This pan is one of the most satisfying buys I have ever made.
This is what well-used tinned copper looks like. This pan is somewhere between 115 and 140 years old and I use it almost every time I cook. It has achieved what I consider an ideal state: the lining is low-stick, easy to cook on, and easy to clean. It has become the workhorse of my kitchen over the last six months and I want to show it to you in all its glory so you can see what tinned copper looks like when you really use it.
I took some photos of this pan when I got it so I can show you a sort of before and after. On the left is the pan as I received it in June 2020; on the right is the pan today, in February 2021. (I actually wish I’d taken more photos of it — at the time I didn’t know that I’d want to capture its condition in great detail.)
You will notice right away that I have not had the pan retinned. I have found that the best opportunity to restore and retin a pan is when I buy it because I can have it sent directly from the seller to my retinner of choice and save myself some shipping costs. But I don’t automatically send every piece for restoration. I have a mental decision tree I follow, and for me it comes down to considering the piece’s condition and my intended use for it. In the case of this specific piece, the exterior was in nice condition — it wasn’t mirror-shiny but it was bright and clean — and the tin lining was what I call “old tin”: a little discolored but clean and intact. I wasn’t sure whether I would use this pan or not for cooking, but if I did, I was comfortable with the state of the tin as it was.
Look closely at the photo on the right from the seller’s listing and you can see what I mean. The lining is not the bright silvery color of fresh tin but instead a darker pewter. But the key thing for me is that the surface is reflective and the tone is fairly even across the floor of the pan and up the sides. This pan has been kept clean and dry: there are some small black pockmarks here and there and some faint splotchiness, but I don’t see any patches of ashy-looking oxidation. Tinning is expensive and I try to make that investment judiciously, and this pan didn’t seem to need it.
When I received it I was immediately impressed by how sound it was for an antique piece and I decided to give it a try for cooking. I found it so easy and natural to use that I kept reaching for it again and again. There are two main reasons for this:
First, the pan’s size, shape, and weight are perfect for my home cooking. I cook for two most nights and this 30cm (11 inch) pan is the perfect size: up to four good-sized chicken breasts can fit; an entire salad-sized bag of spinach leaves can spread out and cook down; asparagus spears can lay flat. But it’s also shallow — it’s not as tall as a proper rondeau, but instead closer to a skillet — so it has the air flow that promotes browning without steaming. The short height also helps with the pan’s weight: it’s 2.5mm thick, a nice hefty mass for cooking, but it weighs just 2816g (6.8 lbs).
Second, the tin lining is perfect. By this I don’t mean that it’s pristine but instead that the floor of the pan has attained a state of maturity that is ideal for cooking and cleanup. The repeated heating and cooling cycles of cooking harden and toughen tin, over time turning it into a low- to virtually no-stick cooking surface. My experience with this pan is that a little cooking oil is all it takes, and even delicate things like scallops and salmon brown up nicely without tearing. And when it’s time to wash up, anything left in the pan comes off easily with a non-scratch sponge.
So this is what to expect when you cook with a tinned copper pan several times a week.
The brown patches are seasoning: polymerized cooking oils that have hardened into a very thin, hard, plastic-like layer that’s tough to remove. This is the same seasoning that we encourage on cast iron and carbon steel pans and it produces the same result on my pan here: a slick cooking surface that improves tin’s already low-stick properties. I leave the seasoning in place because I think it helps the pan’s cooking performance and because removing it would require hard abrasive scrubbing. (I wrote a bit about the psychology of seasoning and how I learned to appreciate it.)
The tarnish tells the story of how I use it.
The drip marks are from food acids that dissolved the topmost layer of tarnish. The handles are also tarnishing, which suggest that they’re either pure copper or a high-copper brass alloy that tarnishes like copper does. The rainbow patterns of tarnish on the base are from the chemical compounds in the gas flame of my stovetop. I don’t bother trying to clean any of this off because it will inevitably return, but also, the tarnish doesn’t bother me. Tarnish is, after all, a protective layer over the surface of the copper, and this armor has been honorably earned through this pan’s faithful service to me.
I just love this pan. It makes me happy every time I use it. And that means that I use it a lot!