Carl Tashian

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Feb 16 02006 10.59a

Lots of bad news about Teflon lately. By 2015, DuPont and a handful of other companies will eliminate a harmful chemical in Teflon called PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which has recently been classified as a likely carcinogen by the EPA. No one will straight up admit Teflon is the next asbestos. But does it really matter? Hot pans kill birds.

Why restaurants never used Teflon anyway

  • Restaurants cook on high. To a restaurant cook, stoves have only two settings: off and high. And Teflon burns too easily on high.
  • It’s easy to scratch, so forget about using metal tongs, spatulas, whisks, or spoons with your pan anymore. What a great way to get people buying more cheap plastic tongs, spatulas, whisks, and spoons, right?
  • Teflon doesn’t sear food well. A restaurant kitchen must deliver beautiful food, of course, and a boiled-loking bit of chicken leg, cooked in a Teflon pan, just doesn’t look very exciting.
  • It isn’t even non-stick! Teflon is forgiving, but you can still dork up an omelet six ways from Sunday in a Teflon pan. So what is the point?

Certainly there are restaurants that use Teflon pans, but they typically use it for a handful of specific purposes like crepes.

Your options now

  • Old school cast iron pans are fantastic and cheap: $15-25 for a nice heavy skillet that fries food beautifully. But cast iron takes some care and takes an ice age to warm up. You have to season them if you don’t want you food to stick. More on this later.
  • There’s also enameled cast iron. This is more expensive than cast iron, but it doesn’t need any seasoning. I consider it somewhere in between cast iron and stainless steel: it warms up slow and holds heat forever, just as well as a heavy cast iron pan, but its surface is smooth like stainless steel. You don’t have to buy an expensive Le Creuset or Staub pot; there is a German brand whose name escapes me, and they sell the same thing without the 66% marketing surcharge (but that’s why the brand name escapes me…).
  • But how about stainless steel? Stainless steel is a great cooking surface but a bad heat conductor, so any stainless steel pan worth its salt will have an aluminum or copper core to help distribute heat nicely. These pans are much more expensive than cast iron, but they require zero maintenance and, when used properly, they’re effectively non-stick.
  • Lets not forget the carbon-steel wok. Great for a stir-fry. And they are cheap: about $20. You have to season them, but it’s easier than seasoning cast iron: just heat some canola oil on high and coat the inside of the pan with it for a couple minutes, until it starts to smoke. Turn if off. Clean your wok as you would a cast iron skillet (see below).

Tips for non-stickiness

OK, so you have your stainless steel or cast iron pan. The goal now is to prevent things from sticking in the first place. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Temperature is key. Most people do not heat their pans enough before they start to cook. When you add food to a hot pan, it will sear and release some water. That water vapor is the non-stick magic, as it will keep the food floating atop the oil. But if your pan is too cold, searing won’t happen, water won’t be relased, and the food will fuse to the pan. Oops. As a general rule, you need to preheat your pan in proportion to the amount that your food will cool it. If you’re going to fry up four pork chops that you just took out of the fridge, your oil should almost be smoking. But if you’re just frying a bit of garlic, you’re better off at a lower temp—garlic bits will burn easily.
  • Do not crowd the pan. Your goal is to sear. If you put 10 chicken legs into a 12 inch skillet—no matter how much you’ve preheated it—they will not sear. When in doubt, sear in batches.
  • Take the chill off of your ingredients before cooking. Food cools the pan dramatically when you add it. You’ll want to minimize the temperature differential. So get your eggs out of the fridge 10 minutes before you heat the pan, and just let them hang out on the counter. This may sound silly but I promise it makes a difference.
  • Use oil. You need some, but you really don’t need much. The more oil you add, though, the hotter and faster you can cook things without sticking.

Eggs fried fast and hot: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high until tiny wisps of smoke start to rise from the pan, which happens about 30 seconds after the oil starts to shimmer. Add your eggs and spoon the oil over the top of them as they cook. They’ll be ready in no time. And they’ll be beautifully crispy around the edge and slightly brown on the bottom. Remove with a slotted spatula. No sticky!

