In the Kitchen with Mother Linda
“A pan should be just large enough to hold its contents comfortably. Heavy pans heat slowly and cook food at a constant rate. Aluminum and cast iron conduct heat well, but may discolor food containing egg yolks, wine, vinegar or lemon. Enamelware is a fairly poor conductor of heat. Many recipes therefore recommend stainless steel or enameled cast iron, which do not have these faults.” –Time-Life Editors
The above quote comes from the recipe index of the Foods of the World cookbooks published by Time-Life in the 1970s. What this statement was hinting at, but not explicitly stating, is that acidic foods react with aluminum and cast iron. That reactions in aluminum pans are toxic is common knowledge among professional chefs and explains why they would never allow a cheap aluminum pan or pot of any kind in their kitchens.
But another underlying fundamental truth behind this statement is, “Why bother to forage for the best organic ingredients if, at the last minute, you compromise the quality of the final dish by choosing the wrong pot or pan to prepare it in?”
I started to notice the importance of being vigilant about what foods are prepared in after eating a tomato-based dish at an ethnic restaurant. My stomach churned for a few days and then I got a pain in my lower back–centralized over the kidneys. A savvy alternative practitioner pointed out that not only do acidic foods cooked in aluminum taste metallic, but there is a distinct possibility of heavy metal poisoning–which affects the kidneys. When I returned to the restaurant, I noticed aluminum pots hanging on hooks above the stove and have never eaten there again. You have probably heard of this principle without knowing it. This is why most foods are packaged in steel instead of aluminum. It is also why I caution against drinking sodas, which are acidic, and acidic juices like tomato and grapefruit from aluminum cans.
Another no-no is Teflon–a shortened term for tetrafluoride. Yes, that’s right, Teflon is a fluoride product and one that produces a toxic gas when heated to over 500°F. Most teflon product boxes contain a warning about this, although most people overlook the missive. A recent spot on ABC’s 20/20 highlighted how inhaling the fumes produced when a high-heat pan, such as one used to cook bacon, can cause an illness dubbed the Teflon-flu. The manufacturer, Dupont, has known about the “flu” for years and warns about it on its Web site–but not the product container.
Over the years, I have weeded out from my kitchen any poor-quality and toxic pots and pans, replacing them with high-quality stainless steel or enameled cast-iron cookware. I highly recommend All-Clad’s beautiful, yet dependable line of high-quality pots and pans for stovetop cooking. If you are throwing out your old collection, why not consider one of their starter sets in their basic stainless line? There are many offers, but most come with a combination of lidded saucepans and open frying pans–but do pass up the offers that include nonstick frying pans. If you have a little more to spend, their Cop-R-Chef line features exquisite copper exteriors and the safe, stainless steel interior cooking surface.
I recently bought All-Clad’s butter warmer–a cute pan designed for melting a stick of butter or two for popcorn or a recipe. My next purchase will be one of their stockpots which range in size from 4 to 24 quarts. All-Clad’s smaller Stainless stockpots are constructed of three layers: the whole pot is constructed of aluminum, for even heating, sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel; however, that line’s bigger pots only have the aluminum core on the bottom. Since I want a larger stockpot, I am looking at All-Clad’s better-quality LTD or Master Chef 2 16- or 20-quart stockpots, in which the aluminum core extends up the sides of the pot. Larger stockpots can hold a couple chickens and all the savory vegetables needed to make a beautiful, nutritious and versatile stock.
Another indispensable pot in my home is my enameled 5.5-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven with a lid. This is my choice for slow cooking a roast or stew on the stovetop. I have very fond memories of a friend of mine showing me how to make his favorite recipe–a pork and leek stew–in it just before he passed away. Since this pot is enamel-lined, it’s okay to cook acid-based foods in it, but always to be sure to use a wooden spoon–as metal can scratch the surface.
I occasionally cook with two kinds of glazed earthenware from Bulgaria. The first is a large, hand-thrown lidded pot for the oven called a gyuvech. It is used to make a meal of the same name–a rich combination of sausage and vegetables slow cooked in the oven. The second is an individual-serving-size version of the first called a gyuveche. It is used to make a meal of sausage, peppers and tomatoes topped at the last minute with an egg.
Despite the Time-Life Editors’ admonition against cast iron due to the possibility of its reacting with food, I highly recommend some pieces of Lodge’s non-enameled cast-iron ware–as long as you avoid acidic foods and preseason the pan as directed by the manufacturer. In fact, a good cast-iron frying pan or skillet is a great kitchen tool because it conducts heat so well. I use my 12-inch skillet for frying bacon. Lodge also makes some very nice griddles for making pancakes and tortillas, as well as cornbread pans in fun shapes like perch, cactus and corncobs.
Porcelain is a good choice for bakeware and German-made Villeroy & Boch is top of the line. If you only buy one or two pieces, start with Villeroy & Boch’s 10×14-inch lasagna pan, followed by versatile soufflé/casserole dishes that measure 7 3/4 inches wide and 3 1/2 inches deep. I use the “lasagna” pans for baking carrot cakes and roasting chickens.
The “soufflé” dishes are my choice for making rhubarb crunch, sweet potato casserole, potatoes Dauphinoise, and numerous other dishes.
To put farm-fresh eggs and cream to good use, Villeroy & Boch also makes ramekins for crème brûlée, but I prefer my 5-ounce French-made porcelain ramekins from Apilco. Williams & Sonoma sells a set of four Apilco ramekins in a gift box, along with a kitchen torch. (Don’t forget a bottle of butane to fuel the torch.) If you want to buy them individually, look for Apilco ramekin #1. You need to be alert when purchasing ramekins because there are quite a few inferior imitations on the market; many of them are made in China.
I make one exception to banning aluminum from my kitchen. For baking cookies and drying crispy nuts, I use professional-quality aluminum “half-sheets” by Chicago Metallic available through restaurant supply companies and through Sur La Table–but I always line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to keep the food from touching the metal. To economize, I buy 1,000 parchment pan liners at a time, which are also available from restaurant wholesalers. One box usually lasts about four years.
Last, but not least, I cherish my Mauviel tarte tatin pan. It has a copper exterior, but a steel-lined interior, and is specifically designed for preparing a wonderful caramelized French apple dish of the same name. There are several different sizes and models of tarte tatin pans. I prefer Mauviel’s 11-inch 2.1-quart pan with “ear” handles. The handles make it easier to maneuver the pan on the stove and in the oven.
So make a New Year’s resolution to cast out the old–your old aluminum and Teflon-lined pots, pans and bakeware, that is–and then replace them with good-quality stainless steel, enameled or well-seasoned cast iron and porcelain.
For more information:
“Can Non-Stick Make You Sick? EPA Studying Whether Teflon Poses Health Risks,” Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz and Maddy Sauer reporting, aired November 14, 2003 on ABC News 20/20. Retrieved December 20, 2003 from http://abcnews.go.com/sections/2020/Living/Teflon_investigation_031114.html.
2009 Update: If you are very sensitive to nickel, you may need to avoid stainless steel. Even if you are not, you may want to avoid cooking acidic foods in stainless steel, to avoid leaching of certain heavy metals. See the article “Mad as a Hatter” by Kaayla Daniel and Galen Knight.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2003.