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want to disc. use of teflon/how to season pans?

s
sunnyinmyoffice Nov 28, 2007 06:28 AM

Hi everyone,

I'd like to cease using non-stick pans altogether and would like to invest in some Mauviel or All-Clad-type cookware. I'd like to mature my collection of cookware : ) Yippee!

I've tried using my cast iron skillet to fry eggs but they still stick (maybe it's not seasoned enough?). I've read that Cook's Illustrated test kitchen found the same was true with cooking eggs in cast iron. Other things do cook well in my iron skillet.

I'd love to learn to use an omelette skillet/saute pan that's not teflon. I'm willing to pay extra for nice cookware. How do you season, for example, a stainless-lined copper skillet (like Mauviel) to cook omelettes, french toast, etc? Or should I use something else? I've been avoiding making "une omelette" for dinner. Boo hoo!

Also, what's the best for pancakes, etc.? Cast iron?

I'd appreciate any advice on seasoning pans and skillets. It's kind of always perplexed me, even though I'm not a newbie cook. Also, do you have to re-season things?

I took a cooking class at a local cooking school, and had the opportunity to use some of their heavy-duty restaurant cookware. Everything was so well seasoned and didn't even look clean (but I knew it was clean). Food cooked so well in those pans! Does a home cook ever get to that level of seasoning?

BTW, I have a Calphalon wok, aluminum I think. When I stir-fry or cook anything in it, I get a layer of cooked-on food at the bottom. I use enough oil, or at least I think I do. At any rate, adding liquid and gently scraping the bottom with an appropriate utensil doesn't help. It just gobs up at the bottom and the rest of the food has to cook thru that layer. However, it cleans easily enough; after soaking in water & mild soap for a while, it cleans right up. But I really don't like that layer of stuck food while I'm cooking. What am I doing wrong? I do have a glass top electric range (soon to graduate to flame!), would that have anything to do with it?

Thanks!

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  1. h
    Hungry Celeste Nov 28, 2007 06:56 AM

    Regarding your wok issues, you're just not using enough oil. The advent of non-stick means that a generation of cooks learned to saute/stir fry with little or no oil....in "regular" pans (even very well seasoned cast iron), you're going to need more lubrication than you're used to. Butter, oil, bacon grease, whatever...but you can't cook nearly "dry" the way you can with non-stick.

    Regarding seasoning, the only thing I allow to build up any residue is my traditional cast iron. All other cookware (stainless steel all clad, Le Creuset, good ol' MagnaLite aluminum) is scrubbed clean, down to the metal or enamel surface.

    1. t
      ThreeGigs Nov 28, 2007 07:40 AM

      Why stop using non-stick pans? Like other cookware designs, non-stick has its place, especially for low-fat cooking.

      Anyhow... Getting food to not stick is a simple matter of grease and temperature. Or... not so simple in practice, but simple in theory.Every metal surface has microscopic pits. When you toss food in a pan, the surface of whatever you're cooking fills in those microscopic pits, and when heated adheres to (like glue) and solidifies in (like casting) those pits.

      Grease can fill in those pits, 'smoothing out' the surface. However the food can still displace the grease from the pits, and you still get sticking. Grease also serves as a separating layer preventing or limiting adhesion.

      Enough heat can cook the surface of the food fast enough for it to 'stiffen', char or congeal before it can get into the pores. However sometimes that much heat can ruin whatever you're cooking.

      So, it's a bit of both. Enough grease that's hot enough to cook the surface of the food before it can displace the grease from those microscopic pits.

      Seasoning a pan essentially just creates a layer of carbon on top of the metal which fills in those little pits, and while the carbon surface does have those little pits itself, most food won't *adhere* to the carbon, so you're only fighting half of the processes which make food stick. You can't/don't season stainless steel, only high carbon steel or cast iron (if it rusts, you season it). Some (most?) cookware in restaurants will exhibit some form of seasoning, even aluminum cookware. It's not on purpose, it's simply a matter of how much it's used.

      It's all about balance. Too little grease and the food displaces it too quickly and contacts the cooking surface. Too little heat and the food has too much time to displace the grease before it cooks enough not to stick. Too much grease or heat changes the taste and appearance of your food.

      Want to do eggs in your cast iron skillet? Make sure you have enough oil/grease on it to cover all the 'high spots' in the surface roughness, then make sure it's at at least 250 degrees (farenheit) before putting an egg in it. If you have one of today's typical pans with that circular ridged finish in it, grab some sandpaper and smooth it out a bit, then re-season.

      The problem with your wok may be the way you're using it. To me, a wok means very high heat and constant stirring, moving the food to and then away from the very hot bottom of the pan. The wok should be very hot before you put food in it (almost smoking), and your stove should be capable of supplying enough heat to keep that bottom very hot at all times. Unfortunately, most stoves can't supply enough heat, and the aluminum construction of your wok is probably pulling the heat away from the bottom and up the sides. This leads to the 'not hot enough to cook before it gets past the grease' scenario. Once enough heat gets into the food to cook it, it sticks and then acts as an insulator, which lets the bottom get hot enough to carbonize the food, making it hard to remove until things cool down.

      "What's best for..." is a hard question. Eggs are great on cast iron because cast iron 'holds' a lot of heat... meaning when you drop an egg on it the surface temperature of the cast iron won't drop as much, thus making it easier to maintain a steady cooking temperature. At the low heats used to cook eggs, a 50 degree (f) change can make a huge difference. An egg could easily drop the temperature of a 300 degree copper pan to 200 degrees or below, yet will only drop a 250 degree cast iron pan down to about 225.

      Practice and experiment. Grab a dozen eggs, and cook them one at a time at various heats and with varying amounts of grease in the pan. Vary the time you allow the pan to heat up, too. You may waste a dozen or two eggs now, but the practical experience you gain will save you that many and more over the rest of your cooking lifetime.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ThreeGigs
        s
        sunnyinmyoffice Nov 30, 2007 04:20 AM

        Thank you everybody!!! I really appreciate your comments and taking me to (cooking) school. Everyone has been so kind to share the chemistry of cooking, thanks again! : )

      2. m
        mpalmer6c Nov 28, 2007 10:53 AM

        No use trying to season stainless steel. It can't be seasoned. I use non-stick only for eggs, making sure not to overheat.

        Doubt that you need a wok for good stir-fry. One of the Rombauers' neighbors, of Asian descent, preferred a typical American skillet. The classic wok, by the way, is carbon steel, not aluminum, and (says Mark Bittman) is meant to be used with higher heat than provided by the typical home range.

        Seasoning is usually needed only with cast iron and carbon steel.

        1. paulj Nov 28, 2007 12:07 PM

          In my experience aluminum does not acquire the kind of low-stick seasoning that cast iron or rolled steel does. For stir frying on your electric range, the largest non-stick skillet or deeper stir-fry pan may be the best choice.

          For omelets and pancakes I would recommend a French steel crepe pan. They aren't particularly expensive, and take seasoning as well, or better, than cast iron.

          paulj

          1. JoanN Nov 28, 2007 12:25 PM

            When you cook eggs in your cast iron skillet, are you using any fat at all? If not, I'm not surprised they stick. If you are (and you really need only about 1 or 2 teaspoons), and they still stick, then you are correct that the pan isn't seasoned well enough. I hope that every time you use your cast iron pan you dry it on the burner and wipe it down with a bit of oil or fat? If you keep on doing this you should have a well-seasoned pan in no time.

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