Monday, June 29, 2009

Why My Cooking Tastes Better Than Yours. Volume Three. Cookware.

OK, by now you are getting the message that I'm simply titling these posts the way I do to just get your attention.  Again I don't think I'm realy a better cook than you, blah, blah, blah.  Let's just get to the post shall we?

I will call this post Cookware.

Listen to me.  You have two choices here.  You can go out and pay about $100 or $150 for a set of cookware that will do a good job for about a year or two, or you can save up, spend $1000 and NEVER BUY ANOTHER SET FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!  Does a great set of cookware make any difference at all?  HELL YES IT DOES!  Does your dentist buy his tools at walmart?  Or if he did, would you really want him rooting around in your mouth with a seven dollar drill that just might shatter on your tooth?  Does a carpenter use tools that are made from cheap plastic or does he invest in Snap On or MAC tools that have lifetime warranties and are extremely reliable?  A good set of cookware is a tool, just like anything else, and it is something you are going to use every day.  It doesn't matter if you fancy yourself a great home cook or not, your tool chest will help you along your way to perfecting your abilities in your kitchen.  First things first.  Don't invest in a set.  You will get stuck with pieces you may not use, and not all pieces are made alike.  I strongly suggest you stay away from anything that says "coated, or non-stick, or anotized," in the description.  This stuff will, after time, come off in your food regardless of the price.  The only piece of non-stick I recommend it a small 8 inch fry pan to do your eggs in.  There are two basic groups you want to stay with, and don't stray from these.  Beware of celebrity chefware, I'm sorry, but Emeril does not cook with Emerilware, he uses allclad (which makes Emerilware as a low cost alternative) and he uses Le Crueset.  Just watch his show.  You want stainless steel for two reasons.  Allclad, and my personal favorite Viking cookware have aluminum cores.  For those of you afraid of Alzheimer's disease don't worry, the aluminum is inside of the stainless steel, and your food will never have any contact with the aluminum.  Allclad has 3 plys of aluminum, Viking has 7.  Aluminum is one of the best conductors of heat, and since these pots and pans are clad all across the bottom, and up the sides, you will have an even distribution of heat through-out the entire pot.  So no matter what kind of burner you have, you will not end up with any hot spots, which is very important.  The other thing about stainless / aluminum cookware is when you take it off the burner it begins to immediately cool.  When you are finished sauteing, you don't want your food to continue to cook after you are done with it.  This is a problem with other cookware.  Something that is perfect can end up burnt even after 2 or 3 minutes off the burner.  I suggest your fry pans, and sauce pans you buy in stainless steel.  Get a nice 11 inch fry pan, and a 1 quart sauce and a 2 quart sauce.  You can also invest in a saute pan if you do dishes that require browning, and then covering.  Stainless cookware can also go stovetop to oven, and does not have a plastic handle that can melt.  Stainless steel does not conduct heat (hence the aluminum core) so the handles will not get hot on the stovetop (they will in the oven though, so don't be a fool, and grab it barehanded out of a 400 degree oven, unless your name happens to be Clark Kent.)  

Next I suggest cast iron.  Now a good cast iron skillet is a beautiful thing.  Grandma's old black skillets are truly prized possessions, so if they are offered to you, take them with glee.  You never wash these, you simply wipe them out with a paper towel, rub some oil into them, and put them away.  Over time they develop a non-stick coating better than any teflon pan could every have.  This sounds gross, but culinarily speaking, any bacteria that could be on these pans will turn to cinders the moment that skillet hits the heat, so don't let your delicate sensibilities ruffle your tailfeathers.  Aside from copper (which you can't afford probably) cast iron is the best conductor of heat, and it's cheap.  For those of you who like cast iron cooking but don't want the responsibility of seasoning their pans, enameled cast iron is the way to go.  Now there are only two companies to buy from they are the original purveyors of this kind of cookware, and no one else can touch them.  Le Crueset, and Staub.  Both are French companies, and both have lifetime warranties.  A little old lady brought her Le Crueset pot into the Rolling Pin Cooking Store last year that she had been given as a gift for her wedding almost 50 years ago.  The enamel had begun to chip off the inside of the pot, and she wanted to buy a new one.  Rather than selling her one, the owner called Le Crueset customer service, and they sent her a brand new pot free of charge no questions asked.  They take their lifetime warranty very seriously.  The items you want would be a 7 and 1/4 quart dutch oven.  This is what you would do all your slow cooking in.  You can roast a chicken, pot roast, pork roast, Chili, etc.  You can even bake a loaf of bread in it.  Now cast iron retains it's heat very well.  A pot of chili will still be hot even an hour after you shut the heat off.  This is great for some things, and not for others.  A stainless steel dutch oven is not worth the money, you want cast iron every time, hands down.  You also may want a grill pan, or a skillet.

A cheap, thin, frying pan is just like throwing your food directly onto the burner.  There is no insulation between the food and the burner, and your meat, eggs, sauces, etc. are almost guaranteed to burn.  In a good Viking pan, you can heat the pan up, add your food, and get a great even browning without any worry about hotspots.  You will definitely see a difference.  

In Athens, you can get everything you need at the Rolling Pin in Beechwood shopping center.  Yes it's expensive, but it's worth the cost.  Spend the money, and be done with it forever.

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