My go-to pan has always been cast iron, but a new ceramic pan by GreenPan may have changed that.
The very first meal I ever cooked for the woman who became my wife was a disaster. I invited her over and elected to make blackened fish and curried zucchini.
That was it, by the way—no wine, no rice, nothing. Just fish and little coins of roasted zucchini with curry powder sprinkled on them.
I don't think I used a recipe. I don't know if I even knew what a recipe was.
But I had Googled "blackened fish" and printed off some instructions (this was years before Pinterest), so I knew the pan had to be piping hot, and the fish had to spend very little time in it, just basically getting seared on the outside, so it didn't cook too long and get tough.
This is what I didn't know about making blackened fish: You shouldn't start with frozen fish. When it was "done" it was still raw on the inside. Actually, parts were still frozen on the inside. My future wife gamely ate it anyway (and that, dear reader, is how I knew we were meant for each other).
Another thing I didn't know: You shouldn't use a teflon-coated pan. The fish did technically turn out blackened, but much of that was actual bits of teflon that had flaked off and stuck to the fish. The zucchini turned out pretty well, by the way.
The pan, of course, was completely ruined. I threw it out and took to heart how delicate and unuseful a nonstick pan can be.
Sure, it's easier to cook eggs on one, but they are temperamental and easily damaged. There are all kinds of things you can't do if you want them to last: You can't put them in the dishwasher. You can't use metal utensils. You can't use them over extreme heats or put them in the oven. And even if you are careful, you often have to replace them every few years.
This is why I have preferred workhorse pans, like steel or (my personal favorite), cast-iron. Cast-iron pans are incredibly resilient.
Sure, they need to be hand washed, but even if one ends up in the dishwasher, it's not that much trouble to simply re-season it. I've got three—two of which are nearly 100 years old—and I know I'll be able to give them to my grandkids one day.
Over the years I've heard about (and tried cooking with) a few innovations in nonstick technology—but nothing has convinced me to bring one into my kitchen again.
One of the more recent innovations has been ceramic-coated pans—they're billed as eco-friendly. The first iterations of these were every bit as finicky as teflon—they needed to be protected when stored, couldn't be heated too high, etc. I took a look, talked to some friends who owned them, and gave it a pass.
However, one of the pan makers, GreenPan, now sells a product called "GreenPan Diamond Clad" (It's sold exclusively, for now, at Sur La Table). GreenPan bills this as a "diamond reinforced coating" and sells it as not only dishwasher safe, but also fine for metal utensils, oven-ready, and capable of being heated to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
This sounded enough like a workhorse pan that I wanted to give it a try. So I reached out, and they sent me one to test.
I promptly began trying to ruin it.
The first thing I did was make some fried eggs and an omelette, just to get a baseline. Sure enough, as a brand-new nonstick pan, it worked like a charm—much better than my cast iron. I needed hardly any oil at all, and the eggs slid right off onto the plate when they were done.
Next, I began to abuse it. I seared some steaks at super high temperatures (an update on the blackened fish test), with hardly any oil. I made scrambled eggs, using my favorite metal spatula to scrape them around the pan (and I put my shoulder into the scraping, just to see).
I sautéed Brussels sprouts. I roasted a whole chicken in the oven (465, for an hour) with some potatoes.
The chicken came out perfect, and I used about half the oil I usually drizzle over the potatoes.
I basically used it exactly as I use my cast-iron pans—with the single exception that after every single meal I tossed it directly into the dishwasher. I will note that putting it in the dishwasher seemed like overkill. Most of the time, a couple swipes with a soapy sponge was enough to get it clean. But I was on a mission.
After two weeks, I gave the thing a close inspection. The result? Well, it wasn't perfect: There's a small nick where I clearly got a little too enthusiastic, most likely while deglazing for a sauce.
As a final test, yesterday morning, I made pancakes. I mixed up the batter, and then began frying them up. At first I used a touch of oil, but I quickly realized I didn't need any oil at all.
The pancakes came out perfectly: As soon as one browned, it released from the pan, and I was able to slide a (metal) spatula under and flip it over to cook on the other side.
It's still too soon, obviously, to say how long the pan will hold up, but you can color me impressed. I don't know if I will be able to gift it to my grandkids, but given the workout I put it through, I'm willing to bet it will last 5-10 years if well cared-for.
Given that a 12" pan with lid currently runs about $99, that works out to between $10 and $20 per year. Not a bad price for a pan that significantly cuts down on the need for cooking oil.
The bottom line: I won't be giving away my cast-iron just yet. But this is the sturdiest nonstick pan I've ever seen, and it's quickly found a regular place in my kitchen.