About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Friday, April 28, 2006
Stuck On You
We often go over to my wife's sister E for a visit. Usually we will have a meal there as well. Being the helpful brother-in-law that I am, means that I will help with the prep and the cooking. They have a huge vegetable garden and the produce they have is amazing, things like potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinies and beans are constantly on their table throughout the season.

It's funny, whenever I go to someone elses kitchen, I always check out the equipment. E just has the usual run of the mill stuff that most kitchens would have, nothing as exotic as a truffle slicer (yep, I've got one) or even mundane like a mouli or a wire whisk. But still I can get by.

However E has one piece of equipment that I find hard to work with and that is her frypan. It's just a commercial variety made of stainless steel and not a particularly thick guage at that. Really, I'm not fussy about kitchenware and ordinarily would have no problem sauteing in her pan. It's just that the frypan is not flat, there is a hump in the midddle that causes the oil or fat to migrate to the edges of the pan. This convex pan is my bane. No matter what you do it's impossible to get an even, thin smear of fat all over the bottom, with the consequence that anything in the middle of the pan has a tendancy to stick.

Does this drive me mad? YES!

So about twelve months ago, we went out and bought E a new non stick frypan, a Tefal, you know the one with the red spot in the centre, that disappears when the pan is at the correct temperature for frying or whatever. The one Jamie Oliver is pushing. So it's a pretty reasonable frypan, we have one ourselves. So problem solved, or so I thought.

Over Easter we had Sunday lunch with E and family. Helping out in the kitchen, I needed to fry something. Grabbing the pan I put it on the glass stove top, the type that has an electric element underneath. I put some oil into the pan and all of it ran to the edges of the frypan. The hump was back! Now this was curious, as my wife says "Once is an accident, twice is on purpose."

At home we have a gas stove and all of our frypans are flat. Could it be something to do with an electric cook top? Flowing electicity has two properties - heat and magnetism - both of which have been harnessed to cook with. Could it be that magnetism was having some effect on the frypans? I rang the Essential Ingredient, who stock a wide range of cookware, to find out.

I spoke to a very helpful person, but they were unable to say whether or not my theory was correct. What they did say however, was that non stick frypans should not be subjected to a lot of heat. How much is a lot? She suggested omelettes or crepes were fine, but frying a steak was not. Apparently the non stick coating breaks down at higher temperatures, and eventually the pan jumps the shark and sadly food starts to stick.

The best frypan we have at home is twenty-five years old, weighs a ton and is made from cast iron. It is non stick, but in the old fashioned sense. It has been seasoned by having hot oil in it for a few hours and is never washed, only wiped clean. If the pan starts to stick, we simply repeat the seasoning and all is well again. If you look in any commercial kitchen, the most common frypans are made from black steel and would have been seasoned as described. Look at woks, they are made from steel and properly used and maintained, food never sticks.

There is always a place for a non stick pan in the kitchen, but if you want one to last, be careful and don't overheat it.
  posted at 10:29 am

At 12:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think you've got problems, my whole stove is on a tilt.

I love my cast iron pan even though I can put my back out just looking at it. I heat it up to nuclear point, then turn off the stove and throw on a steak. It's seared in seconds.

At 3:20 am, Blogger Angela said...

You are a freaking genius (and mind reader). Just three days ago Rob and I discussed that we really needed new pans....we are still using the nice set we got for our wedding 8 years ago.

The problem is they aren't sitting "flat" on my glass top electric stove anymore. I had no idea why such good pans could go so wrong. You are a genius. I am totally blaming my stove top now. I guess I will have to either replace my oven, or buy new pans every 5 years.

Thanks for your post!!

At 12:57 pm, Blogger greenwood blogger said...

I have a new glass cooktop with the element underneath and haven't yet run into the 'hump' issue. It does take for-freakin'-ever to heat water to a boil, compared to the old coil cooktop - but that's a topic for another day.

Aside from the non-stick surface eventualy sticking on today's pans, you have to be careful about overheating them or they release toxic and 'probably carcinogenic' chemicals. Stick with your cast iron!

At 7:40 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi Kitchenhand, maybe you could jack up the corner of your house. Love the steak cooking technique.

Hi Angela, no problem, we are a full service blog here. Maybe you could look at the really thick based pans or even heavy enamelled cast iron, they cost a bomb but you should never have to replace them. Some like Le Creuset come with a lifetime warranty. Just don't lose the docket ;-)

Hi Habanero suz, I know what you mean about the time it takes to heat things up and the other thing is that they turn on and off the whole time. Thanks for the tip on non stick, I've wondered about that, teflon is a plastic after all.

At 1:24 am, Blogger Kitchen Queen said...

Le Creuset is great, but I like my old cast iron better (even if it isn't prettier). I blogged about cast iron and the chemicals in nonstick skillets a while ago too.

I like cooking with gas a lot better than electric stovetops, but I've been stuck with electric for years and I've never had a problem with pans forming humps. And I'm not reluctant to turn up the heat when I need to!

At 8:47 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi Kitchen queen, is yours a glass top or an exposed electric element?
My sister-in-laws glass top is similar to Habanero suz's in that it takes forever to heat up and doesn't seem to get really hot.


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