Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I am often asked what my favorite cookware is, and I have to answer as my sainted father always instructed me not to – with a question. What do you want to cook? A roasting pan does not contain a decent stock, and, whilst you may sauté in a sauce pot, it is not a good sauté pan. So what do you want to cook?

My every-day, go-to pans are made of French rolled steel. They started life as white steel pans, and they are now black as night. The cure is deep and heavy, and soap never touches them lest that cure be destroyed. They occupy a place of honor on the pot rack, and to my jealous eye, they are as beautiful as polished copper.

These pans are the French versions of cast iron, and they serve much of the same role served by cast iron in American cuisine. Steel, like iron, absorbs heat and redistributes it evenly. It can take ferociously high temperatures, either on the stove top or in the oven, and, like iron, it is entirely induction friendly.

Many modern cooks are skeptical about steel, thinking that, while it may be fine for pan-cooking a steak, its use with delicate items such as eggs and fish must be limited. Not so. Steel pans develop a cure that renders them virtually non-stick. It is true that a knob of butter is necessary before executing a perfect omelet, but with a little practice, these can be used for the most refined of preparations.

These are my favorite sauté pans. They are well made with robust steel welds. They are indelicate in feel and appearance – there are no silicon handle protectors here, just broad steel handles that get hot as the hinges of Hades if left over high heat. They hearken back to the days of Marie-Antoine Carême, iron stoves and brick ovens. These are the serious implements of high cuisine.

These used to be cheap, and, when compared to copper, they still are. If you can find them packed in mineral oil and plastic, they will be exceptionally ugly coming out of the box, and they will cost half of what they will through the gourmet store. Either way, however, they are bargains. Once you have two or three of these in your possession, you will feel as though you can take on the world. Of cuisine.

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