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Jan 27, 2014 02:15 PM

what do i have here?

hi folks.. i've got this old pan, at least 30 years old. it's stamped "Williams Sonoma France." wondering if anyone has any ideas on what it's made out of? i'm thinking aluminum but then wondering - would W-S have put out aluminum cookware??? the handle is the heavy bit - really sturdy, with the black paint finish FLAKING OFF!!!

I've never cooked in it - it's part of the inheritance, so i've certainly eaten from it. wondering if it's trash or treasure..

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    If you scroll down to History, you'll find that one of the first things he did was import cookware from France. If the company has an archivist, they could perhaps tell you something.

    1. If you hold a magnet to the pan you can tell if it is made of ferrous or non-ferrous metal. If there is no attraction, then you pan is likely made of aluminum. It looks like aluminum in the pic. Looks like a nice pan.

      2 Replies
      1. re: sueatmo

        yes it was a nice pan once..but i know it was also one of my mother's favorites and she used it a LOT. now the black paint/finish is flaking off on the handle in big chunks (the handle seems to be iron!). it's slightly dented on one side... i think it's more about memories than usefulness in today's kitchen. therefore... it might be going in the "sell" pile.

        PS MAGNET DROPPED OFF! guess it's aluminum..

        1. re: rmarisco

          Well, I suppose it was her fave for a reason!

      2. Hi, rmarisco:

        Yes, indeed, you have an aluminum saute pan, undoubtedly made by Mauviel.

        We moderns are apt to forget what a miraculous substance aluminum once was. Napoleon held banquets where the most honored guests were allowed aluminum plates and tableware (their lessers had to be content with gold). From about that time until after the construction of the Washington Monument--it's capped with an aluminum pyramid--aluminum was arguably *the* world's most precious metal.

        Mauviel, Jacquotot, Gaillard and others all offered pans in most of their configurations in aluminum. They do not come up very often at auction (and do not command high prices because few know much about them), but they are usually fine pans.

        My vote is "treasure". You should definitely cook in her to see if you like it.


        14 Replies
        1. re: kaleokahu

          Just a little follow-up to Kaleo's excellent response, it's likely a cast iron handle that when new had that almost black look, not a coat of black paint. Somewhere along the line, I'll bet someone thought they would "restore" it to it's like new condition and gave the handle a coat of paint. I'd ditch the paint and keep is as "treasure".

          You'd be amazed as to what constitutes treasure at my house ;(

          1. re: mikie

            my mother never "restored" anything: this is original condition. really weird about the flaking black stuff - at first i thought maybe it was carbon, but now i'm thinking it actually is some sort of finish. i can see rust on parts of the handle so it could very well be cast iron (though it seems like the weight would tip the lightweight aluminum!)

          2. re: kaleokahu

            You don't want to cook acidic foods in aluminum, as they will degrade the metal and cause discoloration and pitting.
            But aluminum - and particularly the thick stuff that your pan appears to be - heats up fast and retains heat well. Try making a creamy sauce or soup in your pan. You'll be impressed with how low you can set the burner and still get a steady simmer. Also good for shallow-frying, poaching, steaming. You could pay a good chunk of money for a modern, hard-anodized aluminum pan the same size. Its only advantages would be that it wouldn't dent, and you could cook acidic foods in it.

            1. re: kaleokahu

              thanks Kaleo - as usual, you're a font of knowledge.

              it's actually a bit big for me to handle on my little stovetop so i've never attempted cooking with it but, you're right, i should get in there.... mom used to make pilaf with it quite regularly - it did a nice job quickly browning the vermicelli without burning it.

              1. re: rmarisco

                rmarisco -

                Looks like treasure to me. First, for the memories. Second, it's just damn fine cookware. I have two regrets about going induction. One is copper and the other is uncoated bare or HA aluminum. All the induction stuff is nonstick, sadly.

                I can tell from the pic that yours is likely 4-5mm or so thick, which makes sense to offset the weight of that handle. Fine stuff, indeed, and it will likely be one of the most even-cooking pans in your kitchen.

                1. re: rmarisco

                  You're very welcome rmarisco!

                  That big pan on a little stovetop is *exactly* why you should put your mom's pan back in service. This kind of mismatch is where it will shine...

                  I cannot tell for certain from your photo, but my suspicion is that the flaking you are getting from the handle is seasoning coming loose with time and disuse. I would hit the handle with coarse steel wool, and if I'm right, it should shine right up. I bet your smart mom knew to oil the iron from time to time, and so should you.

                  Reasonable minds can differ on the issue of cooking acidic foods in aluminum pans like this. My own opinion is that it's not a big deal or even a no-no. You have to look pretty hard to find pH neutral or alkaline foods. Aluminum can discolor onions (and other sulfurous foods), but IMO that's about as bad as it gets.

                  Thanks for showing your cool pan. The saucepans are more common; the saute is somewhat rare IME.


                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    ok so i got more curious about the handle, grabbed it, and proceeded to examine what was all over my hand - which is PAINT! black paint! i'm sure of it. it's only coming off the end (where it was grabbed over and over again). it's also definitely cast iron - can see the bad mold at the end of the handle.

                    this is one of those things i would have never ever even thought to ask my mom about... i don't remember her shopping at williams-sonoma, but they visited the napa area rather often: she could have picked it up from the original store, which would be kinda cool...

                    ps i have a second one, the sides are hammered, and it's slightly smaller and "just the right size" but it was ruined somehow - the bottom is totally bowed out and i don't think it will even sit on a stove anymore.

