The Center of a Dwelling


The Center of a Dwelling

Setting up the kitchen… Is the kitchen just for cooking?… Storing kitchenware… Convenient storage for glasses, flatware, pots and pans, canned goods, detergents … Basic equipment for the kitchen, including linens, utensils, small appliances, knives … Knives and knife sharpeners: choosing, sharpening, caring for, and storing knives … Pots and pans and bakeware … Materials used in cookware and their properties … Glass, enameled cast iron, cast iron, stainless steel, copper, aluminum and anodized aluminum, nonstick cookware, tin

… this all-electric room where ghosts would feel uneasy, a witch at a loss, is numinous and again the centre of a dwelling not, as lately it was, an abhorrent dungeon …

—W. H. Auden, “Thanksgiving for a Habitat”

Democracy made kitchens come to life again. In other times, kitchens may have been little more than dungeons where servants toiled. But in today’s servantless homes, where shining, sweet-smelling kitchens are equipped with the latest labor-saving devices, cooking has been transformed into an art that everyone can be proud to master. Even though the hum of electricity has replaced the magic of a live fire, the modern kitchen is once more the warm center of the home.

Setting Up the Kitchen

Is the Kitchen Just for Cooking? As the one room in the house that can give you a full dinner or a hot cup of tea, the kitchen has a special drawing power that tends to transform it into a general working and lounging area. If someone is in the kitchen cooking, other members of the household or neighbors wander in to help or chat, and while we are there talking, chopping, and stirring, we begin to do almost anything else—fold the laundry, make business and social telephone calls, balance the checkbook, glue a broken toy, put photos into albums. And whereas eating and socializing in the kitchen used to be done only by poor people and servants, it is now quite likely to happen in the homes of the super-rich. For better or worse, many people entertain and serve guests in their kitchens rather than in their dining rooms.

In some homes, the kitchen becomes the household’s command center. Even people who have desks or offices devoted to household affairs tend to use them primarily for storage or for doing their income taxes. It is the kitchen table or countertop that they actually use to make daily business and medical calls, deal with service and repair personnel, and plan their week, even though it offers none of the conveniences of a desk.

The multifunctional kitchen system cannot avoid some inefficiencies. It gets crowded. Cooking does not always combine well with clothes-folding, check-writing, or photosorting. Reading at countertops takes up space needed for chopping. A kitchen table used as a desktop produces a paper trail between the kitchen and the real office or desk, and you may be left wondering where the electricity bill is.

Some people build large kitchens and establish a desk and computer in one corner to resolve at least some of these problems. My own vote, if apartment living gave me a free choice, would be for a middle course: a�large kitchen and some limits on its use for extraculinary functions. Rather than move the household desk or office into the kitchen, I would have these adjoining the kitchen so that there is easy traffic between them. An office, if it were the right size, could also conveniently offer some work space—especially tabletop surfaces—to homes that children (and adults) often complain have “no place to do anything.”

And I would make sure that the kitchen provides well for all its central cooking functions. Your stove, for example, should have an outdoor exhaust, and the kitchen itself should have excellent ventilation. If you often cook for several people, you are likely to want far more cabinet space than builders and architects want to give you; and you may find you can make good use of more refrigerated space than your mother had—an extra freezer or small refrigerator. You can install a wine cooler that will keep your wines at the desirable temperature. A pantry, generous in size, with controllable temperature and humidity, ought to be thought of as a kitchen necessity, but it is still an unusual feature in today’s homes.

Every kitchen needs—and rarely has—enough shelves for cookbooks, reference books on nutrition and foods, and other housekeeping books. My great-grandmother had one cookbook and one housekeeping book, but many homes today rely on a small kitchen library. Its books should be shelved far enough away from cooking areas to stay free of oily residues, or perhaps kept behind glass doors. (A friend whose two passions are cooking and books thinks cookbooks should not be stored in the kitchen at all.) If you want to do much lounging in the kitchen, while cooking or otherwise, it is important to have a table in the kitchen with some chairs. A table with some shallow drawers is most useful. It can be used as a food preparation area, a desk (if you keep paper, pencils, and a calculator in one of the drawers), or a place for snacks or informal meals. Or you can keep flatware or napkins in the drawers. I find a table more comfortable and inviting than a bar with stools, but this is purely a matter of taste.

