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Guest post: Roger’s 32cm plat à sauter

VFC

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“It doesn’t quite fit into the usual categories.”

VFC says: This guest post was written and photographed by reader Roger W.

When I first saw this I assumed that it was a lid from a stewpan or marmite, but on closer inspection the weight, the position of the handles, the beveled edge of the base, and, most compellingly, the orientation of the stamps show it to be a complete piece of cookware in its own right.

Type Tin-lined sauté pan with two brass handles attached with three rivets
French description Plat à sauter étamé et martelé avec deux poignées en laiton munies de trois rivets en cuivre
Dimensions 32cm diameter by 6cm tall (12.6 by 2.4 inches)
Weight 4000g (8.8 lbs)
Stampings “MADE IN PARIS FOR E. BONNET 55 DEAN ST LONDON W”; 32
Maker and age estimate Unknown Paris maker; late 19th century
Owner Roger W.

I have chosen to call this a plat à sauter because it is a broad term used to describe a conventional stick-handle sauté pan and as an alternative name for a rondeau. It doesn’t quite fit into the usual categories. The stamp shows that it was originally sold in London and although D-handled sautés are not unknown in French kitchens, I think it was a form mainly used in England.

In “Modern Cookery for Private Families” (first published 1847), Eliza Acton shows a two-handled sauté pan that she says “is much used by French cooks instead of a frying pan; it is more particularly convenient for tossing quickly over the fire small collops, or aught else which requires but little cooking.” She also has an illustration of a more conventional though low-sided sauté pan that she refers to as “modern.” She stresses the need for a dinner-plate-size frying pan for “nicer purposes.”

 

The cook who first owned this probably used it as a skillet rather than a sauté. “The Wife’s Own Book of Cookery” by Frederick Bishop (1856), shown on the right, lists a stick-handled flat-bottom pan with vertical sides (number 55 in the illustration) as a cutlet pan, and this gives us an indication of the use that would be made of the sauté.

Below are a couple of English pans that at one time would have been considered a cutlet pan and a frying pan. (Neither is marked, but the larger one at the top of the photo is Jones Bros and the smaller probably Benham and Froud.) As French cuisine became de rigueur, retailers renamed exactly the same pans sauté and crêpe pans respectively without any change to the design. Any buyer asking for a sauté pan in an English department store, even into the 20th century, is likely to have been offered this type with very low sides, and would have used it as a skillet.

 

The stamp on this French plat à sauter is not complete but having compared it to an online photograph (also shown) I know that it was sold from E. Bonnet at 55 Dean St. in London.

 

It will be apparent from the marks on the tin that this is a pan I use. I find it perfect for paella because the thick copper overcomes the problem of a big pan on a small burner that would lead to uncooked rice around the edges of a steel paella pan. The pan is beautifully made and I would love to hear if anyone has an idea which Paris house might be the maker.


VFC says: I always look forward to Roger’s guest posts because I always learn something, and this post is a perfect example. 

I can corroborate that Roger’s pan is likely a late 19th century piece. According to the London postal directories, Édouard Bonnet was a “cook’s materials dealer” at 55 Dean Street as early as 1882 and as late as 1901. Those dates are not bookends, so to speak, but are based on the availability of the postal directories, and therefore are accurate but not precise: the next earlier directory prior to 1882 is 1852, and of course he is not listed there. However, the firm must have closed within a few years of 1901, as the next directory in 1904 does not list him. So while I can’t be precise about the company’s operating period, I am nevertheless sure that it was extant between 1882 and 1901, and that’s a healthy 19-year lifespan for a retail store.

Roger provided some additional photos of the pan’s construction and in my opinion these details also support this age estimate. The handles are cast brass fastened with copper rivets that are beautifully flush-set on the inside, and the exterior rivets are multifaceted like tiny jewels. That level of finish on the rivets is extraordinary and certainly original to the pan, as replacement rivets would likely have rounded mushroom heads on the inside and outer heads bashed flat for tightening.

 

The pan is beautifully finished. The sidewalls have been hammered and the edge of the base has been beveled, more indications of attention to detail. A craftsman spent quite some time on this piece before it was ready for service.

 

I can venture a hypothesis as to the maker. Take a look at the handle on Roger’s 32cm pan on the left and my 40cm Gaillard rondeau on the right. The shape of each handle looks very similar to me, from the curves of the side lobes to the position and sharpness of the point at the bottom. Though the handles would have been produced from different molds — the difference in diameter of each pan would demand it — I believe the handles are iterations of the same design. 

