Buy good saucepans
? Years ago, people bought cheap pans and expected to throw them away and buy another set. Now, the price of good pans has come down, and most people can comfortably afford a pan that will last twenty years if you look after them. The exception is non-stick pans, which last about 5 years with care if you buy a good one and don't use metal implements.
? Copper pans last for 20 years and more if they are lined with stainless steel, but wear out if they are lined with tin (you have to get them relined which can be expensive). They are great heat conductors, and they can be used on the stove and in the oven, and look great when serving food from them on the table (French Onion Soup served from a copper casserole pan is spectacular).
? You need to use the correct spatula for your pan ? a non-stick one for non-stick (you can get ones that are fine up to 240ºC which means that they don't melt if you forget that they are sitting on the pan) and whatever you like for the rest, preferably wooden spoons because you can scrape the bottom without scratching it ? over time those small invisible scratches will make the food catch and burn.
? You don't need to use a high heat on most saucepans, except to bring liquids to the boil. Pans are generally more energy-efficient now, so you need to adjust your thinking to this.
? If you put high heat under your pans, you will scorch the contents, and over time, take the good out of the pan.
? This is especially true with non-stick pans which don't survive burning well ? when the coating gets damaged they often have to be thrown away shortly after when everything starts to stick.Small saucepans
? As you wouldn't cook a casserole or meat stew or a steak in a small saucepan, but do cook things that can burn easily (butter, sauce or milk), it makes sense to opt for non-stick for your small saucepan.
? You could also invest in a stainless steel 'milk pan' which is handy for re-heating stock to add to risotto and making tomato sauce, where you may need to caramelise the celery, tomatoes and onions first, but don't want to cook it in a larger pan. It has a handle so you can hang it over the cooker and have it to hand.Sauté pans
? Stainless steel sauté pans are good for frying meat, browning vegetables, cooking risotto and general cooking jobs (eg caramelising onions for onion tart, sautéeing celery, onions and peppers to start off a dish in a larger pan, making the sofrito for a paella etc).
? Use non-stick for omelettes, pancakes, for frying eggs etc.
? Non-stick pans brown but don't caramelise so if you use them to sauté meat or onions, they will go brown but you will lose the potential for that lovely sticky sweet outer coating.
? This is a ridged pan for cooking meat and vegetables, giving them a distinctive chargrilled effect.
? Buy a non-stick or cast-iron skillet (they are not for the limp-wristed) and leave the meat to sear for at least 2 minutes before you turn it, otherwise it will stick.
? Always oil the meat, fish or poultry, not the pan ? that way you won't get that awful smeech that smokes out of the pan and makes your eyes water.
? To get a hatch pattern, put the meat, fish or chicken on the pan. Cook for a few minutes, lift one piece gently with a tongs to see can you lift it comfortably. If you can, turn it 90 degrees and leave it for another 2-3 minutes until it sears and you are able to lift it without tearing the flesh.Match the ring to the pan
? Use a pan that fits the ring you are using.
? A large pan needs a large ring so the heat isn't concentrated on one spot.
? A small pan will get burnt around the outside if a flame can lick up its side.
It's also dangerous.Speed of cooking
? Over time, you will work out the speed of your pans: some pans will burn onions if they are in it only a minute or two, whereas another pan will be fine.
? We have a stainless steel sauté pan that is great for risottos, where you gently fry rice for a minute or two, then add liquid, but burns the outside of sausages on the lowest heat after ten minutes, before they get a chance to cook in the middle and caramelise. However, it delivers a lovely brown crust to the sausage!
? When you have gathered this intuitive knowledge, it will help you to work out which pans are best for what task. If you find that a pan is taking up space and not doing its job properly, give it to a charity shop where it will find its way into another saucepan collection where it fills a gap, and buy a more appropriate one.Stainless Steel
? These are the most servicable pans, dishwasher proof with great heat conduction and they take a bit of battering.
? You can use whatever implement you have to hand (no rooting around for the non-stick spatula) but be careful not to scratch them.
? You can buy good weights of pans at a reasonable price.
? They also allow the food to caramelise, a key factor for adding flavour and getting the best from meat and poultry.
? Their downside is that they can stick, especially if you don't let the meat cook on the outside, before lifting it. They are generally useless for frying eggs and fish sticks in them, and with the best will in the world, they are not great for omelettes (cast-iron or aluminium are much more suited).Non-stick
? You can get great deals on good non-stick saucepans.
You usually get a free frying pan or other pot when you buy a set of three. You can't put them in the dishwasher (we tested it and it takes the non-stick coating off them, surprisingly quickly on the frying pans, it takes longer on the saucepans but please don't try it at home. We did it so you don't have to!).
? Use non-stick implements on non-stick pans.
? Food won't caramelise, only brown in non-stick.
? Non-stick pans can emit fumes if they are heated to a very high temperature for a sustained period of time. This is another reason you should never leave a non-stick pan on the heat with nothing in the pan.
? Brilliant for pancakes and omelettes.
