Thursday, April 3, 2008

What Pots and Pans Should I Buy?

As much as I like my new pasta roller, if you're going to cook pasta, you need a good cooking pot.

Pots and pans are some the most important pieces of equipment in your kitchen so, buy the best you can afford. You might be surprised at the quality you can get, at affordable prices, these days. Even so, don't go cheap. You want to buy quality pans that will last you for years, saving you wasted time and burned food.

What Pots and Pans do I Need?

Start off with about three deep pots, and one shallow pan. A saute pan is going to be the most versatile of the shallow pans. Most of the time, measurements for pans are taken across the top, not the bottom. Keeping that in mind can save you from buying a pan with a huge top, and a very small cooking surface on the bottom.

I like stainless steel pots and pans, with “sandwich” bottoms, because of the great balance of clean up, durability, cost, and heat distribution. A “sandwich” bottom is a heavy base made from a metal filling, sandwiched between stainless steel. Good heat conductors include copper, copper - silver alloy, and aluminum. They're slightly more expensive, but they will last for years.

For families, a large 9 1/2 inch pot is a great size for a large pot. Get one with two short metal handles that will allow it go into the oven. Then it can double as a casserole dish. It'll hold about 5 1/2 quarts and is large enough to hold an open steamer basket. They're useful for most cooking purposes, included sauces, soups, pot roasts, and, of course, pasta. They should come with a tight fitting lid. I prefer glass lids so I can see what's going on inside after I cover it.

A medium pot, about 7 inches in diameter, is essential. They hold about 3 quarts and come with either two short metal handles, or one long one. I use mine for cooking rice, and many pasta sauces. Just like the large pot, you want a tight lid.

A smaller sauce pan, about 5 3/4 inches in diameter and holding one quart, is the last starter pot. I have two: one with a stainless steel dual bottom, and one stainless steel with a copper-bottom jacket. Non-stick sauce pans are popular for making sauces with milk or cream, because of their tendency to stick, but I've not found that to be issue if you don't use too high of heat. I use these for sauces, or other dishes, where I don't need quite so much. I also use them when boiling eggs for breakfast. Once again, a tight lid is important.

I prefer a good 10” non-stick saute pan, with deep, straight sides and, again, a tight lid. Make sure the handles will hold up to high heat so you can put them in the oven, just like your pots. Mine has a short metal handle on one site, and a long metal handle on the other. This is really the work horse of my kitchen pans. It's excellent for frying, boiling, and most stir-frying.

What Other Pots and Pans Should I Get, Later?

Once you've got your three deep pots and a saute pan, consider getting an omelet pan. These are shallower than a saute pan, and have a curved edge. The curved edge makes it easier to “flip” the food in the pan.

Measuring across the base is important with an omelet pan, although most of them I've seen in stores report the size by measuring across the top. A 6 1 /2 inch bottom will be good for two-egg omelets, where a 9 inch bottom (my favorite) will be better for larger Spanish or Italian omelets. These pans are also useful for most frying tasks, including cooking pancakes. Some people prefer non-stick omelet pans because they can be easier to use.

A stove-top grill can be a great addition, as well. They make it easy to achieve a lovely grill mark indoors, without having to fire up the outdoor grill. Choose a pan with well defined ridges. It should be heavy, but not so heavy that you can't lift it easily. Some have folding handles that make them easier to store.

A griddle can be a good addition, as well. I've moved to a larger, electric, one for making pancakes, but I used a smaller, stove-top one can be good for making pancakes (you can get more on them than in an omelet pan). Many stove-top grills can be flipped over to double as griddles.

A steamer basket is a must for steaming vegetables or fish. Collapsible stainless steel ones are very popular, and very affordable. If you cook a lot steamed dishes, though, you may want to consider upgrading to a large, more expensive, bamboo one at some point. I certainly enjoy mine.

If you really like to stir-fry, at some point you'll want to get a wok. Get a large one, around 13 1/2 inches in diameter, if you've got room for it. Smaller ones can be had, but they won't hold as much. Good ones are made of pre-seasoned carbon steel and are easy to take care of. A wok with a slightly flat bottom are going to work well with both gas and electric burners. Many come fully equipped with a lid, ladle, spatula, and shovel.

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