Chefs May Hate Them, But We Don't
In praise of the nonstick pan
Thanks for visiting The Bittman Project, a place where food is everything (or pretty close).
Over on our former publication, Heated, one of our most-read pieces, written by Matthew MacDonald, was “Why Some Professional Chefs Hate Nonstick Pans.” Maybe they hadn’t used an Always Pan, which has the best nonstick coating of any pan we’ve ever tried. (Made with aluminum and a ceramic shell, it’s good-looking, too.) Just a reminder, we’re giving away two of them — each worth $145. All you have to do is subscribe for an annual or monthly membership. Everyone who is a paying member by Thursday, April 15, will be automatically entered.
Let’s take a minute to discuss the appeal of cooking with nonstick skillets. For beginners, cooking on and caring for other surfaces — like carbonized or stainless steel or cast-iron — requires attention and a little experience until these things become second nature. Regardless of what pots and pans you’re using, Mark and everyone at The Bittman Project try our best to provide general information and recipe details to help you recognize when food is cooking at the right temperature so that it will release easily from the pan without burning. Then you’ve got to know how to treat the pan so it works.
That means you’ve also got to be patient, knowledgeable, and intuitive: all while just getting comfortable in the kitchen. Part of getting comfortable means messing with stuff while it cooks; that’s just human nature. Standing around with a spatula in your hand, adjusting the flame, and waiting for something to brown and release — or more perilous still, knowing how long you can walk away from the stove — doesn’t quite feel like cooking. A nonstick pan is forgiving: You can lift a corner of something to peek at the bottom and turn or stir food even if it’s not quite fully browned. Then, of course, clean-up is relatively easy without having to worry whether or not the pan is scratched or getting rusty in spots.
Another reason people like them: You don’t have to use much fat when it comes to nonstick pans — even for delicate foods like eggs, sweet and savory pancakes, tofu, and lean proteins. This has appeal when you’re watching calories, but more importantly, it lends some flexibility with heating the pan. Without a nonstick surface, properly heated oil must provide the medium between the pan and the food. Again, it takes experience to judge visual cues for the best timing. So with less oil, the range of temperatures where something will “work” is bigger.
Japanese Egg Crepe ‘Noodles’
Makes: 2 side-dish servings
Time: 10 minutes
Japanese egg crepe “noodles” fall somewhere on the spectrum between obvious kitchen hack and total revelation. They’re basically super-thin omelets cooked in a nonstick skillet, rolled up, and cut into strips. Those strips are your noodles. Ta-da!
You can use them as a garnish for stir-fries, rice, or actual noodles, or toss them gently with sauce and pretend you’re eating actual noodles (strangely, this works). If you omit the soy sauce from the egg mixture, you’re no longer bound to use them in a Japanese or Chinese dish — or anything else. Fresh tomato sauce and parm would be a good move, as in the video above.
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Neutral oil (like grapeseed or corn) for cooking
1. Vigorously whisk the eggs and soy sauce in a bowl.
2. Put a large nonstick pan over medium-low heat and add 1 tablespoon oil. Use a brush or paper towel to spread the oil evenly over the pan. When the oil is hot, pour in half of the egg mixture, tilting the pan so that the egg covers the surface in a thin layer. Cook, undisturbed, until the top is dry, about a minute.
3. Since it’s delicate, the easiest way to remove the crepe is to fold it up (as if you’re rolling a poster) while it’s still in the pan; use your fingers, if they can stand the heat, and/or a rubber spatula. Transfer the first crepe to a cutting board, and repeat the process once more with the remaining eggs.
4. Cut the rolled-up crepes crosswise into strips. Gently toss them on the cutting board to unravel the strips. You can use these to garnish stir-fries, noodles, or rice, or sauce them as if they’re noodles themselves. Just be gentle.
— Recipe adapted from How to Bake Everything