What’s in Your Pot?

Once upon a time there was a single brand of cookware that every kallah bought. It was so universally popular that the very name became a household word. It featured stainless steel pots with a thin coating of aluminum on the bottom. It was thought to be the ultimate in quality cookware.

Today we know that there are better options when it comes to cookware. The single most important feature of cookware is its ability to conduct heat. The better the heat conduction, the more quickly and evenly your food will cook. It also allows you to use lower cooking flames, saving energy and keeping your kitchen cool.

Among metals, the best heat conductor is gold, with copper and aluminum running a close second and third. Of course, gold is way too expensive for cookware, so we have to stick with second best. Aluminum and copper conduct heat so well that at one time they were used exclusively to make cookware. However, being soft metals, they were easily dented. Also, both these metals react easily with food, something best avoided since the taste and color may change dramatically. (Moreover, there is evidence that copper and aluminum in food may cause harm to humans.)

That brings us back to the more stable stainless steel. Unfortunately, stainless steel is not a good heat conductor at all. It does not spread heat from the stovetop flame, causing hot spots on the surface of the pot directly above the fire. Hot spots lead to burnt, stuck-on food.

The practical solution is to combine the two. Use aluminum or copper to spread heat and stainless steel for the cooking surface to prevent reactions to many foods. Clad cookware does just that. It sandwiches an aluminum core that extends to the top rim of the pot, a stainless exterior and an 18/10 stainless interior cooking surface to give you the benefits of both metals.

Clad cookware can be used in your oven at temperatures up to 500 degrees. It’s perfect for recipes that call for food to be seared in a hot pan on the stovetop and finished in the oven.

In bonded, or layered, cookware most foods can be quickly cooked at medium heat. Use high heat only for boiling water. High heat will cause discoloration of the stainless exterior that will detract from the beauty of your cookware. Also remember to add salt only once the liquid in the pot has come to a boil, as salt at the bottom of a pot may cause pitting.

Lifting a large piece of bonded cookware for the first time may give you a shock. Good cookware is heavy! The heavier the pot, the better the heat conduction.

Some clad cookware features nonstick interiors for those who prefer to cook with less added fat. Better brands will use nonstick coatings that are durable enough to stand up to the same high usage as the cookware itself. Today many manufacturers use ceramic coatings instead of plastic-based coatings.

While all this technical information is fascinating, what does it actually mean to the cook, especially the Jewish cook? We cook daily for large numbers, we cook often for Yomim Tovim and simchos, and we eat out less than the average American. Therefore, we can certainly benefit from hardworking, long-lasting, quality cookware.

Cookware should last for years; it should not need replacing every time we clean for Pesach. Choosing the right type will mean years of cooking enjoyment.

Pan-Seared Steaks With Red Wine Sauce

  • 2 thick-cut fillet steaks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cracked peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup diced shallots
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cabernet sauvignon (red wine)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat a heavy skillet (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. Once pan is very hot, add oil. Season steaks well with salt and pepper. Sear steaks one to two minutes on each side. Place in oven about 5 – 10 minutes for medium rare or until steaks reach desired doneness. Allow steaks to rest five minutes before serving.

After removing steaks from pan, add shallots and garlic; cook for two minutes on medium heat. Whisk in wine and mustard and scrape up any crusty bits sticking to the pan; cook until reduced to half. Add parsley and season to taste. Serve over steak.

Many ingredients are prone to infestation. Please consult a local Rav for specific guidelines on how to avoid transgressions related to insects.

Readers may submit questions to the Culinary Connoisseur, c/o Hamodia, 207 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230 or via e-mail to peppermill@hamodia.com. This weekly column has been brought to you by The Peppermill, the world’s first kosher kitchenware store, located at 5015 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. (718) 871-4022. You can also read a selection of previous columns in their comprehensive cookbook, The Culinary Connoisseur, available now at your local Judaica and kitchenware stores. Jam-packed with delicious recipes, insightful food information and helpful cooking tips, this book is certain to become your constant companion in the kitchen.