I have a lot of copper but these are the pots and pans I use every day.
This is the inaugural post in the new Cooking section of the site and I thought I’d start out with a tour of the pots and pans I keep close at hand in my kitchen. I would love it if you’d take this as inspiration to share how you cook with copper — what pans do you use the most? What recipes do you enjoy making? What techniques do you use for tricky fish or vegetables? Please consider contributing a guest post! There’s a contact form on the Cooking page or you can email me directly at VFC at vintagefrenchcopper dot com.
My cooking situation
My household consists of two adults and we eat at home pretty much every night. (Especially now, in 2020, if you know what I’m saying.) At the moment I subscribe to a meal kit delivery service called Sun Basket that we like very much — the dishes take half an hour or less to make and strike the right balance for me between “actual cooking” and convenience. Most dishes include a sautéed protein (chicken, seafood, steak) plus a fresh vegetable side. When we’re not cooking a Sun Basket dinner, we’re making pasta with canned sauce, or maybe cooking canned chicken noodle soup with extra pasta added. We are not fancy people. I also on occasion throw dinner parties, usually family-style pasta or something like that. The most people I’ve cooked for at one time is twelve. (That’s the occasion to bust out the big stuff!)
I have a natural gas stovetop and an electric oven. The gas stovetop is ideal for copper, particularly vintage pieces with uneven bases as they are suspended over the flames and don’t need direct contact.
Before I started using copper
For years I had a motley collection of Cuisinart-brand stainless steel disc-bottomed pans. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t really remember what they were — I paid very little attention to my cookware. I also had a set of anodized aluminum pots from Costco.
When I first decided to become a better cook I looked on the Internet and immediately found the passionate community that loves cast iron. I invested heavily in Staub enameled cast iron (ECI) pots and pans — everything from skillets to dutch ovens to paella pans. But after falling out of love with them, I gave most of them away and now keep only a few beautiful cocottes. If you’re curious about why I stopped using ECI, I tell that story here. Long story short: I struggled to avoid scorching a big batch of thick Bolognese sauce in a Staub dutch oven, and ended up sitting by the stove for 6 hours to watch it. I vowed never to repeat that experience again and did more research that led me to copper.
I’ve been cooking 95% on tinned copper for years. Here are the pans that help me the most.
What’s under the stovetop
I love my open-plan kitchen but I don’t have a lot of storage space. The two drawers under my stovetop are the prime real estate where I keep the pots and pans I use most frequently.
I use these tin-lined saucepans and skillets every day. My spouse also reaches for these fearlessly — these are daily-use tools, not delicate pieces. I have five saucepans (12cm, 14cm, 16cm, 18cm, and 22cm) and three skillets — two 2.5mm (26cm and 31cm) and a 3mm 31cm with brass handles. I like having two big skillets because many time-saving recipes call for sautéing proteins and vegetables at the same time in separate pans. Many Sun Basket recipes call for sautéing a chopped kale or whatever, and skillets like these have enough room for a large pile.
I also have two steel-lined Bourgeat sauteuses bombées — that is, flat-bottomed bowl-shaped pots with stick handles. I use these for recipes that call for a wok shape, particularly on medium-high or high heat. (If the recipe called for an actual wok, I’d use a carbon-steel wok that can handle super-high-heat cooking.) I also like these pans for one-pan pasta dishes (boil the pasta, drain it, prepare the sauce in the same pot, add the pasta back in) because the bowl shape creates a lot of room and makes it easy to stir the sauce and pasta together.
You’ll note that I use linen tea towels to separate pans. I think it’s important to keep tinned copper pans from banging into each other, not so much because I care about scratching the outside copper (although I should care more!) but to keep from scraping tin off the inside rivets and lining. You can use whatever is at hand — paper towels, felt pan separators, fancy towels like mine, et cetera. Also, I nest my saucepans in alternating sizes to leave enough space to lift them in and out without scraping. (What I mean is, I have five saucepans in two stacks — the 14cm in the 18cm, and then the 12cm, 16cm, and 20cm, leaving 4cm of clearance between each pot.)
This drawer is all rondeaux. I use them as sauté pans as well as for covered cooking. In my opinion a sauté pan and a rondeau are the same pan with different handles, and for my shallow drawers, I like the compact size of rondeaux because I can fit more of them. Of course I can’t properly jump food in a rondeau, but I’m not at that level of cooking and I settle for a brisk stir on the stovetop.
The left stack is a 35cm Darto carbon steel paella pan (more on that in a moment), a 29cm antique rondeau, and my prize possession — the little 24cm rondeau with lid. It’s 3mm thick at the rim and I love it for two-portion chili, curries, and stews. The right stack is a 30cm Mazzetti rondeau and a 26cm rondeau with lid. (Again, I practice alternate size nesting — two stacks with clearance between each pan.)
The Darto paella is the largest of my set of carbon-steel pans. I chose carbon steel as my cookware alternative for recipes that call for truly high heat. These recipes are few and far between for my cooking style, but they do come along. For example, consider the reverse sear: you bake a thick steak in the oven at a low temperature to cook it through, and then throw it on an extremely hot pan (approaching 500°F) for a quick fast sear. This is a great application for a carbon steel pan but not so great for tinned copper.
I have a set of Darto sauté pans along with this 35cm paella but this is the only one I keep close by. I’ve found that anything I need to cook in carbon steel also benefits from a wide-open floor space, and this paella can handle whatever I throw at it.
And the lids?
I have a matched set of lollipop-style fitted lids for the saucepans and I love using them. One of the best ideas I’ve had is to hang them in a tall narrow under-sink cabinet a few steps away from the stovetop. I used Command strips to attach hooks to the wood and I hang the lids by their hanging loops. (“Command strips” are a US brand of strong adhesive tabs that can temporarily attach hooks to a wall without drilling a hole. They are reasonably resilient, but since I took this photo they have started detaching and I think I’ll have to put in real hooks. But even if the Command strips aren’t the right long-term solution, they have been a good way to test out this storage idea and I’m now confident that permanent hooks are going to work.)
I also have a set of floppy silicone lids hanging just outside the frame of this photo, also on Command strips on the right wall of this cabinet. I really like using the lollipop lids but I have to admit that the silicone lids can work just as well. It’s nice to have both options.
And that’s the heart of my batterie de cuisine! These are the pots and pans I use for 95% of my cooking, and they really do get used every day (as the state of the tin linings will attest!). What about you?