Advantages, disadvantages of carbon steel pans
I really enjoyed reading all your thoughts on whats good and bad about cast iron pans, so I decided to highjack the post.(a compliment I assure you). I recently got my first carbon steel deBuyer pan and so far I love it. I was wondering what I couldn't make in this pan. I seem to recall hearing that its not great for tomato based sauces. but beyond that I'm in the dark. Any tips would be great.
Hmmmm. I use mine like a wok. I stir fry in it. I generally don't leave foods sitting in it and I don't remember why. It was either something I read or a feeling I got from cooking in it (maybe I felt it would ruin the seasoning??) I've never made tomatoes in it. I did, however, once use a metal spatula and it made scratches in the seasoning. Now, I only use wood or those silicone tongs.
Tomato is probably ok, at least for me.
The truth is that there is no clear "cut off". The seasoning will wear off when you are cooking in acidic solution. Well, not all tomato sauce has the same acidity level. It is probably fine if you cook acidic food once awhile, but if you constantly cook acidic food, then the seasoning surface will eventually be gone.
In my experience, this is probably the biggest problem for a carbon steel pan. The other problem (a very minor one) is that you cannot heat the pan empty to a very high temperature. This will degass the seasoning surface as well. However, there really isn't a realistic situation there you want to bring the pan to such a high temperature without any oil in the pan.
Personally, I don't mind using metal utensils.
The only downside to carbon steel is that it must be seasoned properly and then used regularly. I don't think they're worthwhile for occasional cooks. I cook anything that's not delicate (some types of fish, eggs, etc.), but sometimes I do eggs just to show friends and family that my pans slide eggs out just as easily as their nonstick. My biggest reason for not doing eggs is that I prefer nonstick with just a supersmall shot of n/s spray where the steel takes a little more oil.
Cleaning the pans has never been an issue for me. I've handwashed all my pans, including drying and immediate storage. No reason to leave them out. Also, I simply deglaze with water immediately after cooking, wipe with a fine kosher salt and paper towel to get off any surface imperfections, wipe dry, heat dry on burner for 1 min, and wipe with a hit of oil before putting away. I thought it would be more time-consuming than it is, but it really takes about 90 seconds to do the whole cleaning process.
I don't do tomato based sauces in my steel because most of the meals I'd do that with require longer, slower simmering to bring out to the tomato flavor - not the best use of steel pans. I have quick fry/roasted grape tomatoes with no problem though.
Really, I've found that you can cook anything in steel pans as long as you clean and season properly between uses.