AN OCCASIONAL KITCHEN WISDOM POST
Every so often a recipe (such as my Dragonwagon-Dewitz Pickled Eggs) will call for a “non-reactive” pot, saucepan, or other cooking vessel. Has this happened to you, and are you WTF-ing? I suspect so, if you found your way to this page.
So here we go.
REACTIVE VS NON-REACTIVE
- What’s a non-reactive pot?
First, understand what a “reactive” pot is: a pot that is made from a material that reacts chemically with other foods.
Most often, in the home kitchen, this reactive pot is made from aluminum, particularly lightweight aluminum (though copper is also reactive, it’s less commonly found). This means these metals interact (react) chemically and unpleasantly with other foods, particularly acidic foods (tomatoes, anything with lemon or vinegar — hence you don’t want it when making a pickling liquid (such as that called for in the Dragonwagon-Dewitz Pickled Eggs), since pickling liquid is inherently acidic.
Aluminum or copper saucepans plus acidic ingredients often have an off, metallic flavor, and if the recipe you’re making is light in color (a creamy lemon sauce, say) it may turn out grayish and discolored.
Why, then, would any pot be made of these materials? Because these reactive materials do also have a desirable pro: pans made of aluminum and copper both conduct and retain heat uniformly and well.
- So, what’s a non-reactive pot?
It’s one made from a material that does not interact with foods in this way.
Stainless steel, glass, pottery, or enamel-clad cookware (if unscratched) are all non-reactive materials. Stainless steel is the most common non-reactive cookware available, and you likely have some in your home kitchen.
But there’s a catch, actually, two catches, to using non-reactive materials for cookware.
1. Obviously, for stove-top cooking glass or pottery are out.
2. What do you do about the fact that all non-reactive mediums do not conduct or retain heat well?
- COMBINING THE BEST QUALITIES
The answer is, the better cookware manufacturers combine reactive and non-reactive materials in such a way that the desirable traits of each are maximized and the undesirable traits rendered moot.
Now we get to why a good stainless steel vessel is pricey. All better stainless steel cookware combines the heat-conducting qualities of aluminum or copper with the non-reactivity of itself.
This is done by the manufacturer’s bonding together of the reactive (copper or aluminium, enamel) and non-reactive (stainless steel) metals in a manner so that reactive does not interact directly with the food being cooked. The reactive metals may encase the bottom of the pan, or be sandwiched between layers of stainless.
Thus, though expensive, these kinds of cookware offers the pros of a non-reactive surface plus with the rapid, uniform heat conduction of a reactive one.
Crescent’s Occasional Kitchen Wisdom pages are not recipes as such, but will help you be a wiser and more confident cook.