Mr. Henry received this query from Oldersis:
Dear Mr. Henry,
Having read your postings on the most wonderful Manolo’s Food Blog, I am appealing to your expertise. My fiancé and I must register soon for all manner of kitchen implements. I already have my eye on the KitchenAid stand mixer (the one constant on every bridal registry I have ever seen) and I am taking your advice regarding the Cuisinart hand mixer to heart.
However, I am unsure about which pots and pans I should select. I am very much looking forward to removing the albatross of my current cheap pots and pans from around my neck and I think having beautiful and useful cookware will encourage me to try my hand at more cooking efforts. Do you have any suggestions?
Mr. Henry is not a man to shirk responsibility. Having received this request weeks ago, a heavy request for expertise in preparing the foundation of a marriage, no less, he has walked the streets of New York carefully mulling over a suitable response, one he hopes may still be timely.
The choice of wedding register cookware begs more fundamental questions. What sort of cook are you? What sort of cook do you hope to become? Do you want to feed your friends and relations on a weekly basis? Do you have plenty of cabinet space?
Because you are already a food blog reader, Oldersis, you likely take a serious approach to eating, a good sign for a healthy marriage. Mother Henry always admonished her son to choose a girl with a hearty appetite, a sign of robustness in all worldly pursuits.
Great food can be made with rudimentary implements. If you want to stock a mountain cabin, all you need is a cast iron skillet and an enamel (or other non-reactive) stock pot, either of which can be used on the stovetop or in the oven.
In Jackie Gleason’s The Honeymooners, Alice (Audrey Meadows) cooked on a typical city stovetop barely big enough to hold two cheap pots at once. Ralph didn’t seem to miss any meals.
As a rule, the heavier the pot, the better the performance. Cast iron hold heat so well that when you throw in your meat or vegetable, the cooking surface temperature doesn’t reduce very much and everything cooks evenly. Likewise for sauce and soup pots, a heavy pot cooks from the sides as well as from the bottom and thus yields consistently good results.
But unless you have exceptionally strong wrists, handling a cast iron skillet is a difficult task. You risk dropping it, scratching your sink and countertop with it, or burning your hand from its hot handle.
Therefore, he no longer includes the cast iron skillet on his list of first essentials. He begins, instead, with the single most useful pan of all for two people, the 12-inch anodized aluminum non-stick skillet by All-Clad (either the LTD or the MC-2, your choice of finish). Anodized aluminum is a brilliant invention that replaced teflon a generation ago.
The reasons he keeps coming back to All-Clad are several: First, the rivets holding the handle to the pan fit snugly with no gaps to harbor bits of old food. The handle is well-balanced (an empty pan won’t tip), long enough to grab easily, constructed to resist getting too hot to hold bare-handed, and made of metal so you can begin a dish on the stovetop and finish it inside the oven.
All-Clad makes five lines. The copper core line, unbeatable for conductivity, is very expensive for everyday use. If you think your in-laws really want to please you, however, get a few of these.
Next on the list of essential implements is the 5.5 qt. LeCreuset enameled iron round dutch oven, the most versatile single kitchen pot, ideal for tomato sauces, soups, pot roasts, or steaming vegetables. It’s beautiful as a serving dish, too. (The 7.25 qt. model is so large that when full it becomes too heavy to handle.)
Mr. Henry adores his covered Le Creuset enameled sauciér, too, an all-purpose vegetable and sauce pot ideal for a two-person dinner. (You may use its heavy lid, as well, in a fry pan as a weight to help brown onions or mushrooms.)
To cook well, you need above all the ability to imagine with your nose, as well as an impish, insouciant predilection for flinging things about in the kitchen. The right pan helps, but can’t replace the right enthusiasm.
What you do not need are sets of pots and pans devised not by chefs but by merchandisers aiming squarely at you, the nervous newlywed who wants to get started on the right foot.
Buy yourself a new pan when you feel inspired to try a new dish or to establish a new direction.
[Mr. Henry has a personal, somewhat quirky, slightly misanthropic habit: Whenever he invites guests for dinner, he serves something he has never prepared before. In this way he imposes upon himself a certain obligation to pay attention to what he is doing lest he embarrass himself and his guests, too. Without this challenge his attention is likely to wander away from what’s happening on the fire.]
Years ago without explanation Mrs. Henry started making crepes on Sunday morning. Although she rarely buys anything more than a pair of sensible shoes in September, one day she sallied forth and bought the All-Clad crepe pan, a one-dish wonder that Mr. Henry scoffed at, thinking it would clutter up the pan drawer. Many hot crepes later, he wants to declare here and now how very wrong he was about this.
In response, Mr. Henry bought the LeCreuset oval gratin dish (in flame, of course). She scoffed, but now her roasted potatoes demand it.