Saturday, December 11, 2010

Frying Pan 101: Basic Metals

Frying Pan: Part 1

Stainless Steel
Proctor Silex Softhandle Stainless-Steel 10-Inch Skillet
Stainless Steel $16.99
What is the differences between the $8 dollar frying pan at dollar stores and the super expensive pans at places like Cookworks?
Stainless steel has one of the worst thermal conductivity. It takes a long time for the pan to heat up, and the heat is not distributed evenly.  As a result, a piece of fish would easily get stuck on the bottom of the pan and the fish will not cook evenly.  However, stainless steel is super durable and resist to rust, dent, and other abuses.  It is dishwasher safe. Also, notice the black plastic handle in the right picture? This pan is not oven friendly. Unlike stock pots where the differences between pots are smaller, I do not recommend people who desire to cook up the perfect piece of steak or fish to invest in these cheap skillets.

All-Clad 51125 All Clad Stainless-Steel 12-Inch Fry Pan with Lid
All-Clad $97.00
The premium cookware manufactures, such as All-Clad, uses All-clad uses cladding aluminum or copper technique for their stainless steel products. These usually have a thin stainless layer on the cooking surface and a thick core of aluminum to provide structure and good thermal conductivity. Sometimes a thin layer of copper inside or outside of the pan that provides additional diffusion and the "look" of a copper pan (at a higher price).  These pans heats up faster, retains heat better, have great heat distribution, and are sometimes (but no always) dishwasher safe.  In addition, their handles stay cool (as long as it is not in direct fire), unlike the ikea ones (which suck).

Copper
Mauviel Cuprinox Style 9.4-Inch Round Copper Frying Pan
Mauviel Copper $209
Copper has the best thermal conductivity.  A copper pan takes seconds to heat up, requires less heat to cook, and heats evenly. In a perfect world, all my cookware would be made with copper, including my dishwashing robot, but copper is prohibitively expensive.  Buying copper cookware is similar to buying a beautiful expensive shirt that is dry cleaning only.  They make you feel sexy! These cookware requires a lot of your love and attention.  They need to be handled with care, hand cleaned with special cleanser, and polished regularly.  Pure copper frying pans are pretty rare nowadays.  The more popular models all have a layer of stainless steel for the cooking surface for better durability.  Is it worth the money? Totally, specially for the bigger pans, if you can afford it.


Lodge Logic L10SK3 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet
Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron $22.99
Cast Iron
Traditionally, frying pans were made of cast iron, which is super heavy and super durable (a weapon in its own right! Bring with you to camping!).  They heats evenly (slowly) and maintain very high temperature making it ideal for searing and browning meat.  Food reacts differently to iron than to stainless steel or aluminum. Old school chefs often prefer using these to achieve true flavours in traditional cuisines.  However, iron is prone to corrosion by acid and rust by water. Not only is it not dishwasher safe, it also requires regular maintenance of applying seasoning (a layer of fat and carbon).  On the other hand, you never need to really wash it.  Since scrubbing and soap would damage the pan, a gentle rinse with a soft cloth would do.  Remaining layer of oil will protect the pan.  In Taiwan, restaurants never wash their 200 year old cast iron wok with anything but water, in order to maintain the traditional flavour of their heritage dishes.

De Buyer Pancake / Crepe Pan, Blue Steel, 24 cm
Carbon Steel Blue Pan $23.71
Carbon Steel
Carbon steel pans are made from tempered steel.  The metal is hammered and flatten into super dense and high strength sheets.  This type of pans is heat resistant (aka. does not conduct heat well), which is ideal for specific culinary applications where different parts of the metal can be kept at different temperature.  Carbon steel is a popular metal for woks, crepe pans, and griddles.  Like cast iron, it needs to be seasoned before and after use and never wash it with soap.  Don't use it to cook steaks.

Next part: Teflon pans

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