It took one meal to make it obvious that I had no idea how to cook with stainless steel. One horribly burned, disappointing meal made (naturally) when we had company coming for dinner. Needless to say, we all had a good laugh… and went out to eat.
Fortunately, I’ve since figured out how to cook with the stainless steel set of pots and pans my husband gave me for Mother’s Day. What? You think that’s a strange gift? They’re exactly what I wanted! It always baffles me how many women get upset over receiving pots and pans, appliances or even vacuums as gifts, yet they think it’s perfectly fine to give their husbands power tools.
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My pots and pans, appliances and vacuum are my tools! (That said, if I weren’t into cooking and cleaning, I’d get pretty darned insulted if someone gave me kitchenware as a hint… and I sure hope my husband knows better than to give me a gym membership or workout DVDs for that same reason.)
I’d been wanting to replace my nonstick pots and pans for years after learning that nonstick cookware has been linked to cancer, and that the manufacturer of Teflon lied to consumers — and the EPA — about that link. Of course, there’s been enough debate on the matter that I was reluctant to toss my nonstick set out… until my husband’s cancer diagnosis. Once your loved one’s dealing with that, you do everything you can to minimize your family’s exposure to carcinogens. But I don’t want to turn this into a preachy blog entry, so I’m just going to assume you’ll make up your own mind on the matter.
As far as finding my stainless steel set, I did a lot of price comparing and, wow, talk about a HUGE range in prices! We decided to go with this 10-piece multi-ply set which received rave reviews while costing one-fourth as much as a similar set from All-Clad. And now that I know how to cook with stainless steel, I absolutely love it!
Here’s what I learned.
How To Cook With Stainless Steel
Use a lower temperature: The multi-ply construction used in most brands of stainless steel cookware means that the sides and bottom of the pan heat evenly, so your food’s being cooked in more than one direction. In recipes calling for “medium-high” heat, I used to set my burner at 6 or 7. Now it’s more like 3 or 4.
Preheat your pan properly: Surprisingly, stainless steel is actually porous, and the edges of those “pores” are what causes food to stick. Preheating the pan causes the steel to expand, closing the pores and creating a smooth cooking surface. (Adding oil once the pan is properly heated helps, too. Add it too early, though, and it’ll just sink into those “pores” so they’ll still grab onto your food.)
To properly preheat stainless steel, put the pan on the burner — without adding oil — and let it start getting hot. Test the rim of the pan with your hand until it almost feels too hot to touch, then add a splash of water. If it stays in a ball and rolls around your pan like what’s shown here in this video, it’s ready. NOTE: Your pan will go from properly preheated to overheated very quickly, so have your ingredients ready to go before you start preheating!
Oil properly after preheating: The instant the pan is preheated, pull it off the burner and add your oil. Unless you’re frying, you don’t need much oil… maybe a tablespoon. Swirl this around (or use a pastry brush) and return the pan to heat. This small amount of oil will heat very quickly, so in 5-10 seconds you’re ready to cook.
Meat will let you know when it’s ready to flip: If you’ve properly preheated and oiled your pan, there’s a simple test to find out if meat is browned and ready to flip — it won’t stick. No, really. Once the meat is properly seared and has developed a nice crust there’s nothing left for the “pores” of the pan to hold onto, which means the pan releases the meat and it’s easy for you to flip it.
Don’t discard the brown bits when cooking: Unless what you’re cooking is gravy*, don’t discard the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. They’re known as “fond” and they’re the source of some really amazing flavor. “Fond” is a French word which, roughly translated, means basis or foundation. (Some say it means bottom, but not derriere.) Stock is known as ‘fond’ since it’s the basis for all soups; likewise, the brown bits are called fond because they’re the basis for wonderful pan sauces made through deglazing the pan.
To deglaze, remove your food to a plate then drain the fat from the pan, add a liquid (water, stock, wine) and scrape up the brown bits as the liquid comes to a boil. Continue stirring and scraping until the liquid reduces by half, then adjust your seasonings and spoon your sauce over your food. Delicious!
Don’t warp them: Stainless steel cookware will warp if exposed to temperature extremes, so don’t put a room-temperature pan into a hot oven, or run your just-used pots or pans under the faucet to cool them quickly. Likewise, don’t put them on damp towels, cold marble/granite counter tops. Also, use some common sense when adding ingredients to your preheated pans. Don’t, for instance, throw ice water or anything frozen into a hot pan or you’ll just ruin it.
Don’t scour them when washing: Stainless steel is actually a fairly soft material, as those of you with SS appliances have probably already learned. When you’re washing it, stick with non-metal scrubbers. Need some extra cleaning oomph? Sprinkle some baking soda on really stuck-on spots and scrub with a sponge, or use a commercial abrasive product like Bar Keepers Friend. (That stuff’s pretty amazing on stainless steel sinks, too.) But never, under any circumstances, use a stainless steel scouring pad (steel wool) to clean your stainless steel!
There you have it, the tricks I’ve learned the hard way about how to cook with stainless steel since getting my new pots and pans. I’m pleased to report that I no longer burn meals, my chops are perfectly browned before flipping, and wow do I make a good pan sauce! Also, having warped a large saute pan I’d bought to go with my set (which wasn’t cheap to replace, I might add), I’m no longer warping things. In other words, I’d only love these pans more if they were self-cleaning!
(*If you burned the gravy, pour the non-burned parts into a new pan, warm it up, and add a little sugar at a time until the burnt taste goes away. Think that’s a cool tip? Then you’d love all the tips I share daily on Facebook and Twitter!)