Remember the joy and sheer glee you felt as a toddler when Mom allowed you access to the cupboard with all those lovely, shiny and oh-so-noisy pots and pans? They gave you such a sense of freedom, from banging the pots, making uproarious sounds that were music to your ears to imitating Mom cooking, stirring and pouring your make-believe food from one container to another. You simply could not decide if you wanted to be a heavy metal musician or a chef from the Cordon Bleu. Such memories…
Thirty years later you have decided that cooking leaves much less of a headache than does a rock band. You have grown up to covet those magnificent pots and pans you see online or in a gourmet shop. Your time has come. Bring on the pots and pans!
One of the first things to consider when building your pot and pan collection is to determine how extensive a collection you want. Do you want the bare minimum or do you wish to create your own culinary Christmas, with pots and pans on every conceivable surface of your kitchen? How much time you spend in the kitchen and the ease with which you would like to turn out your creations will also play a part in your considerations. Oh, yes – if you are not a Lottery winner you will need to carefully plan your budget. Sometimes it is better to spend more for fewer high-quality pieces rather than grabbing every piece of cookware in sight on the bargain table.
What will you need to start? Everyone, from novice to master chef, needs the basics. The basics include ROASTERS, SAUCE PANS, and SKILLETS.
Roasters include the ROASTING PAN and the ROASTING PAN with HIGH COVER. A standing roasting pan is rectangularly shaped with low sides. With the low sides, the heat from the oven envelops the meat, giving it full coverage. A very important accessory to the roaster is a rack which allows the meat to be suspended above its own juices and fatty drippings. Several different materials can be incorporated in the manufacture of the roaster: stainless steel, nonstick-surfaced aluminum, anodized aluminum, and granite.
What sets off a roasting pan with a high cover is its familiar oval shape with deep sides and a domed lid. Again, a rack is very useful. This type of roaster can be made from any of the above materials. Speaking of granite, do you remember the black or dark blue roasting pan, speckled with ?freckles,? that your mother used every Thanksgiving to give that roasted turkey a golden glow? I can still remember the turkey aroma wafting itself throughout the house, teasing my nose!
SAUCEPANS, and SAUCE POTS, are round pots which branch out into many varieties. Key identifying points of this category are high, straight sides and a flat bottom. Saucepans have many uses, from heating a can of soup to making a sauce, with an infinite number of foods in between. A WINDSOR saucepan starts out as an ordinary piece of cookware but has sloped sides. A SAUCIER has rounded ones. Both provide increased exposure; sauces are reduced more quickly and it is easier to whisk food away from a round surface. Heat-responsive materials such as lined copper or stainless steel with a copper core are commonly used in the fabrication of saucepans. Saucepans come in a variety of sizes and most come from the factory with a tightly fitting lid. Sauce pots are similar in appearance to Dutch ovens and have one long handle for the smaller pots; the larger-capacity saucepots have a long handle on one side plus a loop handle on the other to help balance it when lifting off the stove.
A SKILLET is the same as a FRYING PAN. They both have a flat bottom and short flared or sloped sides, allowing for ease in tossing and turning food. A frying pan should be made of heat-responsive, heavyweight material. such as cast iron (which must be oiled and seasoned prior to its initial use). Frying pans that have been coated with a nonstick substance such as Teflon can be used for frying foods or for saut?ing. As with saucepans and roasters, skillets (or frying pans) come in an array of sizes and usually with a lid.
A plethora of styles of saucepans is available to enhance your cooking experience. Besides the saucepans discussed above, a chef will want to acquire several other types of pots and pans, including the following: CHEF’s PAN, DOUBLE BOILER, DUTCH OVEN, OMELET PAN, SAUT?ING PAN, SAUT?USE PAN, STOCKPOT, and WOK.
A CHEF’s PAN is a saucepan of medium depth and has sides that can be flared, rounded, or even straight. The wide mouth, combined with a flat bottom, enables the accelerated evaporation of liquids. A long handle and tightly fitting lid are generally’standard features of chef’s pans. Made of metal, a chef’s pan has a thick ground base allowing for rapid temperature changes. The high sides make room for ease of frying, saut?ing, or steaming of foods without food accidentally spilling out all over the stove top. Chef’s pans and sauciers can be used interchangeably.
A DOUBLE BOILER is basically two saucepans, with the slightly smaller top pan nesting inside the lower pan. The construction is deceptively naive and simple, but once you have had a chance to cook with a double boiler, you will wonder why you had not already been an ardent fan of one. Hot water is placed in the bottom pan, providing the heat source for the ingredients in the top, anything from melting chocolate to delicate sauces. Double boilers can be made from many materials, including stainless steel, enameled steel, aluminum, or glass which allows you a close and personal view of the contents on top as they swirl and move about.
DUTCH OVENS tend to be rather heavy in weight. They are round or oval and have a domed lid much like that on a covered roaster, and steep sides. They range in size from 2 to almost 5 inches high and have a capacity ranging from 2 to 6 quarts. In essence, a Dutch oven is an overgrown saucepot, good for preparing a wide assortment of foods, including roasting a rump roast, stewing, braising, making homemade soup with myriad ingredients, or boiling all sorts of pasta. As well as being made from the usual materials as previously listed, Dutch ovens made of cast iron are popular at a campfire or fire pit. A FRENCH OVEN is very similar to a Dutch oven but the sides are lower. Both types of ovens can go from freezer to stove to table. Because the French oven is made of enameled cast iron, it can be washed without harm in the dishwasher.