? Use a low-heat as they are highly energy-efficient and using a high heat will damage the surface over time.
? People who get Le Creuset pans as a wedding present sometimes complain that they stick, this is often because they have been using too high a heat (wouldn't you stick if you were put on a high heat!).
? You need to be careful not to drag a cast iron pan across a surface, they are heavy and sometimes you may get a slightly rough edge on one which can scratch a surface.
? You need to season cast-iron pans in the same way as you season a wok.
Heat the pan, add oil, keep the heat high and wait until it turns the surface black, turn the heat off, wipe the oil off. Repeat if it is a large pan. This will return the non-stick surface.
? Wipe them clean or wash them in soapy water and rinse well.
Dry immediately or they will rust. If they rust, scrub them clean, then re-season (see above).Clay
? A clay pot is a big bulbous pot with a lid that you make soup or stock in. You'll find them in the Asian stores ? they are quite cheap and there is something wonderfully earthy about using them.
? It uses low heat (never use a high flame, use a diffuser under the pot if you are bringing it to the boil, then turn the heat down as soon as it does).
? It doubles up as a place to store potatoes (it is very efficient, it keeps them dark, and the hole in the lid allows just enough air in).
The only downside is you have to take the potatoes out to cook.
? They usually come glazed but if not, you need to soak the lid and the bottom for an hour in warm water before you use it. Ideally, you should soak the clay pot for 15 minutes after you use it each time. Better to buy a glazed one we say!
? A clay pot is like a womb for its ingredients ? it helps to release the flavour and keep it within. The small hole in the lid lets out just enough steam to stop it boiling over.
? Terracotta pots or tagines need to be treated the same, they are made of clay and you have to be careful not to overheat them or they will crack. ? You can use clay pots and terracotta in the oven. Make sure they do not touch the side of the oven and be careful lifting them out, they are very heavy when they are full.
? Always check for cracks when you buy a clay pot, don't buy it if it has. It is a weak spot.Tips on getting the best from your pans
? Never heat an empty pan ? always add a little fat, or some liquid. The exception is a wok.
? The dishwasher is fine for stainless steel, a huge advantage for a family cook. It is not suitable for cast iron (which rusts), copper or most non-stick pans (it removes the coating).
? Check the manufacturer's instructions to see if the handles are suitable for dishwashing. Sometimes a plastic handle is fine, sometimes not. You don't want them to become loose from the heat of the water as this could make them dangerous to use. Never put a wooden handled saucepan into the dishwasher.
? You can get special cleaners for copper pans.
? If you have a special omelette pan, you don't need to wash it. Just wipe it out after use with paper towel. It will season over time and add to the flavour of the omelette and build up a non-stick surface.
? Copper should be washed with soapy water, rinsed and dried immediately.
You can clean the outside with copper cleaner from specialist shops every so often to spruce them up. Make sure to rinse and buff it well afterwards to get rid of the chemicals, so it doesn't taint the food. If you are the type of person who wants to do this everytime you cook with them, then they will drive you mad, and eventually your food will taste of copper cleaner.
Pans should carry their history with them.
? If you don't want to use copper polish, tomato ketchup is good for getting rid of tarnish on copper pans, but you will have to forego the shine. Just leave it on for 5-7 minutes, then wash in soapy water, rinse and dry well.
? If your copper pans are tin-lined, don't scour them as you will take off the tin and the copper, which is poisonous, will come through quicker.
? Rinse non-stick pans in hot soapy water, rinse and dry. Do not scour or scrub. If you have burnt food in them, soak in hot soapy water, and gently move the food off the pan with a sponge. Repeat if you need to.
Safe use of pans
? Check the handles of your pans every so often, and tighten the screws on any that need it.
? Always keep the handles of pans turned in from the edge so that you can't knock them on top of you or a small child can't reach them. It also means that if you mistakenly lift a pan, forgetting that the handle is hot, when you drop it, the contents are less likely to spill on you.
? When using wooden handles, make sure they are not exposed to a gas flame as they will obviously burn! (It's easy to forget when you are used to using pans with metal handles).
? Put pans with boiling liquids on the back rings near the wall rather than in the front of the cooker.
? When deep-frying, always have a dampened teatowel nearby in case a pan goes on fire.
Better still, buy a small fire extinguisher for the kitchen or a fire blanket.
? Get to know your pans and how long it takes for the handles to get hot. You can boil a small saucepan of water, and the handle should not be so hot tht you can't lift it to the sink.
If it is, be careful when using it and don't buy that type again..Anne Kennedy is an Irish food writer. She has worked as a publishing consultant with major food brands such as Tesco and Knorr and is now Managing Editor of Ireland's fastest growing food and wine website http://www.
? Check that the handles of your saucepans are oven-proofed to a high temperature ? if they are and you use them in the oven, get the oven gloves ready. When you see a saucepan you naturally tend to grip the handle before you realise that it is now in the oven, not on the stove and the handle has been getting hotter and hotter.
? Always use a diffuser under a terracotta or clay dish or pot.
By: Anne Kennedy