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May/June 2020 Letter from the Editor: Once and Future

By Dan Souza Published

Dan reflects on what makes those pans you have to season special.

I've got an arsenal of well-used cookware, but two pans in particular never seem to make it back into the cabinet. One is a stubby-handled Wagner cast-iron skillet with a thick, jet-black patina; the other is a lithe, long-handled carbon-steel frying pan with dramatically flared sides. I found both pans at a roadside antique store well over a decade ago when I was en route to my first semester of culinary school in New York. Handling them, I envisioned all the cooks who had used them before me—in a way, they'd be joining me on my journey into the professional kitchen. I happily overpaid.

I love how each vessel's physique telegraphs its performance. The stocky cast iron is slow—both to heat up and to cool down. That excellent heat retention means that once I get the pan smoking hot, it delivers steaks and chops with the richest, crispest crusts. The carbon steel, on the other hand, responds with almost athletic agility, heating and cooling rapidly when I make small adjustments to the burner. It allows me to cook with surgical precision, hitting a fried egg with an initial blast of heat to create crisp, filigreed edges and then swiftly dropping the temperature to gently heat the yolk to a custardy thickness.

What endears these pans to me most is the benefit they share: Each time I cook, fats break down and bond to the cooking surfaces, turning their patinas a touch darker and more slick. That enduring appreciation is part of what compelled me to expand my inner circle of cookware with a third piece: a carbon-steel wok. It, too, turns darker and more nonstick with each use and responds nimbly, but its unique bowl-like frame encourages me to cook and stir with real vigor. The tall, swooping sides catch and cradle green beans as they char and turn crisp-tender, and the versatile vessel has quickly become my go-to for deep frying and steaming.

You'll see that there's a lot to learn about woks in this issue, starting with the models that most impressed Lisa McManus when she put them through a battery of cooking tests. Lan Lam dug deep into what actually happens when you stir-fry in a wok—there's real art and science behind the technique—and came out with a recipe for tender, richly spiced Stir-Fried Cumin Beef. And since the journey of seasoning and improving your wok is part of the joy of owning one, there's a definitive guide for how to do that, too.

The more I cook in these pans, the more I think about their futures. Perhaps someday I'll pass them on to an eager young cook, or maybe they'll slip from my grip entirely and end up on the dusty shelf of an antique store somewhere. Either way, it's satisfying to know that they will only get better.

Dan Souza
Editor-in-Chief


View all of the recipes, reviews, articles, videos, and how-to-cooks for the May/June 2020 issue.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.