My pop loves his pan-fried bacon. Microwave bacon will not do. "It never gets that crunchy texture," says Pop. It's been his guilty pleasure for years, and it got guiltier when the doc told him to trim the fat from his diet. Mom refused to cook any more of his precious pig meat, so Pop decided to make it on the sly. When she sallied forth into the garden on Saturday morning, he got out her pan, pulled some bacon from the basement fridge, and started frying. But nobody told Pop about using metal utensils on a nonstick pan. He not only got busted, he ruined Mom's pan. He turns his bacon with a fork, "the old-fashioned way," and all that stabbing made a mess of the nonstick coating. Mom said, "It might be dangerous to use now" because of "stuff" she heard on the news somewhere.
What she had heard was what I read in a July 27 article in the New York Times . According to the article, the nonprofit organization Environmental Working Group had found that "an empty overheated Teflon-coated pan does pose a risk by releasing toxic fumes." Teflon manufacturer DuPont "does not dispute that, but there is no agreement between the company and Teflon's critics over what temperature releases the fumes." The Environmental Working Group says 325 degrees, "or a medium flame; DuPont says 660 degrees." Nor is there agreement as to the extent of the risk posed to humans. A later Times article noted that the EPA had "reached a $16.5 million settlement with DuPont over the company's failure to report health risks from the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA," which is used in the manufacture of Teflon.
DuPont had also agreed "to eliminate PFOA and the chemicals that break down into PFOA from all consumer products by 2015. A few days later, the majority of the EPA's scientific review panel advised the agency that the chemical should be classified as a 'likely' carcinogen," meaning that it caused cancer in animals, and that it was unclear whether or not it caused cancer in humans. The advice on how to reduce exposure: "Use Teflon pans at lower temperatures and never put them over heat without food or liquid."
Mom didn't want to fret. She asked me for help finding a replacement. I immediately thought of Scanpan -- Retail Manager Erika D'Eugenio at Great News in Pacific Beach (858-270-1582) had listed it among her kitchen essentials when I spoke with her. Unlike Teflon, which is a sprayed-on coating, Scanpans are made from a mixture of ceramic and titanium, bonded onto an aluminum core. "Unlike other nonstick cookware," said sales clerk Pat, "it can get super-hot." With some nonsticks, "you have to be careful not to overheat it, because it starts breaking down." And because you can get Scanpan really hot, "you can brown food in it" without oil or butter. "And you can use metal utensils." "It's almost indestructible," agreed Allison Sherwood, who manages the Great News cooking school. Right now, Great News has a sale on Scanpan fry pans (9-inch, $39.95 ; 10-inch, $49 ; 11-inch, $59 ; 12-inch, $69.94 ). Scanpan is also available at The Complete Kitchen in Rancho Penasquitos (858-538-0188) where the fry pans range from $39.99 to $69.99 .
George Bente, President and CEO of Scanpan USA ( www.scanpan.com ), told me that the company came up with its nonstick surface when it decided to expand from restaurant cookware into the consumer market. "The consumer was looking for nonstick convenience, but traditional nonstick technology did not have a sufficient life expectancy for application to expensive, pressure-cast aluminum pans." The ceramic-titanium compound that Scanpan uses is fired into the pan base at "36,000 degrees Fahrenheit and at twice the speed of sound." The surface is anchored to the pan base "and is then impregnated with a proprietary nonstick formula," which allows for "searing, browning, and deglazing," and is oven-safe to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. "It comes with a manufacturer's lifetime warranty, which is unique to the industry. Scanpan cookware does not use Teflon or DuPont products, and is PFOA free."
Like a proper nonstick, it's a snap to clean. "Typically," said Bente, "it wipes clean with a sponge or paper towel" -- though he did recommend soapy water and a sponge.
Bente's comments got me wondering -- how do the restaurants do it without nonstick? Larry Lewis, program director at the San Diego Culinary Institute, said that he might use nonstick for eggs, but otherwise, it was stainless steel all the way. To avoid sticking, "we season the pan. You put about two tablespoons of oil and two tablespoons of salt in there, heat it up to where it's almost beginning to smoke, and then let it start cooling down. Then scrub the salt into the pan using a paper towel -- rub it pretty hard. Wipe the pan out, re-oil it, wipe it out again, and the pan is fine. It creates a nonstick barrier on the pan. You do it at the beginning of the pan's life, but it may be necessary to do it again periodically. And you never wash it. You just wipe it out." If you get stuck bits, "then you have to scrub it out and start over again." And you wouldn't use a seasoned pan if you wanted caramelized bits for sauce -- the kind that stick to the pan.
Chef Todd Atcheson at California Cuisine in Hillcrest said that in his restaurant, "high-grade aluminum is what's normally used." To keep things from sticking as they sauté, "we start out with medium-high to high heat. You want to get the pan hot and then add the oil -- just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Then you add whatever you're cooking."
Madeline at Williams-Sonoma in La Jolla (858-597-0611) also likes stainless, as well as Calphalon. For her, sticking is just what a chicken breast does when it's not done cooking. "If you keep it at the right temperature and use your oil -- not a lot, a couple of tablespoons -- you brown it and it actually releases from the pan. When you start to turn it over, if you get a little bit of resistance, you just let it cook a little bit more. When you go to turn it, it turns very easily."