  • Patience. When searing meat or fish over high heat, you might notice that it sticks to the pan right away. Leave it alone, and do not be afraid. It will unstick! It just has to brown first. A hunk of salmon will come unstuck after about 2 minutes of searing over high heat, and it will be perfectly brown. Take the leap of faith and discover that this really works, or you’ll lose the crispy goodness and have a tough cleaning job ahead of you.

At this moment you might be thinking, “This is really annoying. Too many rules.” But if you lose the Teflon, you’ll see that these techniques really become second nature.

Oops, my food stuck. Now what?

You don’t have to soak the pan forever in the sink. Just put a little water in it and heat it to a simmer on the stove. Whatever was stuck to the pan will come away in short order. For anything that isn’t seasoned, you can use a cleaner like Bon Ami to quickly remove a really tough fond.

Cast iron pan care

Stainless steel pans are so easy to take care of, but cast iron requires a bit more work.

  • Keep it seasoned. A seasoned cast iron pan has a tiny bit of oil fused to the pan, which makes for an exceptially good non-stick surface and prevents rust. Most cast iron pans are already seasoned when you purchase them. But if you start to see rust forming, you need to reseason your pan. Seasoning a pan is easy, and it’s been covered many times elsewhere.
  • Barely wash it. Pour some salt in the pan and rub it around with a paper towel. Rinse. Done. It’s ok if a bit of your oil from cooking remains in the pan for the next use.
  • But if you have to wash it… Don’t use a lot of soap, and don’t let it soak. Use a tough sponge to remove the stuck bits. Dry it thoroughly, because if it gets rusty you will have to reseason it.

Resources:

Comments

Feb 16 02006 10.31p
Jethro Scott #

Your writing and blog design are so beautiful and serene. It’s a revelation.

Feb 16 02006 11.23p
Matt Author Profile Page #

Another material that is non-stick, and will let you use metal utensils and pretty much anything else is titanium. One brand I know of that uses titanium is Scanpan, and I swear by it (pricey, but worth it.) Official site is at http://www.scanpan.com/main/home.aspx

I really enjoyed this write-up, and have had pretty much avoided teflon most of my cooking life. Now I have a good reason to continue avoiding it.

Feb 28 02006 10.26a
maxxumite Author Profile Page #

regarding the post above about scanpan - they also use the same chemical used by the teflon industry to make their pans nonstick - says so right on their FAQ page. evidently the issue now is that as long as you don’t use high heat, the teflon pans are safe enough (they say none of the chemical is present once the manufacturing process has been completed, just like scanpan says in their FAQ. now, whether anyone chooses to believe them or not is up to them…..

Feb 28 02006 10.28a
maxxumite Author Profile Page #


sorry, here’s a link to where i read the info about the chemical not being present after manufacturing:
http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060227/FEATURES08/602270376/1033

Aug 24 02006 11.01p
eleanorhoh Author Profile Page #

Carl, I have great respect for everything you do, it’s done in such good taste. It’s obvious you’re a perfectionist. I looked at archives and photos of dishes you’ve made and they looked so good, it made me hungry.

I couldn’t agree more about Teflon. I am Chinese/Malaysian and teach wok cooking in S. Florida. I’ve owned a cast iron wok ever since my mother taught us how to cook in one. I am very passionate about using cast iron vs any other materials because to me, it’s the BEST. I didn’t realize there were so many misconceptions about stir-frying until I started teaching. Many people who have been stir-frying for years are surprised when they see me do my first stir-fry veggies in my cooking class. They turn out so crispy, crunchy and yummy. They don’t know that it’s the teflon pan that makes their veggies soupy and not their technique.

Anyway, I try to show people wok cooking is more than about cooking, it’s like an extension of your personal style. My own husband never learned to cook till I developed this visual diagram. Now, he’s a stir-fry meister. He loves to cook omelets with unusual stuffings like broccosalmonapricot. He’s even done a segment as part of my instructional disks and calls it “Wok up and smell the coffee”. People laugh when they hear this title. He also did an amusing segment on how to take care of your wok. We preseason our cast iron wok because we know people hate doing it.

One day soon, I hope to have him post some video podcasts of his wok dishes because there’s a huge audience who will find him pretty funny.

That’s it for now, take a look at my website and let me know what you think. I think you will find my approach to cooking interesting as you’re quite the foodie. Keep up the great work you’re doing.

Aug 1 02008 5.01p
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