Function over Fashion: Store Most Dishes, Pots, Pans, Utensils, and Foodstuffs in Closed Cabinets or Drawers. Before letting the potential looks of a kitchen sway you, it is important to ask yourself how the kitchen will really work. One design trend that goes in and out of fashion is a preference for open shelves and racks for wall-hanging utensils (instead of storage in drawers, cabinets, or other covered places). It is a nostalgic style intended to evoke thoughts of a colonial kitchen, but for the average kitchen it works poorly. Professional chefs hang out lots of pots and utensils because they use most of them constantly. Although you might think it is more convenient for you too to have things visible than to have to dig for them in cabinets and drawers, it probably isn’t, as I learned from unpleasant experience. Exposed surfaces in kitchens (including walls, ceilings, light fixtures, lightbulbs, and ceiling fans) get dirty faster than anything else in your home. I once had a small, charming, “architect-designed” kitchen that had open shelving for everything—even for foodstuffs in cans, bottles, boxes, and bags. These quickly became coated with a particularly unpleasant and hard-to-remove mix of dust and oil. I was glad to leave this kitchen behind, and, ever since, I have stared skeptically at pictures in magazines of shining knives and pots hanging behind a stovetop, where they will soon be spattered with food and grease. Pots and pans that have been hanging out for a week without washing should be thoroughly cleaned before use. Unless placed near the cooking and food preparation area, where they grow dirtiest most quickly, there is no point in hanging them out instead of storing them in cabinets, where they will stay usably clean much longer. Of course, kitchen utensils may be stored in the open if you have �lenty of time or can hire someone to wash everything every couple of weeks. But it is hardly the best course for the time-pressed household. New homes now often feature “appliance garages” that enable you to keep blenders, food processors, mixing machines, and other appliances out of sight.

It is convenient to keep out a few things that you use very often. Potholders must be kept at the side of the stove, where you can reach them immediately. Some people like to keep out their favorite paring or chopping knives, along with an assortment of spoons of different sizes and a saucepan or sauté pan or anything else that is used every day or two. Many of us keep a half dozen wooden spoons of different sizes at the side of the stove in an open container ready to be grabbed when needed. The spoons are used and washed constantly, and the container needs a weekly wash. All other frequently used items should be easily reachable in drawers or cabinets close to the stove and counter area where you chop and prepare foods for cooking.

How to Store Things Conveniently. There is no rule about which things go in which cabinet except that you should balance four factors: keeping like things together; putting heavy things lower and lighter things higher; keeping all foods away from heat (even canned foods; see chapter 12, “Bread and Honey”); and keeping things near the places where they will normally be used. The point of keeping like with like is to make things easier to find, to retrieve, and to replace: put all canned goods together; do the same with dry staples such as sugar, flour, and salt. Experienced people often store things in the following ways, but you may have reasons not to:

Glasses and china usually go in overhead cabinets near the sink and dishwasher. This is to make them easy to reshelve after washing up. Glasses are often placed directly over the sink so that you can reach for one to get a drink of tap water. Some people set cups, glasses, and other pieces upside down so that they do not collect dust. See also chapter 44, “China and Crystal,” pages 546, 548, on how to store fine china.

Flatware usually goes in a drawer either near the dishwasher, for easy replacing after washing, or near the table, for easy table-setting.

Serving and cooking dishes and bowls are usually placed together in a cabinet of their own or on two or three shelves of their own.

Some people have both kitchen china and kitchen glassware, for less formal meals and snacks, which is stored in the kitchen as described above, and fine china and glassware or crystal that gets stored in a china cabinet, which is usually in the dining room or may be built in, as with a butler’s pantry. A china cabinet is placed to be convenient for display and for setting the table in the dining room. Good silver or other tableware is kept in a chest of drawers or the sideboard in the dining room, for ease in setting the table there. The sideboard, if it has drawers, may also contain table linens, cloths, napkins, underliners, occasional dishes, silver serving dishes. Silver is properly displayed in glass-doored cabinets, but it will tarnish faster this way than if wrapped in tarnish-retarding cloths and kept out of sight. So display it only if you have either the time to polish or help with the polishing.

Most kitchens have one or more utensil drawers near the stove so that you can reach for what you need quickly while you are cooking. Every kitchen needs one or more drawers for linens. Kitchen linens include dish-drying towels, dish-washing cloths, potholders, cheesecloth (used for cooking and miscellaneous purposes), and, where used in the kitchen, tablecloths, cloth napkins, and placemats. You can also hang some or all of your potholders for handy use, but be sure to keep them washed.

The best way I know of to store knives (those that you do not keep out on magnetic or other holders) is in shallow, wooden knife trays that are kept in drawers. Large, upright wooden block-style stands with holes in which different-sized knives can be inserted are difficult to clean. Crumbs and spatters get inside the deep holes and are all but impossible to get out.

Canned, bottled, and packaged foods can be stored in high or low cabinets, as suits you, with two qualifications. It is easier to store heavier things low and lighter things high; and heat rises. All foodstuffs, even canned and bottled ones, must be kept at cool to moderate temperatures. Try to keep these out of cabinets that adjoin the stove, refrigerator, or dishwasher, as these appliances generate heat. Experienced cooks will usually store in one cabinet, or together on one or more shelves, all baking goods (flours, sugars, salt, baking powder), all spices and herbs, all condiments (nonrefrigerated oils, vinegars, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, soy sauce), all canned vegetables, fruits, fish or meats, and so forth.

