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If you were stranded on a desert island and you only had one pot or pan to cook in, what would it be?
There are a few things that would go into this hefty decision. After all, it has to be versatile, indestructible and a great distributor of heat (those open fires are notoriously difficult to control).
We took our question to some experts to get their picks.
Heath Gordon, Center Cut Steakhouse chef de cuisine at the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai, has plenty to say about the matter. "Anyone can make a knife, a spear, a bowl or cutlery with some sharp stones, a few coconuts and a palm tree," he said. His choice would be a large heavy fry pan, non-stick of course perfect for "all the fresh seafood I will be catching and also to impress any natives hiding on the island, who may turn up for dinner." He says the pan could also come in handy for another reason: "If they decide they want to eat me I can quickly deter them with a serving of coconut fish curry or a tap on the head from my heavy non-stick fry pan."
The large heavy fry pan, say 9 to 12 inches, need not be expensive. A single high-quality pan can run into the $100-plus range, but there are many available for well under that, so doing your homework is a good idea.
David Hawksworth is executive chef at his eponymous restaurant, in Vancouver's prestigious Hotel Georgia. His answer: "It would be Le Creuset's Round French Oven. This classic cookware is so versatile, ideal for one-pot recipes and slow-cooked hearty stews, roasts and ristottos. Not to mention, they stay hot, they stay shut, they are steeped in French culinary tradition and guaranteed for life, like cherished recipes they are designed to perform and to be passed on for generations."
Okay, so hopefully you're not stranded for generations, but you can bring the pot back home. Still, there are some considerations a famous chef might not worry about.
Paul Burditch runs a public relations company based in San Francisco, specializing in fine hotels and restaurants. His ideal: "Le Creuset non-stick 9-inch skillet. I can take an egg off it without even using a spatula, it is that clean," he said. Even heat distribution, ease and multiplicity of use, all part of the bargain.
So, if the experts run the gamut from pot to pan, what do we do?
Here are some facts. Cast iron pans take a little maintenance, but are hard to beat overall. Copper (the days gone by glamour-puss of French cooking) are these days tin-coated on the cooking surface, so may not last. Teflon is almost obsolete. And those with enameled surfaces and triple-clad aluminum are on the rise, and not with a bad moon at all.
Still, cost is always a consideration. Le Creuset is a clear favorite among chefs, but brands may not be your answer, exactly. My personal choice choice would be a deep dish pan that can boil water efficiently, that can sauté vegetables, and even braise or even pan-fry meat. The deep skillet by Lodge is hard to beat, and for a whim, you may want to take the Lodge guitar-shaped skillet. The multi-tasking alone could keep you busy for months.
Other things to factor in are how easy is it to clean, to maintain, to cook with -- every day, every night. So the answer are those pots and pans that are triple-clad, with aluminum, copper and stainless steel, and especially those pans that have an impregnable cooking surface, non-reactive to the food being cooked, and super easy to clean.
Cuisinart and Lodge are two great brands to remember. They can be found at retail for well under $35 per piece.
So on the off chance that you're not stuck on a desert island and just in the market for some new pans, all our chefs agree: buy your pots and pans one piece at a time, according to your cooking needs, rather than buy one big matching set.