Choose Pots and Pans

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The last paragraph of this Article uses Circulon pans, I do not endorse this item, this is only a part of Amy's Article. So, no e-mails about the pans please. John...

The following Article is from Amy Albert from Fine Cooking Magazine

A few well-chosen pieces -- starting with a good stockpot and a heavy sauté pan -- can make a big difference I've learned plenty -- including the fact that good-quality pots and pans made of the right materials really can improve your cooking. Rather than having a rack filled with pots and pans of all shapes and sizes, owning a few well-chosen pieces will give you the flexibility to cook whatever you want and the performance you need to cook it better. Advice from expert cooks made choosing the best pans easy
I polled some of our authors to find out which pans were the most valuable to them and why. I then came up with the following selections, starting with the two indispensables shown above: an anodized-aluminum stockpot to handle stocks, soups, stews, some sauces, blanching, boiling, and steaming; and a high-sided stainless-steel/ aluminum sauté pan with a lid for frying, deglazing sauces, braising small items like vegetables, making sautés and fricassées, cooking rice pilafs and risottos, and a whole lot more. The other four pieces I picked make for even more cooking agility and add up to half a dozen ready-for-action pots and pans that you'll really use. All good pans share common traits In a well-stocked kitchen store, you'll see lots of first-rate pots and pans. They may look different, but they all share essential qualities you should look for.To help offset the weight of a heavy pan, choke up on the pan's handle and brace it along your forearmLook for heavy-gauge materials. Thinner-gauge materials spread and hold heat unevenly, and their bottoms are more likely to dent and warp. This means that food can scorch. Absolutely flat bottoms are particularly important if your stovetop element is electric. Heavy-gauge pans deliver heat more evenly. To decide if a pan is heavy enough, lift it, look at the thickness of the walls and base, and rap it with your knuckles--do you hear a light ping or a dull thud? A thud is good in this case.Good pans are worth their price because they manage heat better
"Good conductor" and "heavy gauge" are the key features of good cookware. Here's how these characteristics affect cooking. You'll want handles and a lid that are sturdy, heatproof, and secure. Handles come welded, riveted, or screwed. Some cooks advise against welded handles because they can break off. But Gayle Novacek, cookware buyer for Sur La Table, has seen few such cases. As long as handles are welded in several spots, they can be preferable to riveted ones because residue is apt to collect around a rivet. Many pans have metal handles that stay relatively cool when the pan is on the stove because the handle is made of a metal that's a poor heat conductor and retainer, such as stainless steel. Plastic and wooden handles stay cool, too, but they're not ovenproof. Heat- or ovenproof handles mean that dishes started on the stovetop can be finished in the oven. All lids should fit tightly to keep in moisture. The lid, too, should have a heatproof handle. Glass lids, which you'll find on certain brands, are usually ovensafe only up to 350°F.

A pan should feel comfortable. "When you're at the store, pantomime the way you'd use a pot or pan to find out if it's right for you," advises Fine Cooking contributing editor and chef Molly Stevens. If you find a pan you love but you aren't completely comfortable with the handle, you can buy a rubber gripper to slip over the handle. Just remember that grippers aren't ovenproof.

Some pans need special talents

Depending on what you'll be cooking in the pan, you may also need to look for other attributes.

For sautéing and other cooking that calls for quick temperature changes, a pan should be responsive. This means that the pan is doing what the heat source tells it to, and pronto. For example, if you sauté garlic just until fragrant and then turn down the flame, the pan should cool down quickly so the garlic doesn't burn. Responsiveness isn't as crucial for boiling, steaming, or the long, slow cooking that stocks and stews undergo.

For sautéing and oven roasts, it helps if the pan heats evenly up the sides. When you've got a pan full of chicken breasts nestling against the pan sides, you want them all to cook quickly and evenly, so heat coming from the sides of the pan is important. Even heat up the sides of a pot is important for pot roasting, too. Paul Bertolli, Fine Cooking contributing editor and chef of Oliveto restaurant in Oakland, California, counts on his enameled cast-iron oval casserole by Le Creuset for braising meat because "it's a snug, closed cooking chamber with even heat radiating off the sides for really good browning. " Bertolli finds that meat fits especially well into the oval shape.

For cooking acidic foods, such as tomato sauces, wine sauces, and fruit fillings, a pan's lining should be nonreactive. Stainless steel, enamel, and anodized aluminum won't react no matter what they touch, while plain aluminum can discolor white sauces and foods that are acidic, sulfurous, or alkaline. It can even make those foods taste metallic. Eggs, vegetables in the cabbage family, and baking soda are some of the other foods vulnerable to aluminum's graying effect. In the past, there was concern about aluminum and Alzheimer's, but evidence has been far from conclusive.

Interview yourself to help you choose the right pans.

There's nothing wrong with matching cookware in principle. Packaged starter sets are attractively priced, and a whole lineup of matching pans can be attractive, too. But a single material isn't suited for every kitchen task -- with sets, you're often stuck with pans you don't need. That enameled cast-iron casserole is just right for the cassoulet you'll move from stovetop to oven. But its matching saucepan overcooked your last caramel because the pan was too heavy to heft quickly once the sugar turned color.

You'll get more use out of pieces that you hand-pick yourself. You may already own a matched set (the red Le Creuset ensemble I got years ago as a housewarming present is still hanging in my kitchen), but as you add new pieces to your collection, you'll have a chance to branch out to different materials (see Materials that make the pot).

To decide what you need, ask yourself questions like the ones that follow.

Are you more likely to make saucy dishes like fricassées and sautés than delicate foods like omelets and crêpes? A bigger sauté or frying pan with high sides and a lid may be a better choice than a shallower, slope-sided omelet pan without one. "At home, I make a lot of dishes where the pasta gets thrown in with the other ingredients for the last few minutes, and my anodized-aluminum sauté pan is the one I always grab," says Molly Stevens of her favorite Calphalon pan. "It's responsive, I know the food won't scorch, and I love the handle." She adds that its anodized surface is easy to clean.

Pots and Pans Part 2 .

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