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Next to a spoon, a saucepan is probably the most used tool in the kitchen. A saucepan is a small, metal pot designed for range top use. It is characterized by its round shape, vertical sides, and long handles. These come in an assortment of sizes ranging from 1/2 liter to 6 liters, and can be used for practically all types of food preparation.
Like all kitchen tools and appliances, saucepans take a certain amount of care to keep them performing properly. Since there are so many different kinds of saucepans available, most manufacturers include instructions for proper use and care. For those of us who never look at the instructions, there are some basic guidelines that can be applied to all saucepans.
The right size for the job
Most kitchen ranges usually have two sizes of burners, large and small. One important tip to remember is that the base of the vessel should match up with the size of the burner. Placing a small saucepan on a large burner can melt or warp the handle. Conversely, placing a large pan on a small burner can warp the base of the pan and heat the food unevenly.
The right temperature
In addition to matching up the right size burner to the pot, cooking at the right temperature also helps extend the life of the pan. Many people make the mistake of turning the burner on high, assuming that the higher temperature will cook the food faster. While this may be true of thin soups, broth and water, thicker soups, stews and sauces will stick to the cooking vessel if they are heated at these higher settings. This “stuck on” food can be hard to remove once it bakes or burns on the surface, with the removal process often damaging the metal.
Using proper tools for stirring
Metal utensils can be tough on the surface and should never be used on porcelain coated cast iron or teflon coated cookware, since they will quickly ruin the protective finish. Wooden, silicon, and hard, plastic utensils are the best type of utensils for using on all types of saucepans. If you find that you must use a whisk for blending creamed sauces, a “spronger” type whisk is the best tool for the job.
Although I am historically a fan of wooden utensils, I’m staring to fall in love with silicone and really like the set pictured below that I found at Amazon. The same company also produces a wisk and a tong set that really helps me to protect the surface of some of my more delicate cookware such as my few nonstick pieces and my tin-lined copper pots and pans.
All pots and skillets can be hand washed with a stiff scrubby brush and warm sudsy water with the exception of raw cast iron – use water only. To keep any piece of cookware looking new, it really shouldn’t ever be washed in the dishwasher. Dishwashers will discolor copper and aluminum, rust cast iron, and leave water spots on the stainless steel.
To remove baked on food, add water to a depth of 1/2 inch. Add a couple of heaping tablespoons of baking soda to the water, and bring the solution to a boil. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes, taking care to add additional water if needed. After 15 minutes, remove the vessel from the burner, and “lift” the burned on food with a rubber spatula. Repeat if necessary.
Some manufacturers have additional instructions for keeping specialty pieces of cookware looking like new:
To remove discoloration from copper cookware, use a commercial copper polish or apply mixture of flour, salt, lemon juice, and ammonia before the regular washing. I prefer to use Bar Keepers Friend for normal polishing talks.
if I want an even better polish, I follow it up with a product called Flitz that creates a mirror look. Both of these products are non toxic and aren’t just for copper – they can be used on stainless steel and all other metals as well as plastic and glass.
To keep cast iron cookware or carbon steel looking like new, coat the interior with unsalted shortening or oil after every washing. Porcelain coated cast iron can be run through the dishwasher safely; if your model has a wooden handle, do remove it before washing.
Aluminum cookware and enamelware should always be washed in warm soapy water. The finish on these can be damaged if run through the washing machine; older enamelware will warp and eventually rust.
Stainless steel cookware can be machine washed; however, I’ve noticed that over time, the steel will lose its luster, and the black knobs and handles becoming brittle. For best results, always wash in hot, soapy water or a warm ammonia and water solution, then thoroughly rinse. This is the only form of cookware that you can get away with safely using a stainless steel cleaning pad with little fear of damage – although the pad will create micro-scratches leading to a softer, matt finish rather than the bright, polished look that most pieces have when new.
By following these simple guidelines, you’ll be delighted to discover that a quality piece of cookware will last for many decades of use.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!