The Essential Kitchen: Pots and Pans I
Tools For a City Cook's Kitchen
Equipping a kitchen is very personal. Having the right tools can make all the difference in both the experience of cooking and the result. The pots and pans that are best for you depend upon what and how you cook and since city cooks don't have lots of storage space, we have to choose wisely. But there are basics that everyone needs and then there are the extras.
When buying cookware, resist the lure of those pre-selected sets. The price may seem compelling but I promise you that at least one piece will end up never used. Instead, buy exactly what you want and you'll get more value.
It is my personal bias to not use non-stick. I just don't trust that the surface won't come off into whatever I'm cooking so I'd rather use a small amount of oil in a stainless steel pan or a well-seasoned cast iron. The exception I make to this is to have one 10" non-stick frying pan just for eggs. I buy the Lincoln WearEver brand which sells for about $46 at Broadway Panhandler and replace it as soon as it starts to look funny, which is about once a year.
For everything else, there are several good manufacturers. My personal favorite is All-Clad for almost everything. I also love Lodge for cast iron and Le Creuset for enameled cast iron and Pillivuyt or Emile Henry for oven-proof porcelain.
Unless there's a dish you make frequently that requires a specific pan, say paella, be sure that each piece you buy gives you multiple uses. For instance, a ceramic rectangular pan can be used to roast a small chicken, make lasagna and gratins, or bake fish with tomatoes. A loaf pan is perfect for meat loaf but also banana bread or a vegetable paté.
For most cooks, these are the essentials:
- Sauce pans with covers: 1 quart, 3 quart
- Sauté pan with a cover, also called a sautoir: 4 quart (approx. 3" deep with straight sides, 10 1/2" diameter)
Tip: I use this pan more than anything else in my kitchen; it has a surface like a fry pan, it takes a cover, the straight sides help reduce sauces, it's deep enough to poach or steam in, and you can start on top of the stove and finish in the oven
- Fry pans, also called sauteuses: 7" and 12" (with handles that can go in a hot oven)
Tip: A 12" fry pan can take the place of both the sauté pan and a small roasting pan -- it's extremely versatile except that it doesn't take a cover
- Non-stick fry pan: 10" Replace this about once a year to ensure the surface is intact
- Cast iron grill pan: 10"-12" with grill ribs. Great for stove-top grilling of steaks, chops, fish and vegetables. This pan can easily end up as one of your favorite pieces because it adds versatility to the smallest kitchen
Tip: A square grill pan more easily accommodates foods that are grilled than a round one.
- Pasta pot (7-8 qt.) with insert and cover: This pot can double as a small stock pot and with the insert can also be a steamer
- Enameled cast iron French oven: 9-12 qt. Get one big enough to be versatile
- Porcelain or ceramic ovenproof rectangular pans: Approx. 1-3 quarts, small enough to make gratins but big enough to roast a small chicken
- Rimmed sheet pan (also called a jelly roll pan): Approx. 13" x 18." Far more useful than for just baking cookies, this pan is perfect for roasting vegetables and some meats, browning bones for stocks, slow-cooking tomatoes, and much more. You can even put a rack on it and roast a turkey. Buy a good one so that it doesn't warp when it gets hot.
- Tea kettle
Remember: always buy the best quality you can afford and select pieces that you love and think are beautiful.