Last Updated: June 7, 2021
This period of staying in is perhaps the best time to get acquainted with your kitchen. Following the footsteps of the infamous ‘Circuit Breaker’ last year, this Phase 2 period has renewed our resolve to be our very own self-made chefs and home bakers. But, if you’re a cooking novice like me who once used an ultra-large pan that seemed a tad off for a mere omelette, maybe it’s time to know your utensils. With that, we bring you a spin-off of our Produce explained series, Kitchen essentials explained, where we talk all about the brick-and-mortar of our dishes—our kitchen—and specifically, the tools inside it. In this instalment, we focus on 11 types of pots and pans that will serve you well as cornerstones of cooking.
Unlike its namesake, a dutch oven is a large cast-iron pot that can be used on the stove or placed in the oven, designed for slow-cooking generous volumes. Most meals can be cooked using it.
A dutch oven heats evenly and consistently, allowing food to be cooked with less chance of scorching. It’s suitable for meat dishes that require lots of heat. Furthermore, it resists sticking and rust and is also lightweight—ideal for quick manoeuvring around the kitchen.
It’s suitable for roasting and is an ideal conduit for stews and baked dishes, like casseroles and even bread.
You can purchase a dutch oven here.
A stock pot is a large, deep pot for making large quantities of soups, stock or stews. It is deep and has a thick base for slow simmering.
With a smaller diameter and taller height, it preserves liquids longer. This forces the liquid to bubble up through the ingredients, maximizing flavour infusion.
It’s used for simmering soups, stocks, cooking pasta, bulk vegetables, and seafood. Additionally, steam baskets are often used in stock pots, to cook food with steam, which brings us to my next point.
You can purchase a stock pot here.
A steamer contains inserts or layers with perforations in the bottom, assembled together to cook food using steam. After hot or boiling water is placed on the bottom of the steamer, the resulting steam cooks the food you place on the steam insert.
Steaming retains the natural flavours, colours, shapes and nutritional value of food, better than when they are boiled or simmered. It also enhances its texture.
There are a few types of steamers. Single-layer steaming pots contain a basket perforated with numerous holes that are inserted into the single pot. Stacked metal steamers usually contain two baskets for different foods to be cooked simultaneously, one above the other. A common sight at dim sum restaurants, bamboo steamers are a common container for smaller amounts of food, placed over woks to steam foods while the wok cooks other ingredients.
Steamers cook a variety of foods by steaming, such as bread, soups, rice, vegetables, poultry, and fish.
The ultimate kitchen essential, the frying pan is one of the most versatile pieces of cookware—a flat, circular pan with low-rise, straight walls.
They are thick enough to conduct heat evenly, allowing food to be fried over moderate to high heat. Its flat bottom and curved sides make it convenient for simmering and turning foods over, as well as for stirring and sliding food out onto dishes. Non-stick pans are suitable for cooking with low to medium heat, while stainless steel can withstand high heat.
Frying pans are utilised for searing proteins, frying, and stir-frying.
You can purchase a frying pan here.
A sauté pan is a medium-depth pan, with straight or rounded sides, a long handle, and a cover. It is used for sautéing, which is frying food while moving it around quickly while being covered with a lid.
It has a wide base area for maximum heat conduction. Its straight, high sides help contain food and expose all sides to the heat evenly. Also, it allows light frying of greater amounts of food with lower levels of oil, and easier for turning and browning.
In addition to sautéing, other uses of the sauté pan include deep-frying, searing, and preparing certain sauces such as marinara.
You can purchase a sauté pan here.
A cast-iron skillet is a flat-bottomed pan, round with shallow, flared and slightly curved sides. Other skillets can be made of various materials, like copper and aluminium, some of which have a non-stick coating applied for ease of cleanup. A skillet resembles a sauté pan, but with slanted low-rise walls.
Cast iron allows food to heats even and consistently with less chance of scorching. Cast iron skillets should be seasoned, to prevent food from sticking to them. When skillets are not pre-seasoned, which is a coating of wax or vegetable oil to prevent cookware, usually cast iron, from rusting.
