Living with a small kitchen: cookware

Published September 19, 2011 by livinggraciously

The subtitle of this entry should be “Or how I justify owning 7 skillets.”

Because let’s get right to the confession. I do. Here they are:

Scale is a little hard to comprehend in this photo, but the two skillets at the top are what serve as average large skillets in most households: 12″ ones. The cast iron one to their left is a monstrous 15″-er. When I get it out, it triggers a vision of cowboys on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, driving cattle while Cookie and Stumpy fry up a mess o’ beans. It doesn’t appear to belong in a home kitchen, even when I’m using it.

So why do I own it? Because it’s a terrific size for heating red hot and flash-cooking flat breads. And it can handle vast quantities of bacon.  As an example, last night I remembered that I had a roasting chicken in the fridge that needed to be cooked, but I didn’t feel like roast chicken. So I quartered it, and browned the seasoned pieces in some bacon fat. I removed the pieces and sauteed chopped onions and mushrooms (portabella and rehydrated porcini) until the onions were carmelizing. Then I was able to push the veg to one side of the pan and make a roux in the other half. Added the rehydrating liquid and chicken broth and mixed it all back up, then kept throwing in herbs and spices until I was happy with the results, added the chicken back, slid the whole thing into the oven for 45 minutes and served with rice.  I couldn’t fit that whole chicken into a 12″ skillet, and I couldn’t have gotten the even sear on the meat with stainless steel. Cast iron transfers heat to its outer edges beautifully, and cooks more evenly than any other metal. In fact, if pressed I would argue that I need one more skillet – a 12″ cast iron one to complete my collection.

As I said at the beginning of this series, an argument can be made that all a kitchen really needs is a 12″ skillet and a stock pot. Yet I will staunchly defend and protect my ownership of all these. Because in the last week, I have used each and every one of them at least once. In fact, last night alone I used both the small cast iron ones and the medium stainless steel one. The 12″ All-Clad and the 12″ off-brand skillets would seem to duplicate each other, but the All-Clad has sloping, saute-pan sides that make it good for meats and getting a good browning, while the deep one is great for things that simmer with a sauce. The smaller pans? I frequently end up using 2 or three of them at a time. And all the stainless steel pans nest together in the bottom drawer of the range, while the cast iron stack together nicely in a cabinet. I like the convenience of having them all.

If I get a 12″ cast iron skillet, will I get rid of one of my other 12″ stainless steel ones? Possibly, but cast iron does not like acidic foods, so I might keep them both around for tomato-based dishes. I mean, it’s not hoarding if you actually use the items, right? Right??

(Note that I have no nonstick stovetop pans in my kitchen. I don’t like nonstick surfaces, and find that there’s nothing that sticks to my pans if they are properly cared for.)

Moving on, let’s get all the confessions out of the way. I said you only need one stock pot, right? Well, I have 4:

Of course, others would argue that I have 5:

but I don’t think the dutch oven really counts. I mean, I’m never going to boil water in it.

Though I might well use it for beef stew….

Anyway, I have what is, admittedly, an abundance of stock pots. But I do actually use all four. Part of it depends on the volume of what I’m cooking, part of it depends on the nature of what I’m cooking. The two furthest from the camera are stored at the back of the cabinet and don’t see quite as much action, but if I’m cooking something that starts with a saute in the pot, I like their wider bottoms for that. And the furthest one back is much larger than the other three. I could probably live with just two if I have to, but none of them is simply taking up space and not being used.

Then there’s sauce pans:

Here I will admit that the largest pan duplicates the use of the smallest stock pot and could probably go. But I find it hard to break up the set. The advice given on most sites is not to buy them as a set, and I think they are right. If an elephant showed up in my kitchen and stepped on my saucepans (what? it could happen), and I was replacing them with high quality, All-Clad pans, I would probably get just two in the middle sizes and call it good.

While we are in the neighborhood of the topic, a word about quality. You want it. Well-made pans will provide even heat and better performance. That being said, you can get along with pans you pick up at Target. Don’t use not being able to afford All-Clad as an excuse not to cook. These off-brand pans have served me well for many years, and while I would gladly trade them for the shiny weight and quality of high-end pans, I’m not going to break the bank to replace them. After all, it gives Ferrett years of Christmas prezzies to get me!

Okay, enough with the pictures. Those are the workhorses of your kitchen. What else do you need? Here’s my list of musts:

  • Cookie sheets/jellyroll pans – at least two good large ones. I prefer the ones with sides because they are more versatile than the flat pans
  • Baking pans – 8″x8″, 9″x13″, one of each will probably do unless you do a lot of entertaining or go to a lot of potlucks. From cakes to lasagnas, these are your ovenware pans. This is where I do have nonstick coatings. Avoid the pans with sharp, folded corners as food works its way into them and never comes out again.
  • Roasting pan – a large pan with a roasting rack will brown chickens and roasts nicely, and catch all the drippings to make lovely sauces. I consider it a necessity, but you can get my with a
  • Broiling pan – the enamel ones that look like they came with the oven are just fine.

Those will get you by in almost any situation. After that, it’s a matter of space and interest whether you have such things as muffin tins, bread pans, casserole dishes, etc.  I have such things, and they get relatively little use.

Next up: gadgetry!

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