Pots and pans can conveniently be placed near the stove, both because they can take the heat and because that is where you will want to use them. Generally, because they are heavy, you will want to place them in lower rather than overhead cabinets.

Every working kitchen has an assortment of cooking aids and utensils of awkward sizes and shapes: colanders, strainers, peelers, sifters, cooking thermometers, salad spinners, rolling pins and pastry boards, measuring cups and spoons, and, in my own case, a few old plates and bowls that I keep specially for cooking purposes (for getting tastes, mixing up cornstarch and water, or stacking chopped things on until it is time to put them in the soup) and never use for food service. It works well to keep all such things together, putting some in a cabinet and some in a drawer, depending upon their size. These should be near your most important food preparation surfaces—where you will be mixing, cutting, and so forth—or near the stove, where they also get much use.

Many households establish a small miscellany drawer in the kitchen—everyone calls it the junk drawer—which holds all the little things that you do not know what to do with: rubber bands, corks, stray paper clips, popsicle sticks, string, package-carrying handles, unidentified widgets that you think you had better hang on to. These are messy drawers full of fascination to children, who can spend hours making strange machines out of their contents.

Customarily, cleaning materials, soaps, and detergents are stored under the sink. This is good practice with two exceptions. When there are infants or young children in the house, nothing potentially harmful or toxic should be stored in an accessible low cabinet, and all cleaning materials, toxic and not, should be stored in childproof cabinets. Second, no detergents in granular form, especially dishwashing detergents, should be stored where they may be exposed to humidity or wetness, as they will cake and harden. If it is quite dry under your sink, however, they may be stored there.

Basic Kitchen Equipment

I know of someone whose entire adulthood, from age twenty-one on, seems to have been spent in moving from one place to another. When she gets to a new home, she immediately opens her packed box of kitchen utensils and pulls out her favorite large stirring spoon, which her mother gave her when she set up her first kitchen; the spoon helps reconcile her to having to start all over and makes her feel at home. So pick your kitchen equipment well, and when your children leave home to set up their own kitchens, you will have a sufficiently evocative spoon to give them to help create the spirit of home wherever they go.

Almost everyone needs the same basic ensemble of kitchen gear. Beyond the basics, you should add to your kitchen equipment as your tastes and habits suggest. You don’t need tablecloths if you have no kitchen table. If you make Chinese food, you will want a wok; if you diet, a food scale; pizza makers need a pizza stone. If you like to make soups, fresh juice, or fresh pasta, an extra-large and fine stockpot, an electric juicer, or a pasta machine might be high on your list. Beginners do best to choose multifunction tools and buy specialized things only when they feel sure they will need them often. It is all too easy to end up with drawers or cabinets full of expensive, fancy gadgets that are never used.

Choose plastic or wooden utensils for nonstick cookware that requires them. Manufacturers of some new types of nonstick ware advertise that they can be used with metal utensils. Ask carefully, and read labels, when you purchase anything of this kind. Choose all your equipment with thought about how well it functions, how hard it is to care for, and how long it will last. Your cooking character develops in tandem with your tools: you learn to do it in the way your equipment allows, and you do not learn anything that you cannot try for lack of necessary tools.

Kitchen Linens

Basic Kitchen Linens

Tablecloths and napkins for a kitchen table, if any (for as many days per week as you use them)

1 dozen drying or tea towels (3-4 of these should be linen for glass, crystal, and good china)

1 dozen dishcloths or “dishrags”

6 potholders

2-3 pieces of cheesecloth for cooking, straining (keep separate from cheesecloth used for cleaning)

2-3 aprons that cover at least from midchest to midthigh

Assorted kitchen rags (see pages 105-6, “Different Kinds of Rags, Cloths, and Towels”): 6 large old towels or pieces of terrycloth for big spills; 6 smaller rags, for dirty jobs and smaller spills and a rag bag, box, or drawer to keep them in

See chapter 18, “Fabrics That Work,” on selecting good kitchen linens.

The Kitchen Desk

Even if your kitchen desk, like mine, is a drawer and a tabletop, you still need a few basic desk materials in it for jotting down lists, recipes, and notes and for doing minor arithmetic.

Basic Desk Equipment

Writing paper Pens and pencils Pencil sharpener Handheld calculator (optional)

Kitchen Utensils, Equipment, and Knives

With most tools, you get what you pay for; the best things are the costly ones. Kitchenware has recently begun to include exceptions to this rule, as there seem to be more and more eye-catching, highly designed kitchenware items that work poorly even though they are ridiculously costly. Choose sturdy materials: high-quality plastics, stainless steel, and wood. Knives present a special case; see pages 94-98.

