In this crazy world of vast consumerism, it's no wonder that almost every product on the market, including cookware, is getting improved, reconstructed or re-marketed. I get a lot of questions regarding which type of cookware is the best to invest in. There are so many options out there -- copper, stainless steel, cast iron, non-stick-- it's certainly not easy to decide which are the best for you and your cooking needs. Of all of the types of cookware, and I use many of them for different purposes, I avoid using nonstick because of their potentially toxic coatings (sautéing organic produce on a chemically manufactured cooktop just doesn't jive to me). But this past week my step-sister emailed me asking what I thought about the new "green"nonstick pans.
The jury is still out on whether these new non-stick pans really do what they claim to do. I for one am extremely skeptical. Without diving too far into the details, the short of it is that every nonstick pan is coated with chemicals. That coating eventually breaks down and can emit harmful toxins when it does so. It can break down when heated over high heat, is scratched with cooking utensils, or simply with time. Different pans are coated with different chemicals, some indisputably more harmful than others. At the top of the avoid list are PFOA and PTFE which the Environmental Protection Agency cites for having the potential to cause flulike symptoms all the way to birth defects. A few new "green" coatings, like silicone, have cropped up. They certainly look like they are less harmful than other nonstick coatings, but, when it comes down to it, they still require a lot more resources and technology to produce. Why even take a chance and hold our breath waiting for the next study to come out when traditional options, like stainless steel and cast iron, work perfectly well?
With that said, I know a lot of people that love their nonstick pans. They have solved a lot of cooking woes: they are easy to clean, food doesn't stick to them as easily and you don't have to use as much fat or oil. They're all totally legitimate. Are here are (what I hope to be) legitimate and practical solutions to those concerns:
Case for nonstick #1: They are easier to clean
Yes, nonstick pans are undeniably easier to clean. To clean stainless steel pans, you have to use a bit more elbow grease and sometimes a cleaning agent other than dish soap. For hard to remove food stains I sprinkle baking soda on the spots and then scrub the baking soda over the surface with a damp sponge. For heat stains, I rub a small amount of white vinegar over the stain with a soft cloth or paper towel.
Case for nonstick #2: You have to use less oil
My response: Using a tablespoon or so of heart healthy cooking oils like olive oil and canola oil here or there is good for you. Cooking food on a potentially toxic surface is not. I'll take the healthy fat and calories over the chemicals any day.
Case for nonstick #3: Food doesn't stick to them
Many people use nonstick pans because food doesn't, well, stick to them as easily. So for delicate food like eggs and fish fillets that seem to immediately and irreversibly adhere themselves to stainless steel pans, I have a secret weapon. A big, time-tested, super affordable weapon: cast iron.
Cast iron is some of the most inexpensive cookware you can buy and has (almost literally) been used as a cooking element forever. When properly seasoned (cookware-speak for lightly oiled and baked) it is wonderfully nonstick. It's also heavy, durable, and will last for generations. Plus, I have found that they make for a beautiful and rustic serving vessel (with a towel draped over the handle and a fair warning that the handle is hot!). I cook and serve herbed lemon shrimp in a big cast iron skillet (scroll down to third recipe to see the presentation) and I love it for big veggie and egg bakes.
Now that spinach and other delicate greens are coming into season, I can't get enough of them. This recipe calls for a huge amount of spinach -- a really absurd amount - but it doesn't seem excessive when it is all wilted down. If you're looking to increase your family's veggie intake, this is your recipe. Even a modest serving of this dish will pack in a crazy amount of all those anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and nutritious properties that spinach is know for.
Skillet baked spinach and eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
16 ounces (1 pound) fresh spinach
2 tablespoons butter
3 spring onions or 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Warm olive oil in a large high-sided pan over medium-low heat. Gradually add spinach to the pan, stirring as you go, until all of it is wilted. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Melt the butter in a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the spring onion or leeks and saute until tender. Add in the garlic and cook another 30 seconds or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Add in the wilted spinach, lemon juice, salt, pepper and nutmeg into the skillet and stir to combine.
Using the back of a wooden spoon, create four indentations into the spinach mixture. Crack each of the eggs directly into the indentations and transfer the skillet to oven. Bake just until the whites of the eggs are set, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the grated Parmesan.