Be good to your fry pan, and it will be good to you

December 7th, 2009 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Out of the box and into the fire...

Out of the box and into the fire…

Japanese cooking is generally less time-consuming than Western cooking. For one thing, Japanese cooking traditionally doesn’t utilize ovens. There isn’t a lot of baking or roasting going on in your average kitchen; and while some dishes may require more preparation time, the actual cooking time is relatively brief. The main denominator in determining how much time is spent at the stove is stir frying, an art that Japan got from China, so in that regard the most important implement in the Japanese kitchen is the fry pan.

To someone who is serious about cooking, a fry pan is an important investment in terms of both money and effort. Most chefs will say that iron is the optimum material, since it’s better at distributing heat and retains the nutritional value and flavor of the materials being cooked more efficiently. However, iron fry pans are also a lot of work since they have to be cared for. You can’t wash them with regular dishwashing detergent. You have to maintain them with oil so that over time the pan becomes “seasoned,” and its utility improves. If you burn something in your iron fry pan you can actually ruin it, since it may take a long time to return it to its former condition.

Chinese cooks say that their iron woks are lifetime tools, and that they treat them better than their children. But the average person may be put off by iron fry pans for one simple reason: They are heavy. Experts tend to dismiss lighter aluminum pans, and several years ago it was reported that long-term use of aluminum cooking utensils may lead to senility. Stainless steel is better and lighter than iron, but it also requires more care and burns more easily.

That’s why Teflon was invented. Available commercially since 1946, Dupont’s most recognizable brand revolutionized cooking in a number of ways. Obviously, the nonstick properties make fry pans easier to care for — cleaning is a snap and you don’t have to maintain a Teflon-coated pan. And since you need much less oil, Teflon cooking has some health advantages, though there have been studies, some quite recent, that suggest cooking with Teflon is also bad for your health.

Another demerit of Teflon pans is that they don’t last. Regular use tends to break down the coating over time, so usually you have to get a new Teflon pan every three or four years, since once the coating starts to deteriorate you need more oil, which defeats the whole purpose of Teflon. Some manufacturers see this as a plus for themselves. They sell cheap Teflon pans knowing they’ll keep selling them since they’ll wear out in a year or so.

Professional chefs who prefer Teflon-coated stainless steel pans have them recoated periodically. Now this service is available to the average consumer, and is apparently becoming more popular in these ecologically conscious times. Teflon pans have always been more popular than any other type in Japan, and if you watch TV cooking shows the cooks invariably use them rather than iron or uncoated stainless steel.

Since we eat the majority of our meals at home, we decided to buy one of these pans. The one we bought is called PRO-SUS and is manufactured in Japan by Miyaco. It is 28 cm in diameter and deeper than a normal fry pay but not as deep as a wok. The suggested retail price is ¥12,600, but we got it for a little more than ¥8,000 through Rakuten’s Web site. You can also find it cheaper through Amazon.

The recoating cost is ¥6,300, which is more than we expected. The process takes about three weeks and, depending on how often you use your pan, needs to be done once every two or three years. We also have an iron fry pan, and while we try to use it for everything that requires a fry pan, the PRO-SUS is better for certain functions, such as cooking with sauce or carbohydrates. We expect to be buried with these two pans.

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