Replace can openers when they are dull. Replace chopping boards when they chip, splinter, or develop grooves. Replace anything wooden when it becomes warped or rough or begins to split. Use everything until it simply doesn’t work.

Basic Utensils

1 or 2 manual can openers (even if you also have an electric one) “church key”—style bottle opener corkscrew 2 large stirring spoons slotted spoon 6 wooden spoons of assorted sizes and shapes (a couple with very long handles) large fork soup ladle rubber spatula or scraper 1 or 2 pancake turners mechanical eggbeater large strainer small strainer colander vegetable steamer potato or vegetable peeler wire whisk potato masher mortar and pestle kitchen shears (sharpen when dull) grater citrus-fruit juicer pepper mill 4-6 storage jars, light-proof and airtight 6 or more tight-lidded plastic refrigerator/freezer storage tubs (in all sizes) funnel tongs 1-2 scoops skewers

2 or 3 plastic chopping boards grinder or food mill (optional) vegetable brush (optional) fat separator (optional)

Basic Measuring Equipment

2 sets of measuring spoons quart-sized or pint-sized glass measuring cup cup-sized glass measuring cup set of nesting cups (for dry measuring) coffee measure meat thermometer candy thermometer all-purpose quick-read cooking thermometer refrigerator/freezer thermometers timer

Basic Small Appliances

portable electric mixer and/or full-size electric mixer toaster or toaster oven (especially useful if you have no microwave oven) blender and/or food processor coffee grinder (optional) coffeemaker (optional)

Basic Dishwashing Equipment

dishwashing tub or plastic sink liner draining mats dish-drying rack nylon mesh scrapers for nonstick and enameled cookware metal scratchers for pots, pans, utensils bottle brushes dishcloths or sponges and dishtowels

Basic Kitchen Cutlery

5″ all-purpose utility knife 3″ paring knife 8-9″ chef’s knife long slicing (carving) knife and/or boning knife long serrated knife (optional) sharpening steel and knife-honing stone or electric honer

Note on Knives and Knife Sharpeners. If you are going to cook, you need a couple of really sharp knives. Good knives are expensive. When shopping for a good knife, heft the knife in your hand to see if you like the feel of it, because what one person finds comfortable the next might not. Rather than buying a set, it is more practical first to buy one knife made by a particular manufacturer and see how you like it over a period of use. If you are delighted with it, then, and only then, should you think about buying other pieces from the same maker. You might try a friend’s knives, too, to see how you like knives made by other manufacturers. If you are on a budget, use inexpensive stainless steel knives until you can invest in good ones. Good knives will last for what is always said to be “a lifetime.” That may be a bit exaggerated in some cases. But you really should get twenty or thirty years’ good use out of a knife, if you take care of it. Keep all good knives out of the dishwasher.

Stainless Steel vs. Carbon Steel. The best kind of knife—at least what most reliable experts consider the best kind of knife and what all good stores nowadays will offer you as their best—is a good high-carbon stainless steel knife, one that you have to sharpen but that does not rust. These knives will always look bright and shiny. Because they contain less carbon than the old rust-prone carbon steel knives (discussed below), they are harder and hold their edges better. Although in theory they can be rendered just as sharp as carbon steel knives, ordinary people in their homes are probably not going to be skilled enough to get them as sharp as they might be. These high-carbon stainless knives do not hold flavors the way carbon steel knives do.

My favorite knives, however, are carbon steel, the kind that rust and spot. Carbon steel (.01 tool steel) is softer than stainless steel, which means that these knives are easier to sharpen. The average person in his or her home can make these very sharp, and this is why I like them best. But carbon steel, being soft, also requires sharpening and steeling more often; it does not hold its edge. Carbon steel knives rust readily and soon stop looking new and shiny. They also seem to hold food flavors much more than harder metals and to pass them on to the next food; I have more than once gotten garlic- or onion-flavored potato or fruit slices as a result of using my carbon steel paring knife. (Rub a lemon slice over it to get rid of the lingering flavors and rinse and dry thoroughly.) They can leave rusty marks not only on towels but on apples and other light-colored foods. If you have these knives, be sure to wash them by hand and dry them carefully. Some people put oil on them after drying to protect against rust. I do not care for this idea, but if you do, use some flavorless oil (other than olive oil, which is too acidic). Like all good knives, carbon steel knives must never be put in the dishwasher and never left to soak. Besides growing dull more easily than other knives, they almost always have wooden handles that can be ruined, and they rust horribly in the dishwasher. I expect you are now dissuaded from using my favorite kind of knives, which in any event can be hard to find, although knife specialty stores sometimes carry them.

