EVERY COOK has a favorite pan, an old reliable, a cooking vessel he feels comfortable working with.
Mine is an old skillet, handed down to us from my wife's mother. It doesn't have sloping sides, a nonstick bottom, or a wooden handle, features that are often touted in the kitchen equipment reviews of modern magazines. It simply cooks things well.
It is a metal frying pan, cast iron I think. It has steep, straight sides, which make it hard to clean. Its metal handle can burn the careless cook who tries to pick up the hot pan without wearing an insulated glove.
But if you have enough gumption to scrub it with steel wool and enough common sense to cover your hand when you lift it off the stove, this pan will serve you well.
As often happens with something old and trustworthy, you don't realize how valuable it is until you try to work without it.
That was the situation on a recent Sunday morning when I attempted to make pancakes without the aid of my favorite frying pan. I used a substitute pan, a newer, nonstick number. This pan and I were not compatible. The pancakes we produced -- burned on one side, pale on the other side -- showed the scars of our troubled time together.
I have some basic beliefs about making pancakes.
One is that pancakes made from scratch taste leagues better than those made from mixes. Another is that buttermilk is a crucial ingredient in any pancake recipe. And my third tenet of pancake cookery is that the surface -- be it frying pan or griddle -- you cook the pancakes on has to be "the right kind of hot."
"The right kind of hot," is a consistent, even heat high enough to make the dough pucker, which is a signal that it is time to flip the pancake over. "The right kind of hot" gives the exterior of the pancake a golden brown color, while leaving the interior moist, faintly doughy.
If the cooking surface is too hot, the puckering is too hurried, herky-jerky, all wrong. The buttermilk pancakes I made from scratch Sunday morning had a bad case of the herky-jerky puckers. That happened because I was using the wrong kind of frying pan.
My old reliable frying pan was dirty. I was too lazy to scrub it. So turning my back on my faithful companion, I picked up one of those younger pans. It seemed so easy.
It was a mistake. Nothing was in sync. At first the pan was too cool, a condition that produced pale, anemic-looking pancakes. Then, in an attempt to speed things up, I turned up the heat. The pan got too hot, too fast. This resulted in brutish pancakes, thick, dark, tough ones. No amount of cooling the pan down or massaging it with butter, an emollient that usually can rectify almost any situation, could save this state of affairs.
It taught me a lesson. I'm sticking with my old faithful pancake-making skillet. It might be more work, but in the end, it delivers more pleasure.
1 cup flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Put flour into sifter, but before sifting add baking powder, salt and baking soda on top. Sift all ingredients into mixing bowl. Stir in beaten egg, buttermilk and melted butter. Mix until ingredients are wetted. Cook on "right kind of hot" skillet. Serve immediately.
Pub Date: 2/26/97