 

My Gaillard pan carries the oval “GAILLARD 81 FAUBG ST DENIS” stamp that I have dated to 1890-1903. Based on this, I suggest that Roger’s pan is Gaillard imported from Paris by Edouard Bonnet. It’s truly a beautiful piece.

The strong similarities between Roger’s pan and my Gaillard do not end with the handles. Like Roger’s pan, my pan is also short for its diameter: it is a mere 11cm tall, whereas my other 40cm rondeau — also Gaillard with the same 1890-1903 stamp — is 17cm tall. Could my rondeau be a mis-labeled plat à sauter? Could there be others lurking in my collection? I took a survey of the measurements of my rondeaux and sautés.

Pan diameter (cm) Sauté heights (cm) Rondeaux heights (cm) Outliers
28cm 7.5 to 8.0 9.0 to 9.5 29cm “Cockerel” rondeau (1860-1882), 6.0cm tall
30cm 6.5 to 10.0 11.0
32cm 8.5 12.5 Roger’s 32cm plat à sauter (1881-1901), 6.0cm tall
36cm 8.0 to 10.5 10.0 to 14.0
40cm 10.5 17.0 40cm Gaillard rondeau (1890-1903), 11cm tall

All three outliers are pre-1900 pans. I think Roger is correct that there was a style of extra-shallow two-handled French sauté pan that seems to have gone extinct, driven out of its ecological niche by long-handled sautés and deeper rondeaux. This bears further investigation!

Roger, thank you again for sharing this pan with us, and for teaching us something new! Readers, what do you think? Do you have examples of these unusually short two-handled pans?

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12 Comments

  1. An interesting and very nice variant of a sauté pan that I’ve never seen. Thank you, Roger!

    At the same time, this example stimulated me to think about one of my pans, which also has a diameter of 32cm and 2 brass D-handles. The pan was offered to me as a skillet by the seller in the UK. This description convinced me at first. When I took a closer look at them at home, I found the handles very strange. They are attached almost horizontally and even slightly bent downwards. Since this skillet is only 6 cm high, I found the shape of the handles not really ergonomic, especially when you have to touch the handles of the heated pan with a towel or pot holder. Suddenly I realized that my skillet actually had to be a “fitted cover” (“couvercle emboîtant”). But possibly one that could also be used for frying in a second function. I see this additional function confirmed by the 4 clearly bevelled edges at the transition from the floor to the short side wall. Machining a lid so laboriously (the side wall is also hammered) would be quite a luxury. My “skillet / fitted cover” was manufactured or sold by Meret in France. A photo of this pan can be seen in my “kitchen post”. It’s hanging on the wall.

    Not far from the former Bonnet shop, the coppersmiths “Leon Jaeegi & Sons” founded their company in 1919 at Dean Street No. 29 in London W.1.

  2. Hello Martin,
    Dean Street is right in London’s theatre-land and so plenty of restaurants to serve. Number 55 has till
    now been a shop selling uniforms including chef’s whites and kitchen knives though I note that the lease is advertised for sale.
    I did notice your pan, which way up is the stamp? I regularly see lids but usually not with the nicely beveled edge, is it possible that the handles have been bent down? When I bought this, I think it had been dropped, one of the handles was pushed in over the edge so I couldn’t get my fingers through. With much trepidation and repeated annealing I eased it back almost to match the other.

  3. Is it possible that the shallow form rondeau (plat a sauter) was the norm for these pans made in the late 1800s to very early 1900s? My early 46cm Gaillard and my 38cm Dehillerin rondeaus showcased on this site seem to meet the low profiles of the “outlier” pans listed above. The ratio of width to height on these shallow rondeaus range from 3.6 to 5.3 while the ratios of the “normal” rondeaus listed above range from 2.4 to 3.1.

  4. Hello Roger,
    on page 4 of the Gaillard catalog from 1956 (VFC library) one can see a Marmite (No 8) and a Bassine a ragout (No 10), both of which have a cover very similar to my cover, especially No 10. However, on these images you cannot see whether the covers are folded at the edge. My cover has 2 sharp edges and another, softer edge above and below. I don’t think the handles were bent afterwards. The design of the handles is completely correct if used with a cover. You can grasp the handles of the pan and cover with one hand. I only find the design less affordable if you want to use the cover as a skillet, as was my original intention. But it still works.

