Cooking with Stainless Steel is transformative. I should’ve been doing it a long time ago.
I think for casual home cooks, like myself, cooking with Stainless Clad can oftentimes feel like a little ‘too much.’ Without really seeing how it could transform food, I always thought that it was difficult to cook with, impossible to clean, and really didn’t make that much of a difference in the final meal. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
One of my biggest hold ups cooking with Stainless Steel was that to the untrained eye, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a mistake and perfection. For example, cooking rice without any fat left me scrubbing the bottom of my Saucepan for hours (note: I also didn’t know the secret trick to cleaning Stainless—Barkeeper’s Friend). Or like the time I seared chicken thighs in my Frying Pan and thought I had destroyed the pan because of the brown bits that got stuck.
It turns out those brown bits are what is known as fond—what carries 99% of the flavor. The fond is supposed to get stuck on the pan, and actually comes off quite easily if you add water (or wine, or stock) over heat, forming a beautiful pan sauce, the likes of which Jacques Pepin would be proud of.
But these are all things I didn’t know then. Instead, I dumped the flavor down the drain, and worried more about whether or not I had ruined the pan rather than the taste of my food, which after all, was the entire point of the pan itself. I went back to my comfort zone, cooking with Non Stick and Cast Iron, two somewhat indestructible, un-fuck-up-able cooking surfaces. Low risk, yes, but far lower reward, too.
My Stainless Steel Pan sat unused for the better part of a year before my girlfriend asked me why I never used it. Reluctantly, I brought it out to sauté mushrooms. It couldn’t have been easier.
I watched as the Stainless Pan did its job almost on auto-pilot. First, the mushrooms softened in a sizzle, then slowly but surely, the Pan coaxed them to release their water. As the pan began to fill with juices, my heart began to sink. Is this what’s supposed to happen? I thought.
But the Pan took over again. The mushrooms shriveled smaller and smaller, absorbing their own liquids, until they were sponges of fungal umami. Each bite was filled with flavor—I’d never had mushrooms like them. And the crazy part was, they weren’t even fancy mushrooms. They were just the ones you buy in the little Styrofoam container from the store.
I began to wonder what had changed. So I tried it again the next day, and again. Each time the mushrooms came out exactly the same—perfect—and there was no longer any doubt to it. There was a special sort of magic in cooking with Stainless.
Throughout my cooking journey, I’ve learned new techniques and skills that have made cooking and cleaning Stainless so much easier. Whether it’s using Barkeeper’s Friend to get gnarly stains and gunk off in just seconds (it seriously works wonders), or Stainless’ ability to sear steak on high heat, then pivot in an instant to a lower temperature, I’ve been as impressed with myself as I have with the pan.
The fact of the matter is, cooking with Stainless is a transformative experience—both for the food and well, for myself, too.