Our moms and grandmas understood the importance of investing in good quality stainless steel cookware. Long before non-stick finishes came on the market, we old timers were cooking successfully in plain stainless steel pans that didn’t have today’s heavy 3-ply base to distribute the heat… and you can do the same thing too.
I recommend stainless steel cookware because it is more durable and versatile than any type of aluminum pots and pans. Stainless steel cookware is virtually indestructible, it will last a lifetime, and many brands offer lifetime warranties. Save your money until you can afford to by good stainless steel cookware, and buy from open stock pieces. The separate pieces go on sale much more often than a full set, and buying individual pots and pans rather than a set also allows you to pick and choose the pieces you will actually use in day to day cooking. It doesn’t matter if you acquire an eclectic mix of different brands, remember you’re looking for function and price, NOT an artistic display. If you buy right the first time, you’ll never have to send one more dime buying another pan; and your good pots and pans will out live you.
Unlike aluminum or cast iron, stainless steel is non-reactive even with acidic foods. You can also clean them in the dishwasher, and use any sturdy metal cooking utensils without worrying about scratching the surface. I can testify to the fact that my very first stainless steel pressure cooker is over 40-something years old and still in regular use.
What’s The Secret?
The secret of true, old-fashioned non-stick cooking without using a Teflon type finish, is knowing how the cookware reacts to heat. In a nutshell; stainless steel cookware MUST be preheated before you add any food the pan.
That’s the big “secret” that professional cooks know, and you can use this knowledge to brown, saute and cook foods in a stainless steel pressure cooker or regular cookware without food sticking or burning. Preheating your pans is further enhanced by the heavy 3-ply base that gets really hot, really fast, but also conducts and distributes heat evenly so there are no hotspots where food starts to scorch. That means clean up is easy, and unlike most non-stick pans, stainless steel can be washed in the dishwasher.
When foods are browned, carmelization begins, and the “fond”, that mess of brown goo and dark bits stuck on the bottom of your pan, becomes a goldmine of taste, flavor, aroma, as well as adding visual appeal to the finished dish. That brown stuff is highly desirable as it provides the base for the delicious, savory underpinnings of all your sauces, soups, stews, and gravies. This develops because the drippings, the juices, sugars and fats from the food stick to the pan and brown; so no sticking, no browning = no taste. Got it?
To begin, start with a well heated, heavy pan and when a few drops of water dance across the hot surface, then add a bit of oil. Just a tablespoon or a small amount to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin film of oil. Now wait until the oil is hot… very hot… no really, it needs to be extremely hot. That’s seriously important. You should see faint wisps of vapor when the pan is ready, but test it first by just touching the edge of the meat or food to the bottom of the hot pan. If it’s properly heated, then the meat will easily slip and slide across the pan like an ice skater… no sticking.
When you wait until the pan is extremely hot, your cooking will improve and you’ll see a world of difference in how your food tastes. That same non-stick coating that appeals to novice cooks, has too many serious shortcomings that will impede your ability to improve your cooking skills. One of the more critical flaws is the inability of nonstick pans to properly brown or caramelized meats and other foods. So “stick” with good quality stainless steel cookware, and with the possible exception of one small skillet for fried eggs, avoid the nonstick pans.