    With a weight of 3.7kg, this cover or skillet is quite heavy. The base may be 4mm thick. A key argument in favor of my purchase. You can use it to bake a large frittata or quiche, for example. Or you fry a lot of steaks..But your saute is of course more versatile.

  5. The Unis France organization existed until the 1930s. So my cover must have been made sometime between 1916 and around 1935.

  6. I found photos of a Meret (Unis France) stewpan in my archive, which my cover belonged to. The stamps and initials FB match 100% and the handles are also very similar. Again, the slight downward curvature of the handles is striking. The pot shows very clear folds at the transition from the bottom to the side wall like my cover. Overall, the pot makes a rather neglected impression.

    Stewpan: diameter 31.5cm, weight 5kg, no indication of the height. It looks lower than other stewpots and higher than a rondeau.

    My cover (measured again): diameter outside 31.8-32cm, inside approx. 31cm. External height 4.7cm, internal height 4.3cm. Weight 3.7kg.

    Now I’m sure that my cover was not originally intended as a skillet, as the seller told me, even if you can use it that way.

  7. Covers of this type are often referred to as a skillet-lid even when still with the original pan, I have a complete one in my collection. The scrapes, scratches and cut marks often seen on old lids suggests that frying on them was common practice.
    Vendors do not always know much about what they are selling and when they do feigning ignorance is not unusual. Your lid is almost as heavy as my saute and only slightly shallower. Realistically one doesn’t toss food in this kind of pan so handle position is not that important.

  8. Hi Roger!

    I’m sure this pan serves you well in your kitchen! It appears to be capable of many great functions! As you mentioned, a paella pan, a saute, or a skillet, or maybe even a baking sheet or gratin, too! The world (or your kitchen!) is your oyster with this one! The two handles also must be very helpful when cleaning and polishing. Flexibility moving the pan around means less stress on your joints and back, which I’m sure makes this an excellent go-to for regular use! For me personally, I’ve always been a traditional (<-what I'm used to) one-handle-on-a-pan enthusiast, but I see the value in your pan and will perhaps look for one similar to add to my collection in the future! I'm also enjoying reading your exchange with VFC, Martin, and Stephen. You are all superb researchers. I with you a ton of luck learning about your unique pan! Thank you again, Roger, for the great share!

  9. Roger, of course you are right, my lid is not an ideal frying pan. Your Plat à Sauter is incomparably more useful. I suppose you renovated and tinned this saute yourself. Great!

    Amy, as you can see, even a more experienced collector can be seduced into making less than ideal purchases. But a cover made of such thick material and with great hammering is too good to just hang on the wall. I will use it for frying or baking at some point.

    FrenchAntiquity recently sold a fantastically beautiful Gaillard “ragout” (approx. 34x17cm, 12kg) with a drop down cover (couvercle emboîtant) via Etsy. The resemblance to my cover was amazing: hammered all around, same handles and champfers. Now I wonder whether my cover was also made by Gaillard and Méret frères (Lelong, Fournier & Cie, 107, rue de Charenton, Paris 12th) was both a manufacturer and a shop that sold this cover under its own name. As we know from Dehillerin and others.

  10. Thank you all for your interest.
    Amy as you have already realized while we may actively seek certain pieces serendipity plays a big part in collecting. This is a prime example as I didn’t know this type even existed and when I found it was not sure I would find a use for it. Large and heavy saute pans need a lot of strength beyond that of a good many cooks so I don’t really understand why the two handle ones are so rare especially in bigger sizes. It is useful and I’d advise anyone lucky enough to to find one to buy it. How I wish my over was big enough to take it!
    Martin I would expect your lid to work well enough as a frying pan, after all there is no need to move it while hot. Yes I tinned this myself, there wasn’t much old tin left on it. Even though the handle was bent the copper remains perfectly round and the base is flat.
    I have not been buying copper cookware for very long and as you say Martin – I have made my fair share of regrettable purchases, all parts of the learning experience. Unsurprisingly I mostly show off the best bits!

  11. I think pans with one stick handle and those with two handles complement each other well. I appreciate both variations. The biggest advantage of the pans with two short handles is that even with a larger diameter they still fit in a normal size oven. Rondeaus also have the advantage that they have a relatively tight-fitting lid and are therefore even more versatile. I have been looking for a 28-30cm rondeau in vain for a long time. Therefore, a cast iron rondeau continues to perform appropriate tasks.

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