and began researching online. I read cooking sites, retail sites, and I liked reading chef's blogs, where, for some reason, they test and discuss the merits and failings of consumer cookware, which is never used in professional kitchens. They predictably ragged on anything with a coating, preferring stainless and iron. They vastly prefer European cookware to anything made anywhere else, including America.

I kept looking and learning — about layers of aluminum, copper, and even silver inside stainless steel, and about different (less-sticky) finishes for the steel interiors and exteriors, and how some of the most expensive steel cookware still has handles that get hot. I knew I would find that irritating; all of that All-Clad stuff was out.

I spent part of a morning filling all of my pots with water to determine precisely how much they held.* A 3-quart saucepan holds 3 quarts when filled to the brim. That's how it generally works. Now I know that if I'm making 2 quarts of soup, I need a 3-quart pan. Then I measured heights and diameters so I could choose new items that fit in the drawer.

I nosed around in my kitchen's darkest corners and found more cookware hidden away. I realized that even my 8-quart stockpot is nonstick. Stockpots don't need to be fancy or expensive. I hope to find a deal on a stainless model with a strainer insert. That will save me hours of messy, boring straining by hand when I make stock. And that means I'll make stock more often.

I found my rusty, 12" cast-iron Lodge skillet. I'd begun seasoning it but gave up because I hated lifting it and worried it would scratch our glass cooktop. Plus it's huge; I have to store it in such a cramped, crazy spot that it's too much work to get to it. I'm not sure about keeping it. I might use it if we ever moved but in the meantime there's no good place for it.

Tucked up high in a cabinet, I found a replacement for my Teflon "everyday pan." It's an enamel-on-steel, 2-1/2 quart Chantal casserole, with compact handles and a glass lid. It's cobalt-blue and cute. It was a wedding gift that I put away because it didn't double as a nonstick skillet like my other pan and it never fit in the drawer. Chantal hasn't made anything like it for years and I don't want to know why. But it works on the stove and in the oven, and is a good size for pasta dishes when I am not stressed and feel like cooking for two rather than eight.

My "new" old Chantal casserole. 

The bad news is that it's now taking the place of my roasting rack in another storage cabinet. So I have to find a place for the rack. And it's Teflon.

As you saw in the photo above, I piled all the cookware to be jettisoned on the counter as an incentive to hurry the buying process along. Then I began scouting for deals and placing orders. My shopping is coming along, and I will report on that next. The pile of discards is still sitting there tonight, however, and it's very much in the way. It's annoying the hell out of us, in fact. (And we've also been having a Simplex Tea Kettle Situation since before Christmas that still isn't resolved, either, so we have had THREE tea kettles on the stove. For months. I will tell you that sorry tale later.)

The Teflon, at least, might go away tomorrow.

Part 3 will describe what I bought, and how I like it so far.

* As I did this, I got the feeling that at least one of the Sabines was around and getting a big kick out of it. I kept going. It's my house too; I don't mind entertaining them, and I'm not going to be inhibited if I want to do stupid things.

1 comment:

  1. I'm in no doubt coming back again to read these articles and blogs.Harry


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