The least desirable knives are those that claim never to need sharpening. These are very hard, low-carbon stainless steel knives, which dull slowly because they are so hard. But they do grow dull; and when that happens you have to throw them away because they are too hard to sharpen. I do not find �hat they are terribly sharp to begin with. (Serrated knives, too, cannot be sharpened.)

Good knives are hand-forged and made of one piece. The bolster (the slightly thickened part between the functioning blade and the handle) is continuous with the rest of the blade; there is not one material inside and another out. Forged blades are better than stamped ones because the forging process arranges the molecules of the metal in such a way as to render it stronger. The tang of a good knife goes all the way back to the end of the handle, where you can see it at the seam. (This is called a “full tang,” as opposed to a “partial tang.”) The handle is riveted on, not glued. The handle on a good knife may be of wood or high-quality molded plastic. Wood feels best and is not so slippery but also does not last so long as high-quality plastics. (The dishwasher is ruinous to wooden and glued-on handles.) Some people fear that wood knife handles develop cracks and crevices over time in which bacteria can hide and grow.

What Knives Are For. A “chef’s knife” is used for chopping, dicing, mincing, and cutting. It has a point so you can pivot it and do assembly-line chopping jobs with a rocking motion. You cut food with this kind of knife on a chopping board.

Carving knives are used for getting thin, even slices of cooked meats and poultry.

Paring knives are for peeling, cutting, and trimming small items that you hold in your hand while you work, such as a potato or an apple.

Utility knives are for paring, cutting, and odd jobs.

Serrated knives, which require a sawing motion, work well for breads, cakes, fruits, and tomatoes. I prefer a sharp paring knife for fruits and vegetables, but if you have no really sharp one you will find the serrated edge helpful for breaking the skin of fruits.

A boning knife has a heavy blade that can conquer tough joints of meat and poultry, raw as well as cooked. It will also be used on fish. (A longer, narrower version, usually, is specifically recommended for fish.)

Which Knives? People have gotten more and more fetishistic about knives as they actually use them less and less. People who buy their skinless, boneless chicken already cut up for stir-frying still want a full complement of expensive kitchen knives displayed on their magnetic knife holders on the kitchen wall. Actually, you do not need many to start. Skilled and dedicated cooks with money for luxuries will find uses for a variety of special-function knives, but they can do a fine job without them too. Good stores typically suggest the set of four to six knives listed on page 94. You could actually get along with the first three or just the second and third, but then you would often not have tools for two people to work side by side.

This “beginner’s set” is precisely what my family had for its advanced set all through my childhood. We had two “paring” knives—a bigger one (a utility knife) and a smaller one—and two “butcher knives” (a chef’s knife and a carving knife). When I got older, we finally acquired one serrated “bread knife,” which we had done perfectly well without until we actually stopped making the crusty homemade bread on which it might have been used. If a farm family could get by with these, most families today could get by with half of them. (My father always had a large penknife for jobs outside the kitchen that required a knife.)

Using and Storing Knives. The ascendancy of stainless steel knives in American kitchens means that some people forget how dangerous sharp knives can be. They casually test the knife edge with a finger and store knives, blade up, in jumbled all-purpose drawers—or even jam them into the utensil holder in dishwashers where unsuspecting hands may blindly grope. In kitchens where people are serious about knives, that would cause frequently bloody fingers, because a properly sharp knife will cut at the barest touch. This is the secret of paper-thin, even slicing, well-carved birds and roasts, and lightning-quick chopping.

To keep knives from growing dull too quickly, keep them out of dishwashers. To keep the edge on your good kitchen knives keen, do not use them for odd jobs such as cutting tape or string or cardboard. Rather, keep a sturdy pocketknife, penknife, or “jobs” knife in a handy place for such chores. The USDA tells us that, for sanitary reasons, plastic chopping boards (in good condition, without grooves) are better than wood, but they make your knives dull faster than wood will. (See page 175.) Stone and stonelike surfaces are to be avoided. Try to use as little force as you can when you press down with your knives. Unnecessary force will dull and bend the sharp edge. If you keep your knives reasonably sharp, you will not be tempted to use too much force and bend or break the edge—or accidentally cut yourself by sawing away with all your might.

Knife-Sharpening. A dull knife does not necessarily have a blunt edge. Typically the real problem is that the thin, sharp edge is bent over from pressure applied during use. Sometimes the edge breaks off. There are two things you do about this, and both require a bit of skill and knowledge. You can unfold or straighten the edge out again, or, especially if the edge can’t be unfolded or is broken, you can create a new edge.

