tooling around: now, we’re cooking

In my house, one must know how to put out a grease fire. Click image for details.

Last month I claimed “cooking with stainless steel cookware is a little like learning to cook all over again.” When I wrote that, I had no idea how true it really was. Luckily, my daughter is out of town all summer so my husband and I have plenty of time to practice without the added pressure of filling an eight-year-old’s bottomless pit of a stomach.

“Cooking well is about three things: good ingredients, good and proper tools, and love. Cooking is craft. Respect it and celebrate it!”

That’s what Paula Lewis had to say when she chimed in on the “gone to pot” discussion. That woman might need to go into sign making. Sadly, I’m not sure my methods for (re)learning to cook really honor the art.

Cooking is trial and error.

The internet is a wealth of cooking knowledge. You can find articles, videos, and tips on just about every aspect of food preparation. Sure, surfing the web helps, but so far, nothing has beaten old fashioned trial and error.

Preheating

A lot of web articles recommend pre-heating your stainless steel cookware before food ever touches it (examples here and here). My husband, the super-researcher, came across something adequately scientific that explained how heating the cooking surface eliminates any imperfections in the metal, reducing available areas for food to latch onto (stick). I assume he found something like this awesome article by Talley on Houseboat Eats. Also included are a couple of very clear videos.

“As you might imagine, this ideal window of heat has to do with the atoms in the pan moving around and ‘opening and closing the pores’ in the steel. In this sense, the ‘pores’ almost act like tiny teeth that bite into your meat and cause sticking. At the right temperature, the ‘pores’ are static, and your food doesn’t stick.”

Somehow, I came away from this with the idea that I needed to heat my pan on high heat, then reduce the temp and start cooking. NO! Actually, if you want to test the limits of your patience, this might work for you because it takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R for the pan to reach an acceptable (read: non-scorching) cooking temp. We’d had our stainless cookware five weeks before we were able to cook food within five minutes of turning on the stove. The trick, for us, is to heat the pan on medium-low heat (4 out of 10 on our knob) for 60 to 90 seconds. By then, water will usually dance and I can turn the heat down to 2 or 1.

Lubrication

After the heat gets turned down, we get to do a little more waiting. I generally chop stuff for two or three minutes. If you get impatient and start throwing oil into the pan you will be rewarded with smoky, gooey, sticky mess, and a husband that whines about cleaning it up. Actually, my husband never whines. He occasionally throws me a look of disbelief.

In truth, the too-hot oil will smoke almost immediately, giving you time to wipe out the pan before things get too nasty. Butter is far less forgiving, so I recommend you either stick with oil or get yourself a non-stick pan if butter is your go-to lubricant (see LuAnn Poli’s comment on my last post).

Pouring Oil 2. Photo by fdmount. Click image for details.

Cooking Heat

Sometimes it helps to read the instructions. You are all very clever so I’m sure you always read the manual before using a new doodad. I, on the other hand, was too cool for the pamphlet of tips Emeril kindly enclosed with his cookware. The result of being too cool? I made my food too hot. That’s right, we ate blackened meals for about four days. Somehow, I think burning 800 calories in 30 minutes does not mean setting the chicken on fire.

I think day four was when I finally read Emeril’s advice: You’ll have to cook at lower temperatures than you may be accustomed.

Oh. Another place to find such pearls is, you know, THE ENTIRE INTERNET.  Besides the web posts already mentioned, the tip about lower heat is mentioned here and here (and just about everywhere else).

So after I heat the pan on medium-low, then turn it down to low or lower, I cook the food at low, lower, or lowest. Lowest is denoted by the very cryptic “Lo” on the knob for the burner.

It think – think – I am finally getting the hang of it. To date my biggest triumph has been a yummy veggie pot pie with totally not burned onions and fennel.

It looks a little dull, but it smells divine.

Bacon, on the other hand… Someday. In the meantime, I have some Mexican Meatball Soup to make for dinner. While I do that, why don’t you fill up the comments with your own cooking (mis)adventures. Next time we talk we’ll get into the nitty gritty of getting the nitty gritty off your cookware. Feel free to share your tips on that, too.

Bon apetit!

One thought on “tooling around: now, we’re cooking

  1. I love cooking with stainless steel. Done a lot of reading about stainless steel cookware though. You’ve got to experiment cooking with stainless steel to get the best out of it.

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