Oh, for a big kitchen! Unfortunately, most condos and apartments have little space and even less storage. The result? A cramped, cluttered cooking area.
The good news is that you don’t need a big kitchen or even a lot of stuff. Here are tips on buying versatile and dependable cookware that can do the job without taking up a lot of space.
1. 3 Pans to Rule Them All
Many chefs say that a good cook only needs three pans: a 6-quart saucepan (possibly a back-up 4-quart sauce pan for reheating), a 10-inch sauté pan, and 8-quart stockpot. Buy these individually instead of those sets—so you only get what you need, and pick the size that suits your lifestyle. For example, how many servings do you usually need to prepare? What kind of food do you usually cook?
2. Pick high-quality pans.
Since you’re buying less pans, focus your kitchen budget on buying the best quality you can afford. Look for thick metal: these won’t warp or dent, don’t have ‘hot spots’ (so the cooking is more even), and can take frequent use and washing. Another important feature is tight-fitting lids. These trap heat which can speed up cooking and save on gas. If it’s a good tight fit, the moisture also stays in the food, making for a more delicious meal.
3. Picking a stockpot
Stockpots are used for boiling water for pasta, blanching or steaming vegetables, or as the name implies, making stocks. Choose one of light to medium weight—think of how heavy it will be when it’s full of boiling water!
In terms of quality, you don’t really need to splurge, since heat control isn’t an issue since you want the water to boil. Just check that the handles are well attached. Ideally, the stockpot should come with a colander insert.
There are many different kinds of material. If you’re on a budget, choose one of anodized aluminum which is cheaper and yet has a good protective coating.
2. Buying a Sauté Pan
This is for searing and sautéing vegetables and meat, making sauce from drippings, and many one-pan rice toppings. A deep, three-quart sauté pan can also be used for deep-frying and stir-frying.
This will be the most-frequently used pan in your kitchen, so get one of really excellent quality. The base should be thick to avoid warping and cook food evenly. Look for heat-proof handles; steel and cast-iron ones will let you use this pan inside the oven, too.
The best material is cast iron, which is great for searing meat. Since the material also takes longer to heat up it maintains the temperature longer. This means your food stays warm a little longer. Your next best bet is stainless steel. (Cook’s tip: Pre-heat your pan on a low flame for about a minute.)
3. Buying a Saucepan
This is for making sauces, reheating soup and pasta sauces. Again, since it’ll be a frequently used pan, might as well spend for it.
In terms of what type of sauce pan to buy, professional chefs love copper. This material is very sensitive to temperature change so it heats and cools down almost immediately—essential for delicate sauces and helps save on gas. However, copper costs 50% more than the highest quality stainless steel (and is really hard to clean, though the discoloration doesn’t affect performance). Your next best bet: very good stainless steel, or aluminum.
4. Deciphering cookware materials
Cast iron is the slowest to warm up, but it’s also the slowest to cool down. This ability to retain and keep heat makes it best for searing large chunks of meat from the refrigerator. However, it needs to be ‘seasoned’ (oil it and bake it before using it the first time so you get a non-stick surface). It is very, very heavy but will probably last forever. Don’t wash cast-iron with soap, just use hot water and a non-abrasive sponge.
Copper is very expensive, but it’s so responsive to heat that you can try a complicated cooking technique and get better results. You may come across ‘tinned copper’ that just means there’s an inner lining which prevents copper from reacting to acids.
Stainless steel resists rusts and stains, is super easy to clean, and won’t react to acids like vinegar when cooking. Look for one that’s got a built-in aluminum or copper core (it spreads heat better). The best kinds have the quality seal ‘CLAD’ stamped at the bottom, which indicates a kind of manufacturing technology. Another sign of quality: the mark ’10/18′ which means it has the optimum mix of nickel and chromium.
Non-stick is best for recipes that don’t need much oil or butter. However, don’t use this for browning meat (you need the burned bits), and don’t get non-stick versions of stockpots and saucepans (which are best for browning). Clean with warm water and soap, and store with a paper towel between each pot to prevent scratches.
Anodized aluminum is the easier-to-maintain alternative to non-stick pans. It’s more expensive, but you can cook ‘delicate foods’ like fish steak, plus, sear pork chops and other meats, and you can use metal utensils.