The first type of sharpening, unfolding the edge, should be done every time you use a knife, and, on a long, hard job, occasionally in the course of it. This is called “steeling,” and you do this with a sharpening steel, the long, rounded metal stick, perhaps covered with vertical grooves, that you see sold with knife sets. If you have seen butchers or your grandfather rubbing two knife blades against each other before beginning a job, you have seen essentially the same procedure.

In the second type of sharpening, called “honing,” you actually grind away part of the metal of your knife to sculpt a new edge, using a whetstone or sharpening or grinding stone or a knife-sharpening machine. This you do infrequently, only when steeling begins to fail to give you a keen edge. Not all knife edges are alike, however, even if they are initially equally sharp. Depending upon their shape, they may be more or less vulnerable to breaking and folding in the future. Thus sharpening a knife can sometimes make matters worse, not better.

Taking your knives to a professional sharpener is best, but there are not many of these around. Stores that specialize in selling knives will usually offer this service. Home knife sharpeners can eat up your knives or produce edges that are not shaped properly for strength and endurance; and they can be expensive. Only a reputable retailer specializing in cutlery will be able to tell you what is best and instruct you in its careful use. (Some stones must be wet with water when you use them, to prevent heat damage, or lubricated with an oil. Ask when you buy, or go to a knife store and ask.) The technology of home sharpeners is changing and improving, so find an up-to-date dealer. Your other choice, still best for those with the option, is to take your knives to a professional knife sharpener now and then.

You cannot actually make a new edge on serrated knives, but you can straighten their edges by steeling. When this no longer works, you have to discard them and get new ones.

Pots, Pans, and Bakeware

The basic set of pots and pans described below enables you to roast, simmer, fry, stir-fry, steam, braise, and stew, to make almost any pasta or rice dish, to make soups, and to cook vegetables of all sorts in most common styles. If you wish to make cakes, pies, breads and quick breads, cookies, muffins, or other oven-baked pastries, you will also need a set of basic baking utensils.

Basic Set of Pots and Pans

4-5″ skillet 8-10″ skillet (cast iron or with nonstick coating, or one of each) large 8-12 quart stockpot (also for cooking pasta) (stainless steel with aluminum core) 2-3 saucepans of assorted sizes (stainless steel with aluminum core, or 1 or 2 with nonstick coating): ½, 2½, and 4½ quart large lidded enameled cast-iron casserole or dutch oven large roasting pan with rack anodized aluminum sautéing pan coffeepot/coffeemaker (see chapter 7, “Stimulating Beverages”) teakettle (whistling type) teapot (ceramic, glass, silver, or silver plate)

Basic Bakeware

2 round 8″ or 9″ cake pans 2 9″ or 10″ pie pans 1 or 2 loaf pans (9×5 or 10×4) 1 or 2 square cake pans (8×8 or 9×9) rectangular cake pan (13×9) set of 3 graduated-size mixing bowls (glass or stainless steel) 1-2 muffin pans 2 cookie sheets rolling pin flour sifter (large) 8×2 or 8×3 springform cake pan (optional) pastry board (marble is best; wood is cheaper and works fine)

Know Your Materials

Before choosing cookware, learn what materials are available and what their characteristics are. Each material presents tradeoffs; you will have to determine which type is best for you. A brief summary of materials commonly used for cookware may be found on pages 100-102. Refer to chapter 9, “Kitchen Culture,” for general instructions on cleaning cookware.

If a material is a good heat conductor, it heats or cools rapidly, and it will be responsive. You need a good conductor, for example, when you want to bring something rapidly to a boil and then cool it suddenly. Some materials are heat-retentive; they hold the heat rather than cooling off quickly. Different materials also conduct heat more evenly or less evenly. If a material conducts heat unevenly, hot spots may form that could burn a sauce. Flimsy, lightweight pots and pans will not distribute heat so evenly as heavier ones.

Your cookware should perform whatever function you intend it for and at the same time be as inert or nonreactive as possible; it should not change the taste, odor, color, or chemical composition of your food, and it should certainly not contaminate it with any dangerous substance. We have all heard how the Romans poisoned themselves by storing and cooking food in pottery that contained lead, and you have surely experienced food that has picked up a metallic taste from a can, pot, or container. No cookware is absolutely inert, but some types are nearly so. Choose the most inert cooking materials—such as enameled or nonstick surfaces or stainless steel—for acidic foods or for foods such as soups, stews, and stocks, which you will simmer or cook for a long time. For storing foods in the refrigerator or freezer, plastic or glass containers are best.

Do not forget the importance of handles. Metal handles can go in the oven and the dishwasher (if the pot can). If they are not the stay-cool type, can you live with them? Some good pots lack stay-cool handles. Cheap plastic handles can melt, but more costly good ones won’t. Wood handles will not get so hot as many metal ones, but they can scorch or wear out, and are destroyed in the dishwasher. Carefully examine how handles are attached to make sure that the construction is strong. Screw-on handles break or come off more often than do one-piece metal handles or riveted-on handles.

