Welcome to the inaugural episode of Ask Jack, featuring the prodigious culinary talents of professional holistic chef Jack McNulty answering food-related questions generated by you, our community. Check out the show notes below that dig deeper into the topics covered on this episode. Set your dials to this station when Ask Jack #2 premieres on May 12, 2021, and don’t forget to submit your questions for Jack by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Healthiest Cookware Options
The goal of any cookware is to conduct heat evenly and efficiently while remaining chemically non-reactive. No single pan meets these goals completely. Here’s a brief breakdown on the plusses and minuses of different cookware options:
Ceramics (Earthenware, Stoneware and Glass): chemically stable and non-reactive. No impact on taste/flavors. Not good at higher temperatures. Always avoid any ceramic with lead glazing.
Enamelware: thin layer of powdered glass infused on steel or iron creates a non-reactive surface with some degree of non-sticking. Holds heat well over a long time. Not good in conditions of rapid heating or cooling. Susceptible to chipping. Particularly suited for slow cooking using lower temperatures either on the stovetop or in an oven.
Aluminum: lower cost and lightweight. Excellent heat conductivity providing fast and even heating. Anodized aluminum means they have been treated with a thin protective layer that is non-sticking. Aluminum cookware without treatments reacts to acids and alkaline foods, altering appearance and flavor.
Copper: best material in terms of conductivity. Expensive option. Most copper pans are lined with stainless steel or tin. They are not good when heated or cooled rapidly. Susceptible to rapid degradation when used in higher temperature cooking (230°C or 450°F).
Iron and Carbon Steel: good conductor of heat but can be uneven. Can also react with and discolor food. Absorbs and holds heat extremely well over longer periods. Once preheated, cooking temperatures can be reduced. Non-stick surface can be created when ‘seasoning’ the cookware. Heat unsaturated oil for several hours in a moderate oven, then cool and wipe clean. Appropriate 1-2 times per year. Avoid abrasives and dishwashers to keep surface ‘seasoned’. Use of oil in pan during seasoning process has no negative effect on food – it is OMS safe.
Stainless Steel: iron and carbon mixture. Expensive option, but also long-lasting when cared for. Decent heat conduction and non-reactive to food. Closest to meeting ultimate objective of a good pan. Always preheat pan over moderate to low temperatures before adding food or liquids. Avoid dishwashers to prolong life.
Non-Stick Pans: non-stick surfaces are created from thin layer of a chemical compound (Teflon or other modern versions). Short shelf life of less than 3 years. Not appropriate at high temperatures, which could cause toxins or warping of pans. Easily scratched. Avoid dishwashers, abrasive cleaners and abrasive utensils. Can be used for effective non-stick cooking at low temperatures. Light coating of oil in pre-heated pan enhances non-stick surface.
Green Pans: a type of non-stick pan. Thin layer of ceramic applied to surface rather than a chemical compound. Safer non-stick option than most non-stick pans, but still perform poorly at higher temperatures. Susceptible to cracking and chipping. Short shelf life.
Extra Tips: how to limit use of oil in cooking for cookware types…
Cast Iron and Carbon Steel: make sure your pan is well-seasoned at all times. Preheat the pan before adding your food. Avoid using any kind of cooking utensil that will scratch the surface. It is ok to allow food to stick briefly to the pan; just release the food with a small amount of liquid.
Ceramics: preheat the pan or pot slowly over low heat. Avoid using temperatures above medium and make sure to cool the pan or pot slowly at room temperature. Preheat before oven use.
Non-Stick pans (including new generation varieties): heat the pot or pan slowly over low heat. Never exceed medium temperatures and avoid using cooking utensils that will scratch the surface. Cool the pan slowly to preserve the non-stick surface. Avoid dishwashers.
Aluminum and Stainless Steel: preheat before adding food. Allow the food to stick to the bottom of the pan or pot and release it with 1-2 tablespoons of water or other liquid. For best results, use medium temperatures and avoid high temperature cooking. Always cool to room temperature before cleaning. Avoid dishwashers.
