There are perks to doing this blog. Some will argue morality and such like, while I think my stance on such matters is well documented elsewhere here. Basically though, I like the perks. Hell, when one of your hobbies is pretty much the same as what you do for a living, you come to feel you deserve the occasional perk. Saying that, I don't accept most of the invitations I receive but, every now and again, somebody makes you an offer you simply can't refuse.
A few weeks ago, Le Creuset e mailed me asking if I'd like to test drive one of their new "toughened non-stick" pans. The timing couldn't have been better. We're in the process of replacing a lot of cookware - much of it being wedding presents that thus date back to 1996 and have suffered 18 years of regular use - and, thanks to a moment of abject idiocy from yours truly (alright, yes, another moment of regular abject idiocy), proper non-stick had a lot of appeal. If you've never tried scrubbing a milk pan that's been put back on a hob that's still on, I really wouldn't recommend it. That skin that forms? That looks so delicate? Yeah, that moulds to the crevices of a pan and becomes about as hard to get through as Kevlar. Hell for all I know that could be how they make Kevlar...
And so, a few days later, a lovely shiny, 20cm saute pan arrived with the instruction to put it through its paces. So I did. I took to the project with rare zeal or, more accurately, the zeal of a man who's generally only allowed down to the allotment to destroy things. Burning stuff? Breaking things? I'm good at those.
The pan appeared a worthy opponent. It's satisfyingly hefty and as well made as you'd expect from Le Creuset plus the sturdy metal handle means it can be used from hob to oven and grill and back again.
After treating the inside as per the instructions - a little conditioning with vegetable oil - it was time to attack. In a manner of speaking. At this point, it basically looked like this: spotless, oddly threatening and solid.
The first project was a gentle one as, actually it was time for breakfast, so let's see how it would fare as a cooking utensil. Not so surprisingly, it worked superbly, conducting heat evenly and quickly, and crisping bacon up a treat. I left it to cool - as per the instructions - dumped it in the sink, gave it a wipe around and, in the space of about five seconds it went from crusted with fat to, basically, looking like this:
Next up was barbecue sauce. Molasses. Fried things. Sugar. That'll show it who's boss. We'll come to that particular sauce in a future post. With the liquid decanted, the pan was a mess of melted syrupy things... and some five seconds later, it looked like this:
You can probably tell where this is going. As with the Swiss Diamond post of last year it's clear that non-stick surfaces have come a long way since the days of scientists with big foreheads. They're now pretty much the culinary equivalent of Tonka Toys.
For another imminent post - a look at Sharon Salloum's Syrian cookbook Almond Bar - I had my first attempt at making falafel. While this made for a very appealing Instagram moment
it was damned near inedible, hence this first attempt was followed 24 hours by my second attempt, but that's not important right now. What is important is that for this recipe, the Le Creuset became a deep fat frier...
And then, a few seconds later, oil decanted out and after a few seconds in hot soapy water, it looked like this.
For the final test - and for yet another imminent blogpost about online beer retailers Honest Brew and, particularly, their milk stout Cool For Cats - I decided to glaze a ham. The recipe I tend to fall back on these days is one from Waitrose's Christmas magazine last year and involves lots stout and various other things in the cooking stock, and a glaze of all sorts of sticky things. Last year, when I didn't have all the ingredients for the glaze, I improvised with some date syrup from one of our local Middle Eastern supermarkets and it was a revelation, so that - plus a little sugar, grain mustard and other odds and ends - are what got slathered over this piece of meat every eight minutes or so for about half an hour.
There will be more on this shortly but for now, let's look at the vessel. Within minutes, the base was covered in thick, bubbling, sugary tar, the sort of thing that, yes, sure, will dissolve over time, but usually requires a bit of chiselling, a lot of patience and a whole load of piping hot water.
After it had cooled, the Le Creuset was run under the tap... and, basically, the entire set, formerly sticky mess, mostly lifted clean out. The one bit that stuck required an extra couple of seconds of attention before - shall we do this once more? - the pan looked like this:
The pan currently retails for around £57. Is that a lot? I don't know. I've not kept up with the saucepan price index in the last two decades. However, in these four "experiments", I'd estimate the total washing up time of the pan has been maybe a minute, while our previous pan would have taken about 40 minutes (and would probably still be soaking in bicarb and vinegar). I don't know what you charge as an hourly rate, dear reader, but I suspect, over the course of its life, this pan is going to pay for itself many times over. It's a fine piece of kit. I imagine it'd also make a highly effective weapon a la many cartoons in the 1970s but I'm in no rush to find out.