A SAUT?ING PAN is much the same as a frying pan or skillet. It has straight, short sides. It needs to be made from a heat-resistive material such as lined copper or stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core. It can be used interchangeably for saut?ing or frying. This type of pan comes equipped with a long handle on one side but larger models may have a loop handle on the other side to balance out the weight of the pan when removing it from its heat source. Usually there is a lid. The saut? pan comes in diameters of 6 to 16 inches.
The SAUTEUSE is a round and lidded pan with a looped handle on either side and short to medium outward sloping sides. Popular in households all over Europe, the sauteuse pan is perfect for cooking casseroles, pasta dishes, and stews. It is also used for meat and poultry entr?es. Sizes range from a relatively small 2.5 quarts to a hefty 7 quarts.
The STOCKPOT is to the Dutch oven as the Dutch oven is to a regular saucepan, each pot getting larger than the previous one. It is deeper than it is wide, with straight sides. Like the Dutch oven, the stockpot has loop handles on either side, large enough to accommodate oven mitts or pot holders. The stockpot is interchangeable with a SOUP POT, STEW POT, or STEW PAN, for they all function in the same manner. One of the larger pieces of kitchenware, a stockpot is ideal for producing all sorts of food for larger families and group gatherings. It is able to simmer large quantities of liquid; you might find a chef simmering stocks, thick soups, and stews as well as hearty chili, and boiling pasta. A stockpot does not need to be made of heat-resistive material. However, to prevent burning and scorching, it needs a heavy bottom. These pots range in size from a moderate 6-quart capacity to a mammoth 20 quarts. That’s a lot of chili!
It is a good idea to have a PASTA INSERT for your stockpot. Usually made of stainless steel, it acts as a convenient colander. Unfortunately, one of these inserts can cost nearly as much as the stockpot itself. Choices, choices! Some brands of stockpots come with drainage holes drilled into the lid.
The STIR-FRY PAN is a round and deep piece of cookware fashioned in one of two styles. The most common option has a round base sloping out and upward, much in the style of a Windsor pan while the other choice has straight sides joined to a slightly curved base. The design of the stir-fry pan lets heat distribute itself evenly. The sloping sides give easier access to the food which needs to be tossed and turned, as in Asian cuisine. Stir-fry pans are very efficient when quickly searing a m?lange of meats, vegetables, and sauces. Aesthetically, the stir-fry pan allows for the preservation of colors and textures.
The WOK is very much like a stir-fry pan except it is designed to rapidly cook bite-sized pieces of food over exceptionally higher temperatures than an everyday pot or pan would require. Designed with either a flat or a rounded bottom, either style can be used over a flamed heat source. Woks with a flat bottom are primarily used on an electric burner, as well as the gas flame. Materials such as stainless steel, cast iron, or metal coated with a nonstick surface are used in the construction of a wok. Like a cast iron skillet, you must remember to oil a cast iron wok before its initial use. Several arrangements of multiple handles are used: one long handle; two short handles, or one long handle in conjunction with a loop handle on the opposing side. Available in diameters from 12 to 20 inches, the wok is to be admired for its myriad functions. As well as the traditional stir-frying , it can also be used to saut?, steam, or deep fry.
An OMELET PAN is pretty much the same as a frying pan. Omelettes can be made in one of several types of pans. Traditionally, an omelette pan has low curved edges. The bottom has a wide diameter to assure the omelette will be able to be flipped over easily; a nonstick surface eases the actual act of folding the omelette over. If the pan has a metal handle it can be used in the broiler, as well. There is another version of the pan that consists of two half rounds, hinged in the middle. Each portion of the pan is filled with the omelette mixture and then the various fillings – cheese, mushrooms, broccoli, onions, sausage, olives, etc. – are gently dropped onto one or both sides. When the omelette is cooked, fold one half of the pan over so that the two halves join together and ta da! your omelette is ready to be admired and eaten.
A BRAISER PAN does just that – braise! The pan is round or oval with safe-to-the-touch handles on either side. It uses a heavy domed lid that make the tight seal necessary in preventing liquid from evaporating. In order to be braised, the food should be quickly seared and allowed to bathe in its natural juices. Braiser pans come in diameters of 10 to 14 inches and are able to hold 2 to 4 quarts. A braiser pan is interchangeable with a casserole pan.
A CASSEROLE PAN is round or oval. It has steep sides and has a capacity as few as 2 quarts all the way up to 12 quarts, while the most common capacities are from 5 to 8 quarts. It can be made from materials such as saucepan metals or glass, ceramic, or clay. It has a lid which is normally not used while food is cooking in the casserole pan(so the food can brown). Generally used in the oven, it has a base and sides that are of equal thickness, allowing even distribution of heat. A CASSEROLE POT is basically the same thing as a CASSEROLE DISH, a BUFFET CASSEROLE, and a CASSOULET. All of the above can be used for cooking and/or serving a one-pot dish on the table. Cassoulets seem to be made of hard anodized aluminum, stainless steel, or copper core. The cassoulet is particularly efficient in retaining heat for the food sitting on the table, waiting to insure your second and third helpings are still warm.
And finally, there is the EVERYDAY PAN hanging in your kitchen for you to start your next delicious meal. As the name implies, it can be used to cook almost anything, such as casserole baking and braised meat and vegetables, just to name a few. Some everyday pans even have a flared lip on either side for drip-free pouring. It is great for dishing up soups and other liquids threatening to make a mess. I need all the help I can get…