                    1. re: rmarisco

                      Hi, rmarisco:

                      Oh, OK, it was paint. You could still strip it and have a nice pan with a family history.

                      It's also not that tough to take the bow out of your other one. All it takes is a flat, strong surface, a 2x4 of the proper length, and a hammer or mallet. You hit the 2x4 edge-wise with the mallet, clocking the 2x4 all around in little increments until she's acceptably flat. If you're careful, you can even do it with only a rubber mallet, but the blows need to be full-face, not rocked up on an edge--you'll crease it.


                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        i might just try that: sounds extreme, but seems there's nothing to lose and a pan to gain! thanks K!

                        1. re: rmarisco

                          Hi, rmarisco:

                          You have a *really good* pan to gain... 2 actually.


                2. re: kaleokahu

                  That would Napoleon III. Napoleon did not have aluminum.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    Yes, the nephew. Bonaparte died four years too soon.

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      The kids get all the best stuff.

                  2. re: kaleokahu

                    Good Lord, I felt like I was "reading" a episode of the Smithsonian Channel (one of my favorites.)

                    Going to start calling you Sheldon. :)

                  3. Mauviel's aluminum line. I've owned 2 pieces like this before, but never knew W-S sold any, but am not all that surprised.

                    I'd season before cooking, as with any aluminum saute.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: alarash

                      season aluminum????? but it was in use for about 20 years: what am i actually going to do to season it??? help! i don't understand!!!

                      1. re: rmarisco

                        Hi, rmarisco:

                        Seasoning aluminum is very unlike seasoning cast iron or carbon steel. So much so that many folks here sneer and say what I'm about to describe is not "seasoning". But it works, and can make your pans quite non-stick.

                        I would first scour your pans' interiors thoroughly with Bon Ami or another non-acid and non-chlorine powder (no BKF, Comet or Ajax). You can also use steel wool, but if you do, make sure you finish and polish with 000 or 0000 grade. After you've washed and dried, you can do the actual seasoning.

                        Then you pick an oil. I like peanut because it has a high smoke point, but you can use regular vegetable oil. Put 2 tablespoons in your small saute (maybe 3-4 in the big one). Wipe it all up the sides and all around with a paper towel, and put it on medium low heat.

                        The idea (UNLIKE with cast iron) is to heat the oil to just SHORT of the smoke point of your oil. This part may take practice--you need to stop just BEFORE you notice any smoke or the oil starting to brown, because you do *not* want to leave any visible gunk. Usually the first place you see this happening is at the walls, where thin runnels of the oil (like tears in a wineglass) will start to stick. While the oil warms, wipe your paper towel around a few times. If you have an IR thermometer gun it makes knowing when to stop easy.

                        At this point, take it completely off the heat. As soon as it comes off, I like to dump in enough kosher salt into the hot pan to make a slurry, and wipe the slurry all over the inside. Then let the pan come down to room temperature with the slurry still in it.

                        The next morning, you reheat the pan just to good and warm, and then wipe out the oily salt. Then you're done--do not wash the pan.

                        Now, the qualifiers: (1) This "seasoning" won't last terribly long before you must re-do it; (2) It lasts longer if you don't wash the pan with soap--just rinse and/or wipe it out; and (3) it lasts longest when you also don't later sear above the smoke point of your original oil.

                        I know this sounds complicated, but it's really not. And it yields better results than simply greasing the pan while you cook. If you try it, I bet you'll be surprised and pleased. It also works for SS, too.


                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          o...k... but, like i said, it was used forever just the way it is. seems fine to me!

                          1. re: rmarisco

                            This seasoning method is just another way to cook in aluminum or SS, a way that makes them more like nonstick pans.

                            Like K said, it's temporary. I still use it frequently, and find it very useful.

                            It's very easy to do after cleaning the pan, and only takes a minute or two, no longer (and no more effort) than heating and greasing a CI skillet prior to storage.

                    2. DuffyH, I am confused. I have an induction range and do not use any non-stick cookware. SS works but I mainly use carbon steel and cast iron. All work amazingly well. BTW, I always cook with a paper towel under my cast iron pans to keep from scratching the cooktop. I love that about my induction range, it makes cleanup so easy and after 3 years, not a mark on it.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: thymewarrior

                        I don't mean that all induction cookware is nonstick, just the aluminum stuff.

                        1. re: DuffyH

                          Oh yes, I misunderstood. I've always avoided aluminum because of the fear of it leaching into my food but recently read that aluminum pans were really nice and the leaching wasn't an issue unless you stored your food in it. I was wondering if there was such a thing as an aluminum pan with a magnetized core that could be used on induction but that would probably cancel out all the benefits.

                          1. re: thymewarrior

                            I think it depends on the pan. Take your SS. Assuming it's not bare steel, but is either fully clad or has a disk base, it probably responds pretty quickly to changes, right? That's it's aluminum core in action.

                            Aluminum with a disk base will do the same. It's advantage is that because it's almost all aluminum it heats more evenly than steel or iron. Ideally, you'd want one that's 3-4mm thick.

                            I picked up a nice 4mm thick Invoca 10" frypan at TJMaxx for ~$16 last month. It performs wonderfully.