Benefit of Organic vs. Traditional Farming
Organic foods are the healthiest option when compared to traditionally produced fruits and vegetables. They will have lower amounts of pesticides or other harmful elements in the soil. Jack’s suggestion is to choose organic whenever there is an option, but never allow pesticide-stress to prevent eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables regardless of how they are grown.
Using Oils to Roast Vegetables
The use of oils in cooking is a personal choice. Most recipes can be made entirely oil-free. Oils are mostly used in cooking to create flavor, texture and preserve moisture in the food. In other words, using oils usually amounts to personal satisfaction. Vegetables are normally 60-80% water. As the water evaporates from the surface of the vegetable it will begin to rapidly dry out. Coating the vegetable first in oil slows the loss of liquid and helps exterior sugars to caramelize – creating both flavor and texture.
Water and Oil in Cooking
Water alone boils at a standard temperature. Adding elements to the water, such as salt, can alter the boiling point but only by a small amount. Adding pressure to water (pressure cooker) can also alter the boiling point (maximum temperatures of a pressure cooker are 120°C (250°F). Adding oils to water slightly reduces the boiling point but the change is marginal. As long as water exists, oils cannot exceed the effective boiling point.
Getting Crispy Textures on Vegetables
Crispy textures on vegetables are created by caramelizing natural sugars/starches on the surface. Caramelization begins when sugars/starches reach a temperature of 120°C (250°F). This is also the point when all oils begin breaking down, although harmful elements are not produced until temperatures rise substantially more to 190°C (375°F) and held at this point for 10-20 minutes. Coating vegetables with a light amount of oil is considered OMS-safe because the surface moisture evaporating from the vegetables will prevent the oils from rising above 120°C (250°F).
The oil coating will also speed the cooking, caramelization process and prevent too much moisture loss from the vegetable. Crispy textures can be accomplished without oil, although the vegetable will taste dry, a factor that can be overcome by coating the vegetable with a dip or vinaigrette after cooking. Adding a starch to the vegetable surface prior to cooking (corn starch, rice starch, tapioca starch) can help create a crispier surface without adding oils.
Air Fryer vs. Oven
Air-fryers are essentially miniature convection ovens. They rapidly circulate hot air in a small and enclosed area to promote rapid and even heat conduction. Air-fryers rely on temperature cooking of 180° – 190°C (350° - 375°F). The enclosed space and rapid air movement means surface temperatures of food will rise faster than in a larger convection oven – 165° vs 120°C (330° vs 250°F). Most manufacturers recommend using small amounts of oil to coat the food in order to enhance the crispy textures and prevent too much moisture loss.
Applying Thin Layer of Oil to a Pan
Certain food preparations work best when a thin layer of oil is applied to the surface of a pre-heated pan then wiped clean. Cooking thin pancakes (like crepes) is an example. When a pan is heated, metals expand and open microscopic pores (also true in non-stick pans). These pores are where food will go first and the reason something sticks to a pan. Certain pans minimize this effect with their coatings. Applying a thin layer of oil to the pan and wiping it to remove the excess fills the pores and removes the problem. This is effective when cooking thin batters. It is not necessary before each pancake or crepe, as the first one will aid in closing the pores. High heat will cause the pores to expand further and create the sticking problem faster than cooking at lower temperatures. The oils used in the coating have a minimal effect on the food’s surface and are not carried over into the food. Careful application and wiping the pan ensures this method is completely OMS compliant.
Jack’s podcast on fats: S2 Episode 28 Oils and OMS: Separating Fats from Fiction
Medium article: Why Some Professional Chefs Hate Nonstick Pans
Expanded article on cookware: Healthiest Cookware Options
Coming up on our next episode:
Join us on March 22 for the premiere of the next Living Well with MS Coffee Break episode, where we travel to the UK to hear Katy Deacon’s fascinating story. Learn more about interesting and inspiring OMSers like you by catching up on past Coffee Break episodes
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