Recipe Rescue: Why we should say goodbye to non-stick
By Patrick MathieuFeatures canadian firefighter firefighter
We’ve all seen that veteran, well-seasoned cookware kicking around the firehouse kitchen, or in our home, that begs to have the question asked, “What happened to this pan?” It’s gone on my entire 23-year career at Waterloo Fire Rescue, watching pots and pans come and go at an alarming rate due to misuse. I asked my crew this question as I pulled a non-stick skillet from the kitchen drawer. It had seen better days, with every inch of its Teflon skin scratched and flaking.
Firefighters are tough on cookware—there is no doubt about that—with it being used 365 days a year consistently day in and day out.
There seems to be a grave misunderstanding among many home cooks about the role of non-stick cookware in the kitchen. The mere existence of cookware sets in which the inside of every piece is coated in Teflon is enough to prove the point. I’m not here to try to convince you that your non-stick pans are going to kill you, though, based on some research, I wouldn’t assume they’re totally safe, either. There are very good reasons why we should all limit the number of non-stick pans we own and the frequency with which we use them.
First, there are lingering questions about what effects non-stick chemicals have on our health and that of the environment. I won’t dwell on those for long, though they are a concern. Surely we have all heard of Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) by now; it’s not only the fluoropolymer used to create Teflon coatings, it’s also in our bunker gear to make it waterproof. Some of the chemicals used to manufacture it have been linked with certain types of cancer, infertility and other negative health outcomes. Fire departments are working really hard to get bunker gear that doesn’t contain it, and we can do our own part to avoid PTFEs in the kitchen.
This doesn’t mean cooking in non-stick pans is necessarily a direct threat to you or your family’s health. It’s probably safe to say that non-stick coatings have improved over time and are less risky than they used to be, though one should not assume all dangers have been eradicated.
Beyond those health questions, the main point I want to make is that non-stick cookware is rarely your best choice from a culinary perspective. Most of the time, your food will come out better if you don’t cook it in a non-stick pan.
Why is that? Because sticking isn’t inherently bad. Often, it’s exactly what we want, at least to a limited degree. Food that fuses to a pan and won’t budge is a problem, but food that sticks just enough is often a good thing.
Firefighters are tough on cookware—there is no doubt about that—with it being used 365 days a year.
Take skin-on chicken breast for instance: it adheres better to a stainless steel skillet than a non-stick one, leading to more complete browning. I did a side-by-side comparison and the first thing I noticed is that chicken in the stainless steel pan adhered to the pan. Once it was nicely crisped and a deep golden color, it detached without trouble. The result: a pan-roasted chicken breast with perfectly crispy skin all over. Exactly what every cook would want to achieve.
Compare that with the same skin on chicken breast cooked in the non-stick skillet. Even if I pressed down while cooking it, as soon as I released the pressure, the chicken would spring back up, leaving only a small portion of the skin in direct contact with the pan. This resulted in a pan-roasted breast that could not be evenly browned. Even where the non-stick skillet did brown the chicken skin, it wasn’t as crispy all over as the stainless-cooked sample was.
You know what else you don’t get by using non-stick cookware? It’s called the “fond”. That’s the fancy French term for the layer of browned stuff that builds up on the bottom of a pan when you’re roasting meats and vegetables, and what it amounts to is big time flavor. The fond is a necessary component for delicious pan sauces, stews, braises and more, and non-stick cookware makes it virtually impossible to develop.
So, when should you use non-stick? I reserve mine almost exclusively for eggs, in particular dishes that require the eggs to be beaten first. I wouldn’t fault anyone for using non-stick to cook fish, especially delicate fish, like thin fillets of sole or flounder. If you’re still not convinced, let me give you just one more reason to limit your use of non-stick cookware: your wallet. Unlike cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel and copper cookware, which can all last more than a lifetime if cared for properly, non-stick cookware is inherently disposable. Sure, there’s a lot of budget non-stick cookware out there that may be appealing, but once that coating wears out—which will happen eventually, no matter how careful you are—the pan is garbage, forcing you to buy a replacement. Why would you build your cookware collection around a product like that? If it isn’t meant to be on our bodies to protect us during firefighting operations then I certainly don’t want to be cooking my food in it!
Try my recipe for pan roasted chicken and see the results for yourself. As always, eat well and stay safe.
Pan-roasted chicken breasts with bourbon-mustard pan sauce recipe
- 2 bone in, skin on chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 3/4 cup homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken stock
- 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
- 1 small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon fresh juice from 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 450°F. Pat chicken breasts dry and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in an oven-safe medium stainless steel skillet over high heat until just starting to smoke. Carefully lay chicken breasts into hot skillet skin side down. Cook without moving until skin is deep golden brown and very crisp, about 6 minutes. Carefully flip chicken breasts and transfer skillet to the oven.
While chicken roasts, add stock to a liquid measuring cup and sprinkle gelatin over the top. Set aside.
Cook chicken until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken breasts registers 150°F, about 7 to 12 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and transfer chicken to a cutting board. Set aside to rest while you make the pan sauce.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet and place over high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add bourbon and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the mustard and the stock/gelatin mixture and cook on high heat until sauce is reduced by about two-thirds, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in butter, soy sauce, and lemon juice and cook at a hard boil until emulsified, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside.
Slice chicken breasts into three pieces on a sharp bias and transfer to individual serving plates. Stir parsley into the pan sauce. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over the chicken and serve immediately. Enjoy!
Patrick Mathieu is an acting captain at Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He was recently featured on Food Network’s Chopped Canada. firstname.lastname@example.org @StationHouseCCo.
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