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    The Basics of Skillets and Sauté Pans
       excerpted from How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food

      ... see great recipes from Mark Bittman the Minimalist on our GREAT CHEFS page!


    Chapter One


    The Basics of Skillets and Sauté Pans

    According to the manufacturers, a skillet (or frying pan) has curved, relatively shallow sides. A sauté pan has a flat bottom (hence usually more cooking surface), straight, deeper sides, and a lid--all of which make it much better for browning and braising. But the pans don't maintain those differences, and there are many hybrids. What you want is a flat bottom, and sides that angle out so that you can gain easy access to the food when you want to turn it.

    As to material: Yes, copper is undeniably best, but you probably can't afford it. Cast iron is very, very good, and quite inexpensive, but it weighs a lot. When you transfer a skillet from the stove top to the oven, a common enough occurrence, you will wish it weren't cast iron (or that you'd spent more time at the gym). Another disadvantage of cast iron is that the metal can interact with acidic sauces, changing their flavor and color (this does no harm from a health perspective).

    Since I can't afford copper either, I prefer heavy-duty aluminum skillets with a non-stick coating. They're lighter and cheaper than anything else, and they do a good job. (Some aluminum is "anodized" to make it stronger; these pans last longer, but are not necessarily better to cook with.) Non-stick coatings, while not perfect (they all wear out, regardless of manufacturers' claims), are extremely forgiving, a real bonus for less experienced cooks, especially in sautéing.

    If aluminum pans are not good-looking enough for you (a real possibility), go with stainless steel, which is more expensive but attractive; be aware, though, that you'll probably be spending a lot more money for it. Do not be tempted by inexpensive stainless steel, which is a poor conductor of heat; all good stainless steel pans have a layer of copper or aluminum on their bottom and sides or sandwiched between two layers of steel.)

    As for size: I recommend buying skillets as you need them, rather than in sets with saucepans. Start with two skillets: one ten inches in diameter (I call this "medium" throughout the book) and one twelve inches in diameter ("large"). The second will look huge in the store, but perfect once you start trying to brown chicken breasts in it. When you're ready to make omelets or crepes, or fry a single egg, you'll want an eight-inch pan ("small" to "medium") as well. There are new "sauté pans" with deep, rounded sides that are halfway between a traditional sauté pan and a saucepan; I like them very much, because they reduce spattering, which in turn reduces stove-top mess.

    Pay attention to the handles, too: They should be riveted on and feel comfortable and sturdy. Although you can't judge this in the store, they should remain fairly cool when cooking on the stove top (if you find that the handles of a given brand become too hot during cooking, steer clear of that brand in the future). Also, you want handles that are ovenproof--you should be able to put any skillet in the oven, and you frequently will. This means no plastic.

    Lids for skillets are extremely useful, and the advantage of aluminum is that the lids are quite inexpensive. Ultimately, many will be interchangeable; you need not buy a new lid for every pan you own.

    VillaWare Classic Electric Skillet, 16 inch
    VillaWare Classic Electric Skillet, 16 inch VillaWare Classic Electric Skillet, 16 inch. Make pancakes, Southern fried chicken, Spanish paella, Italian risotto, chili, fried rice, couscous, Stroganoff, and Jambalaya. These are just some of the dishes that are best when simmered in an electric skillet. VillaWare's Classic Skillet packs 1500 watts of power. 18/10 stainless steel body. Dishwasher safe skillet. 16 inch diameter.

    Le Creuset Round Skillet Grill, 10 in. - White
    Le Creuset Round Skillet Grill, 10 in. - White Cast iron has long been the preferred material for grills but the lengthy seasoning process and high maintenance was discouraging. Now, LeCreuset's porcelain enameled cast iron gives you the benefits of cast iron the first time out of the box. Features onvenient pouring lips for draining juices and fats from the pan, and a handy grip opposite the handle to make lifting easier.

    Cuisinart 8
    Cuisinart 8" Open Skillet Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless skillets have sloped sides and wide flat bottoms for frying fish, sauteing onions and garlic, or browning big batches of chicken. The open design of the skillet maximizes the cooking surface and makes it easy to rearrange food as it is cooking. The long handle offers perfect balance to provide exceptional control when gently tossing food. Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless Cookware features 18/10 stainless steel and pure aluminum encapsulated in the base for fast and even heating.

    How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food
    Great Food Made Simple!
    Here's the breakthrough one-stop cooking reference for today's generation of cooks! Nationally known cooking authority Mark Bittman shows you how to prepare great food for all occasions using simple techniques, fresh ingredients, and basic kitchen equipment. Just as important, How to Cook Everything takes a relaxed, straightforward approach to cooking, so you can enjoy yourself in the kitchen and still achieve outstanding results.
    Buy this book at Barnes & Noble

     

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