Some people think you shouldn’t put any good pots in the dishwasher. They are right that the dishwasher is hard on everything. Even “dishwasher-safe” metals are stressed, dulled, and worn by the contrasts of heat and cold, friction, and strong detergent in the average dishwasher. Others advise you to go ahead and put in your aluminum and stainless steel pots and pans—if they have metal handles. They are right that such cookware will probably survive the abuse for a long, long time, even if it does not look so pretty as it would have otherwise. The decision is yours. Remember that plastic and wood handles are the most likely to be harmed.

Consider the requirements of your stove also. Electric stoves and flat-top stoves require heavier, flat-bottomed pans that will cover the heating element evenly and will not dent or warp. If you have an induction cooking unit, which operates by using a magnetic field to transfer heat, you must use iron. Cast iron and enameled cast iron will work. Steel or stainless steel pots and pans are suitable for induction cooking units only if they are magnetic, but sometimes they are not. (Check their labels or call the retailer or manufacturer.) You cannot use glass or ceramic cookware, copper, or aluminum on induction cooking units. In microwaves, you cannot use metals (or china with gold and silver decorations) or materials that might melt or contaminate the foods, as some plastics will. Glass, plastics labeled microwave-safe, most food-safe ceramics, and china with no metallic decorations or metal-laced glazes are all acceptable.

Glass. All glass cookware is highly inert. Most glass cookware (not ordinary glass tableware and not crystal) is suitable for microwaving and freezing as well as baking. Most glass cookware is not suitable for stove-top cooking or any type of cooking that puts it in direct contact with a flame or heat source, but some is. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions on safe use and care, and keep them for future reference. Glass cookware retains heat well but conducts it poorly and thus may cook foods unevenly. Its break-ability is another potential problem. Its transparency, however, can be fun and useful too. It is ideal for coffeepots and good for pie pans and other bakeware. It is generally dishwasher safe, but always develops a dull, scratched appearance after repeated washing in the dishwasher.

Enameled Cast-Iron Cookware. This type of cookware is naturally stick-resistant and its enameled surface is highly inert. It is excellent for stewing, simmering long-cooking dishes, and braising; it is poor for browning. It conducts heat slowly and holds heat. However, it tends to nick or chip and wear away. Some manufacturers say you can put it in the dishwasher unless it has wooden handles or some other destructible part. My opinion is that this wears it out much faster.

Cast Iron. Cast iron is exceedingly heavy, which means it never dents, bends, or warps, and it lasts a long time. The usual phrase “a lifetime” is, for once, no exaggeration; cast iron lasts for several lifetimes and gets passed from grandparent to parent to child. It is quite cheap. It heats and cools slowly but evenly. (In fact, it cools so slowly that I have occasionally burned myself on the handle of a cast-iron skillet long after it was removed from the heat.) It is excellent for browning and, as it ages, it turns dark brown or black and becomes more and more naturally resistant to sticking. Cast iron rusts if you are not careful, and rust can discolor foods. (Cast iron cannot go in the dishwasher and should not be soaked, but it can go into the oven.) It tends to leach iron into foods, particularly acidic foods (i.e., it is somewhat reactive), and can give them a metallic taste. This sometimes matters aesthetically, but it is not a health problem except for those who must avoid iron. It can even help people with iron-deficiency anemia. It should not be used for deep-fat frying because the iron accelerates the chemical processes that cause rancidity in cooking fats.

Stainless Steel. Stainless steel is the least reactive of the metals used for pots and pans. High-grade cookingware of stainless steel is made of iron, 18 percent chromium, and 10 percent nickel. (This is what 18/10 means.) Unlike iron, stainless steel does not rust or tarnish, but acid or salt left on it long enough will begin to corrode it. For this reason, it can be discolored by mustard, mayonnaise, vinegar, and lemon juice that are left standing on it for long periods. Like iron, stainless steel does not warp or dent, and retains a good flat bottom. It is fairly heat-retentive, but not so much as cast iron.

Stainless steel heats slowly and unevenly and gets hot spots. Therefore, stainless steel pots are often made with an aluminum inner core or copper bottom for better, more even heating. What some people (myself among them) regard as the very best pots now available are made of stainless steel with an aluminum core. This combination gets you the good conductivity and even heating of aluminum (see “Unanodized Aluminum,” below) plus the nonreactivity and the resistance to warping and denting of steel.

Stainless steel is fairly easy to clean and is generally regarded as dishwasher-safe so long as it has metal handles. But some manufacturers advise you to keep their stainless steel products out of the dishwasher; check the care instructions for yours.

