Of all the articles I've written - and let's face it, some way more contentious than others - the one I've received most response from was about cookware. It's also one of the issues people most want to discuss at a class. It's been some time, and there seems to still be so much confusion that I thought it was time to revisit this question.
SAUCEPANS, POTS AND PANS
Literally, these are the nuts and bolts of a kitchen. Sizes range from 14cm (and even less in some cases) to 20cm for saucepans, and above this (22, 26 etc) they change in name to stewpan, dutch oven, or similar. I prefer stainless steel for pots up to 20cm, and beyond that, I am a cast iron girl. Pots are generally protected from heat transferring too quickly with an extra layer of some sort on the outside base. In many cases, this is aluminium and this is referred to as an induction base. In many of the newer pots, though, technology has replaced the induction base with many layers of different metals bonded together. Materials used are generally a combination, which offers a superior ability to diffuse and disperse heat. The materials used are stainless steel, copper and aluminium - the stainless steel on the inside (and sometimes outside), copper and aluminium on the inside.
Before we go any further, I would say that with pots and pans, you do get what you pay for. With the advent of the global giant manufacturer China, there are hundreds of stainless steel pots and pans on the market. It's a very easy thing for a designer or celebrity chef to knock out a range - they are generally, but not always, made in China. You should always look for heavy gauge or surgical grade stainless steel. I am a fan of high quality stainless steel, and have two ranges I really like. Neither company fosters or sponsors me in way, so I am being straight up. The American All Clad (still made in America), and the German WMF. They are both beautifully designed, transfer heat in a diffused manner, and are a joy to use.
In summary, good things to have in stainless steel are: 14 - 20cm pots (I like glass lids), a steamer insert, a frypan or skillet (but cast iron, enamel coated or not is brilliant also) and, finally, the stockpots.
Please, never scrub your good stainless steel with a scourer - be gentle. If it's really burnt, sprinkle it with baking soda and let it sit. Then soak it and let it sit. Neither am I a fan of putting good pots and pans in the dishwasher.
I love beautiful things, and I do love cooking with the Reiss enamelware. Still made in Austria, every pot is shaped from a single piece of steel, sprayed in four layers of enamel and baked between coats. The enamelware is non-porous and is a great surface to cook on as it is inert and non-reactive. I've found it to diffuse heat beautifully (not at all like the enamel coated tin you might find in camping stores).
Again, go gently, don't scrub, please don't put it in the dishwasher.
STEWPANS, DUTCH OVENS
(NO MATTER WHAT SHAPE, OVAL OR ROUND - 22CM UPWARDS)
The clear winner here is cast iron. Plain Jane camping ovens are perfectly good (but please, no acid) and if you want to go a step further, buy the enamel coated. Here again, you do get what you pay for. Everyone and their dog seems to bringing out enamel coated cast iron - Le Creuset is still the leader. Cheaper enamel coating is not as thick and chips easily. This is a product designed to last for your lifetime, and go on into the next generation. Again, no harsh scrubbing, no putting in the dishwasher, just let it soak.
Nothing can compare to cast iron for retaining, diffusing, holding and reflecting heat. Meals cooked in them will taste more delicious and intense. Again, high quality enamel is an inert surface and non-reactive.
ROASTING DISHES, GRILL PLATES AND WOK
For superior roasting, look to enamel coated cast iron (this will provide you with the best roast ever, and the crispiest vegetables), or the old enamel coated tin. Grill plates should be cast iron, and a wok the good old carbon steel from the Asian store.
I never, ever use non-stick and cannot recommend anything made with them. Newer non-stick cookware is being advertised as a wonderfully healthful option, and while the coating is now no longer simply coated over the base, a polymer is mingled with the anodised metal surface. The view of any company making this cookware is that this surface will only off gas noxious fumes if the temperature is heated to 260c. After much experience with people cooking, I can tell you the common denominator is that most people cook at too high a temperature, especially using a wok (can I say here, this is actually designed for high heat!) I also don't use the silicon bakeware (and bear in mind it is only FDA approved up to 220c). If you are going to buy this to bake in, please buy the French high quality siliconware - it's going to cost (a lot) but is a much better option than the many knock offs now available.
Non-stick is absolutely not necessary. This is a technology developed from an erroneous and poorly formed view that good quality fat is bad for you. I don't care if the manufacturer says to you it may have a titanium base; if it is being sold as non-stick, it will have polymers there to make it be non-stick.
Sticking is the main reason cited for buying a non-stick pan (thus making it easy to wash also). If you don't want food to stick to your pan, make sure it is heated well before you add the ingredients. Not to an extreme, but so that it is hot. Fat should not ripple or smoke. For example, when cooking pancakes and pikelets, the fat should gently sizzle when the batter hits the pan. Remember also that browning food is an incredibly vital step in developing flavour, whether for meat or non-meat. Sugars caramelise, flavours concentrate and these are then de-glazed (adding a liquid back to the pot) to lift all that delicious flavour into the meal being cooked.
The recipe this month is for delicious, seasonal, cheap corn fritters. I use my All Clad skillet for these, and fry them in a mixture of ghee and olive oil. When I use my cheaper, old fashioned induction based frypan, I need to have the heat a little higher as the pan is not as efficient. It's all in the quality of the pot.