Cooking with Stainless

Technique & Practice

Cooking with stainless steel does have a bit of a learning curve. But there's a reason so many chefs swear by it — it creates results that are unrivaled by any other type of cookware.

The Basics

The key to cooking with stainless steel is understanding temperature control.

The surface of all stainless steel is somewhat porous at the microscopic level. As the pan expands with heat, these pores shrink.

Foods will stick to your pan if they get pinched by contracting pores. Avoiding that is fairly simple by following a few rules:

  • Make sure to preheat your pan properly. Use low to medium heat, and check the temperature with the water droplet test.
  • Add your cooking oil after preheating. Heat the oil until shimmering, but not smoking.
  • It's best to let food come up to near room temperature before cooking. A large temperatue differential is more likely to make food stick to the pan.

Maintaining a fairly consistent temperature keeps food from sticking to the pan. Always remember this technique when sautéing or searing.

Wait Before Flipping

When cooking larger pieces of protein like chicken, fish, or steak, you should wait to flip until the food naturally releases from the pan.

Any large piece of meat, even if at room temperature, will change the surface temperature of the pan when added.

Upon adding the food, the surface pores will widen because of the lowered temperature. As the pan comes back to temperature, the narrowing pores will grip the food on the pan, making it stick.

Once the pan comes fully back to temperature, it will pinch off the small bits of food it was gripping, and the meat will release from the pan. Now you can flip!

Understanding when and why your pan will grip food is key. Master this technique for beautiful crusts on your steaks and browned, crunchy skin on chicken thighs or fish filets.

Sear, Deglaze, Reduce

One of the best ways to create flavor in your dishes is by building fond.

Fond is made up of the tasty browned bits of food left in your pan after searing or sautéing. Fond provides the flavor base for many stews, braises, and pan sauces.

Fond is created by the small pinches of food that are left behind when cooking with stainless steel.

The flavor from fond can be extracted into a pan sauce by adding a liquid (deglazing), then reducing and adding butter and seasoning. This common technique adds flavor and finesse to a wide variety of dishes.

Why it's best in stainless steel: The slight porousness of stainless steel enables the creation of fond, which is impossible with nonstick cookware. Using fond with acidic ingredients in pan sauces or braises is possible because of the non-reactive properties of stainless steel.

technique in action:

Seasoned Stainless Steel

That's right. Similar to cast iron, stainless steel cookware can be seasoned to create a semi-nonstick surface of polymerized oil molecules.

Unlike cast iron, seasoning on stainless is not meant to be continuously built up. Instead, a temporary seasoning layer can be added to aid in cooking delicate foods like fish or eggs.

To season stainless steel:

  1. Preheat pan on medium-high.
  2. Add a small amount of oil to the pan, just enough to coat with a thin layer. Make sure to use an oil with a high smoke point.
  3. Use a paper towel to evenly spread oil around the surface.
  4. Wait until the oil starts to smoke, then remove the pan from heat. Let sit until fully cooled.
  5. Wipe out any excess oil with a paper towel. The result is a glossy, nonstick surface!

Master this technique and proper heat control, and you can throw out your nonstick pans forever! Fry eggs with ease, or even a french-style omelette!

Crafted with Care

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Cooking with Andrew Zimmern

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