|Stainless Steel is a very hard and durable metal made from the amalgamation of chromium and nickel. Most stainless steel ware is made of 18 parts chromium to 8 parts nickel (known as 18/8) or, best of all for durability, rust resistance and retention of a polish or sheen, 18 parts chromium to 10 parts nickel (know as 18/10).
Stainless steel is not a good heat conductor and with most pans this is overcome by giving them a base or a core in the base of another metal usually aluminium or copper and occasionally copper and silver alloy.
The hardness of the metal makes it difficult to either dent or warp but food can stick and it is advised, especially with a frying pan, that the heat is applied gradually and the temperature is kept low.
Stainless steel is not corrosive and does not react to either acidic or alkaline foods.
|Plain Steel is used for frying pans and more especially omelette or paella pans for which it is excellent because of its stick resistant qualities. When new, steel pans are usually coated with a special preparation to prevent rust. Remove the coating by gently heating the pan until the grease is softened and then wash it in hot water and detergent. Dry the pan thoroughly.
The pan will then need seasoning and do this by heating some oil in it to quite a high temperature. Run the oil over the surface of the pan and leave it until cool. Pour off any surplus oil, wipe the pan out with a piece of kitchen paper and store in a dry place.
It helps to prevent sticking if before using the pan for the first time a little salt is sprinkled into it and then rubbed in with a piece of kitchen paper that has a few drops of oil on it. Remove any excess oil before heating the pan.
|Copper is the best heat conductor of all. It heats up almost instantaneously but also cools down very quickly thus giving the cook total control and making the pans superb for fast cooking, frying, sautéing, sealing, browning and crisping. Whatever the metal, heavy gauge pans are always best, but with copper they are essential; lightweight copper pans are really no use for anything except decoration. Heavy weight pans are invariably "professional" and those sold by Divertimenti for domestic use are exactly the same as those used in the restaurant trade.
A good copper pan that has been well looked after should not last for just one lifetime, but for several, and the French are known to pass them down to the next generation as heirlooms.
Copper can form toxic substances when in contact with acidic foods, and pans are generally lined with another metal; pure tin or stainless steel or, occasionally, silver.
|Aluminium is second only to copper as a heat conductor therefore the whole pan will heat both very quickly and very evenly. If possible choose pans made of heavy gauge aluminium and with a ground base - lightweight aluminium pans, if dropped or banged, are inclined to dent and, with use, to distort, which means that the base becomes uneven and the pan no longer sits flat on the hob. A pan with a distorted base will heat unevenly and food will then start to burn and stick to the bottom. Aluminium pans come with a shiny or a satin finish, but as it is a soft metal the pans will, with use, lose any shine or polish and assume a matt finish.
|This treatment of the surface overcomes the disadvantages of plain aluminium which has a soft surface that can be corroded by food acids.
The dark grey or black surface of anodised aluminium pans is formed by placing the completed aluminium pan in an electro-chemical solution and subjecting it to an electric current. This process changes the molecular structure of the metal and gives a surface which is very hard, impervious to food acids, will not oxidise or corrode and whilst the pan itself retains the even heating and heat conductivity of aluminium.
|High quality non-stick cookware surfaces have improved greatly and provided a pan is properly looked after there is no reason why it should not last for many years.
There are 2 main types:
|Cast Iron is very heavy and is used mainly for casseroles or frying pans. The casseroles are good for long slow cooking as they heat evenly all round and the metal will retain the heat for a considerable time after being removed from the stove.
Cast iron frying pans have excellent non-stick qualities and can be pre-heated to very high temperatures without fear of damage and so are excellent for cooking steak and browning, crisping and sautéing.
|Enamelled Cast Iron|
|The vitreous enamel surface is powdered glass that is infused onto the cast iron. These pans have the same even heat properties of plain cast iron but the enamel makes them easy to keep and the pans do not need seasoning. The surface of the enamel is impervious and it is perfectly safe to leave food in the pot. Once cooked refrigerate it with its contents.
The interior of an enamelled cast iron pot will darken with use especially when wine is used, but this is natural. Stains can be removed with a weak bleach solution, but this is not recommended as bleach can etch the surface of the enamel and lead to further staining.
|Tinware/Tin Plate is used mainly for bakware and is made of a thin steel sheet which is then thinly coated with pure tin. The thin metal is ideal for bakeware as it gives rapid heat transference while the tin coating helps prevent rusting between uses.
With use the tin coating will wear and the mould or tin will darken in colour, but provided the instructions are followed the tins should not rust and will continue to give good service.
|Porcelain & China|
|Porcelain which originated in China in the T'ang Dynasty (around 700 AD) has a lovely whiteness and translucency which is attained by firing white clay at a high temperature to make it vitrify, i.e. become glass-like. This means that it is non-absorbent (so it will not discolour) and because it is heat resistant and can be very thinly moulded, is ideal for cooking use. Many of the classic shapes of French cookware are made in porcelain including soufflé dishes, egg and gratin dishes and pate terrines.
|Use of wooden spoons and spatulas will avoid the risk of scratching cooking surfaces or damage. The best are made from close grained hardwoods such as beech or boxwood.
Being absorbent, wood will take up cooking flavours so it is best to keep a separate set of utensils to be used for cakes and custards and non-savoury dishes.