It is commonly used for pan-searing, pan-roasting and frying foods over moderate to high heat. Cast-iron skillets may be too heavy for some pan uses, such as sautéing, but are great for making fonds or browning foods with a crispy textured crust.
You can purchase a cast iron skillet here.
A braiser pan is a type of pan made specifically for braising foods. It’s round, with a large, flat-bottom pan and a moisture-locking, see-through lid. Available in a range of sizes, it typically has a thick base with a non-stick surface, and shallow, sloped sides.
Specifically used for braising, the open pan allows meat and vegetables to be quickly seared, before being covered with the lid to allow the food to cook slowly with the created moisture. The tight-fitting lid is necessary to prevent the liquid from evaporating, thus helping to maintain the natural juices and flavour of the food while tenderising them.
It’s used to brown food on the stovetop, and also to slow-cook food in the oven. You can even serve dishes directly in their pans at the table. Some common dishes prepared using the braiser pan include paella, pasta and enchilada.
You can purchase a braiser pan here.
A grill pan is a typically heavy metal pan with a large, ridged surface. It closely simulates the grilling process.
The evenly spaced ridges have a few uses. They can serve as a rack to drain the fat away from food, to be collected in the spaces between the raised ridges, separated from the food. The grilled marks on protein are often sought after to make the food look appetising. However, for steaming food, grill pans with short ridges are less suitable than deeper ridged pans, simply because there is less space between the ridges for moisture to build up.
It allows slow-cooking of food by sealing the juices in meats, crustaceans and vegetables. With a small amount of oil, breakfast nosh like pancakes, hash browns, and eggs can be cooked well. Also, a grill pan can be utilised for steam cooking food, as it allows moisture to build up in the open spaces between the raised ridges in the pan.
You can purchase a grill pan here.
Another essential in our pots and pans list is the saucepan, which is round, with high, straight sides and a long handle attached to it. Equipped with a tight-fitting cover, it can range in sizes.
It has a wide base area for maximum heat conduction, allowing food to be cooked quickly. To control the evaporation of liquid and to accelerate cooking, use the saucepan with its lid. This makes it ideal for sauce reduction and cooking vegetables.
A saucepan has multiple uses, such as boiling water, making sauces and soups, and braising foods.
You can purchase a sauce pan here.
As the name goes, an omelette pan is designed specifically for making omelettes. Omelette pans are frying pans with shallow, steep-sloping sides that assist in rolling the omelette against the sides and having it slide out easily.
Pans with a nonstick bottom and a metal handle are ideal, for easier omelette rolling. Interestingly, another type of pan exists, which consists of two half rounds, fully enclosed on all sides, and hinged in the middle, and each side contains the omelette mixture. After the omelette is baked, one half of the pan is brought over onto the other half.
However, omelette purists are sceptical of such folding pans, claiming they make an egg sandwich instead of an omelette.
Other than its self-evident usage, most omelette pans will work well for many types of food. You can sauté vegetables, make other kinds of eggs, and make even pancakes, as its heating feature makes it ideal. Larger pans are also suitable for making hamburger patties.
You can purchase a omelette pan here.
The last of our pots and pans is the popular, all-purpose pan used commonly in Asian cooking—the wok. It is shaped like a large, deep bowl with high, sloping sides and one or two handles (on each side). These pans have a hot cooking surface on the bottom while being cooler up the sides.
Modern woks are typically made from steel or aluminium. They have flat bottoms or round bottoms for high heat concentration. Its deep sloped sides allow you to move the ingredients around the pan, for great control and versatility over the temperature. This allows food to be heated quickly and evenly while stir-frying with minimal oil usage.
Stovetop woks are often used when cooking directly over the heat source, while electric woks are made for ease of use as they provide a more consistent heat temperature with controls that can be set for various temperatures.
Woks are perfect for stir-frying, steaming, and deep-frying. The lauded necessity in much of Chinese cuisine, wok hei, which refers to the complex smoky flavour of food, is imparted by a hot wok on food during stir-frying with searing heat.
Now that we’re more familiar with these key items in our kitchens, it’s about time we start putting them to good use. For some inspiration on what ingredients to work with, our Produce explained series may just give you a head start. And, be sure to use the correct pots and pans to whip up your masterpiece.
You can purchase a wok here.
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