When I was learning how to cook and still living at home with my parents on Vancouver Island, one of my favourite times of the year was when I would head to my grandmother’s for a week in the summertime.
My grandmother lived in a very small cabin in a remote valley in the heart of the island, surrounded by very large mountains. She had no electricity and no gas. The house was heated by this beautiful, very large cast iron stove that was the centrepiece of the home. Cooking on it was a great challenge and it was an all-day affair that always brought me so much pleasure. Accompanying the incredible stove was an equally incredible selection of cast iron pots and pans. She didn’t own anything else and didn’t need to. A small, well-seasoned fry pan could cook an omelet better than any Teflon I have ever tried; that roasting pan that took two people to lift turned out the best roasts and accompanying sauces; and, of course, her dutch oven that was the workhorse of the kitchen always had something simmering away inside.
The more the cookware was used, the better it seemed to perform. They took a while to heat up but they never lost their heat and never burnt anything. When something was done being used, it was given a steamy rinse, a quick wipe and was put back on the stove to dry. At the end of the day, a small amount of vegetable oil rubbed on the inside ensured that they would not rust and they’d be ready to go the next day.
When you cook with heavy-bottomed pots and pans, searing is much easier and much more consistent. In general, people start cooking with meat that is cold, directly from the fridge. Cold food can cool down a pan very fast, causing the ingredients to sweat, release their water and stew instead of sizzle. A heavy bottom on that vessel will keep its heat longer and provide much more even caramelization, especially helpful on an uneven heat source that has hot spots and cold spots. A vessel with a thin bottom will heat up and burn things very quickly, but also cool down really fast when cold food is added.
At Richmond Station, we use heavy, stainless steel pans for our quick cooking and glazing purposes such as making pasta and sauteeing kale, but all of our meat and fish is seared in cast iron and beans are always cooked in a dutch oven. Staub makes fantastic quality products and has a wide range in ceramic, cast iron and enamelled. Pretty to look at too! Le Creuset is great as well and even Lodge for cast. In stainless, I would stay with Henckels or All-clad. These are all on the pricy side, but any serious cook will understand after a few meals.
My grandmother’s pots and pans are still around. Most of them must be over 60 years old by now but they still work as well as ever. She must have paid a small fortune for them when she bought them, but she’s certainly seen a good return on that investment.