Ode to a Fry Pan

Pam’s Pictorama Post: On New Year’s Eve I scrubbed my fry pan which had, after a sticky encounter with two Beyond Burgers, been soaking in the sink overnight. To my deep dismay, the handle began to wobble ominously, about to come off. I knew that this ten inch stainless steel friend was, after three and a half decades of virtually daily use, breathing its last.

There are, needless to say, many loses far worse than a fry pan and even I am a bit surprised at the depth of my sadness about its departure. It came to me as a graduation gift from college, part of a set with two sauce pots, a soup pot of a kind of stainless steel pot sets that are sold by department stores like Macy’s. There were lids that the soup pot and fry pan could share and sported a lid for the larger of the two pots. (That lid mysteriously disappeared during our kitchen renovation which I wrote about in a post you can read here. Kim and I really have no idea what could have happened to it and it took us awhile to realize it was really gone.)

My kitchen shortly after renovation in the fall of 2019.

They were a handsome group with reinforced bottoms and they distributed heat nicely. To a large degree I learned to cook with that set of pots. The pots and pans were a gift from my friend Suzanne who I credit with launching me with some early cooking lessons. During last week’s stay with Mom in New Jersey I told Suzanne of the pan’s demise. I’m not sure she remembers giving them to me although she allowed it was possible and certainly understood my sadness at its impending demise.

As someone who was trained as a professional cook I have undeniably put my pots and pans through their paces over the years. Uncomplainingly that fry pan has sauteed endlessly with a high flame under it. Countless piles of chopped onions and garlic have been softened in it, no smell like that few minutes when you start to cook something – perhaps the tang of tomato hitting right after the onion and garlic, or mushrooms piled in, the pan later to be deglazed again and with a bit of wine, scraped with an ever darkening wooden spoon. It will always be the smell of home to me. (I always remember one of the chefs I cooked with saying that you should never deglaze or use wine in a sauce you wouldn’t drink.) The pan is blackened on the bottom from high heat and flame, although the inside remains shiny.

Overgrown dumplings in a root veggie stew.

Pictorama readers know that Deitch Studio is resident in a glorified single room, perched high in a building in the Yorkville section of Manhattan. The small space devoted to the kitchen, an area that is by my own account generally fairly topsy turvy, but where I manage to spew out a series of soups, stews, pan roasted vegetables and even the occasional bit of baked goods daily. (Some posts complete with recipes can be found here, here and here.) These pandemic years have resulted in even more meals made and the pots have stood nobly by.

The tiny quarters of the kitchen has kept my toolkit of implements tight however and, other than a roster of sheet pans as I seem to just kill those off every few years, I have only added a small, lidded sauce pan and a much smaller skillet I acquired over the years – the small skillet was a wedding gift as I remember. (There also is a non-stick pan made of a mysterious material that arrived on our shores, black with white flecks. Works well, but I wouldn’t subject it to high temperatures.) The sauce pan was purchased after one of the two from this original set was left on a burner and damaged, although it has as it turns out, remained in rotation despite that. There is no pot storage in this kitchen and therefore the few pots and pans generally remain piled on the back of the stove, waiting their turn at use, as seen above.

The pan was designed with a handle at the front, to help heft a heavy pan full, perhaps lifting it from the oven. Oven friendly, it has done its time roasting food in the oven too – there was even a time, decades ago now, when I still ate chicken and would occasionally roast a small one or parts in it, adorned by carrots, small potatoes, maybe green beans, onions and garlic. (I believe it housed fried chicken once or twice too, my grandmother’s recipe which involved flouring it in a paper bag. I was just discussing that recipe with my now vegan mother the other day.) The front handle popped off while scrubbing it about a year ago. It seems it was a warning sign over the bow, alas.

I have known this pan longer than I have known my husband Kim and it has been a quiet companion of my entire adult life. Unstinting in its service first to single me and then to us; in it I can see my twenty-two year old self, setting up my first apartment and cooking my nascent solo meals. Still, practically speaking a skillet with a loose handle is an accident waiting to happen. I considered my options for speedy replacement as this pan is in service everyday. Remarkably similar sets appear to be available online, but fewer where an individual pan could be purchased and it is hard to trust the heft of a pan to an online purchase. (A recent purchase of a coffee pot resulted in one with metal so thin I cut myself badly on it the first time I cleaned it.)

The All-Clad replacement pan.

In the end I chose an All-Clad ten incher. The two most recent additions mentioned above were both an All-Clad pot and pan and they are well made without question. It is a magnificent pan, and if treated well these few guys will probably outlive me. The New York Times Wirecutter named the 12-inch the best fry pan a week later, further cementing my certainty that was a good choice. Still, I know cooking with it will be different, sloping sides containing less and different heating time. It will take some adapting. The fry pan arrived via William Sonoma yesterday – handle poking assertively and somewhat comically out of the side of the cardboard box, itching to get out.

Meanwhile, I just thought the fry pan of my youth deserved some recognition today. It has served admirably and owes us nothing, and it will be missed.

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