Copper. Copper has the highest heat conductivity of all the metals used for pots and pans, which means it both heats and cools quickly and is highly responsive. Thus it has been favored for making delicate sauces and other cooking that calls for great precision. It is expensive.

Copper tarnishes, is readily reactive with many foods, especially acidic ones, and can make you quite sick if you take in too much. So copper is not used alone for cookware; copper pots and pans are lined with tin or stainless steel. When they are lined with tin, they may have to be relined when the tin begins to wear down, which is a somewhat expensive proposition. To have this done, go to any good kitchenware store. It will either do the work or refer you to someone who will.

Copper bowls are desirable for beating egg whites stiff because the copper ions they put out help prevent the foam from deflating and help make it creamy. (You won’t get sick from the small amount of copper that you take in from the bowl.)

Copper kitchenware is definitely not for you if you are short on time. It requires polishing, and you will not be able to put it in the dishwasher.

Unanodized Aluminum. Aluminum conducts heat almost as rapidly as copper but not evenly, which means you can burn foods in it. But it is highly responsive. It can dent or warp because it is not so strong and hard as iron or steel. Its light weight, however, is often highly convenient. Unanodized aluminum is somewhat reactive with foods, especially acidic ones such as tomato-based dishes or those that contain wine or fruit, sauerkraut, vinegar. It is also reactive with salty foods. Aluminum can heighten the sulfur flavor and cooking odor of cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. It can discolor acidic foods or egg-based foods. If you store salty or acidic foods in aluminum pots (or touching aluminum foil), aluminum will leach out into the food and surface pitting may even occur on the pots.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there is no evidence that ingesting aluminum is harmful. Aluminum pots and pans came under suspicion some years back as a result of the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s disease was caused by the ingestion of excess amounts of aluminum. This theory is no longer taken seriously, and aluminum cookware is back in favor. However, it is true that aluminum cookware releases aluminum into food and that in some cases this tends to result in off-flavors and colors. And even if it does not cause Alzheimer’s and even if we get far more aluminum naturally in our foods and in over-the-counter medicines such as antacids, this is no good reason to feed yourself still more aluminum derived from your cookpots. Thus you might consider not using aluminum pots for stock, soups, stews, and other long-cooking dishes, for acid foods (such as those containing citrus juices, tomatoes, vinegar, or wine) or salty foods, or for food storage. For the latter purposes, stainless steel, glass, enameled cookware, and plastic or glass storage containers are better choices.

You can usually put this type of metal pot in the dishwasher, unless its handles cannot take it, but always check the manufacturer’s instructions. Alkaline substances such as strong detergents or ammonia can darken or mar it. See page 113.

Anodized Aluminum. This is a stick-resistant surface, but it is so extremely hard that it is genuinely long-lasting. Some manufacturers even say that you can use metal utensils on it and that if you find marks that look like scratches after doing so, they are actually just metal deposits from the metal utensils. They’ll come off if you use a special cleaner designed for anodized aluminum pots, such as Dormónd. My anodized aluminum pot, however, most definitely is scratched by metal utensils and should only be used with wooden or plastic utensils. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for your own. Anodizing is a process that thickens the oxide film that naturally forms on the surface of aluminum, hardening it and making it more scratch-resistant. Some anodized aluminum pots are also treated with a nonstick coating, which is said to be quite durable. Anodized aluminum is highly inert and reacts less with food than does regular aluminum. But even anodized aluminum will react if food is stored in it for long periods. Using it for food storage is not recommended. Keep it out of the dishwasher or it will discolor.

Nonstick Substances. Nonstick substances are highly inert, but they wear and scratch, exposing the next layer of the pot, which is usually aluminum or steel. (The general cooking properties of the pots are those of the underlying metal.) Newer nonstick coatings are much more durable than those of the first generation, but most still require you to use plastic or wooden utensils, which suggests that they should still be regarded as vulnerable. Some are made with the same material as Teflon pans, except with more coatings, which results in greater durability. Some of them release fumes when heated to extremely high temperatures, so observe the manufacturer’s instructions on use and care. Nonstick pots and pans are considered healthy both from the standpoint of their nonreactivity and because they permit you to reduce your use of fats and oils. To many people, these are far more important characteristics than the convenience of easy cleaning, which is not always all it is cracked up to be. Manufacturers generally recommend against putting nonstick cookware in the dishwasher.

Tin. Some copperware is lined with tin, but otherwise it is rarely used in cookware; it is soft, wears away, and has a low melting point. See “Copper,” above. Tin is less reactive than copper, but it reacts with some foods. It can cause gastrointestinal illness if too much is taken in. This used to occur when certain foods were stored in their tin cans after opening.



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