Sunday, May 22, 2011

KITCHEN TOOLS Put A Lid On It!

Pan Lid - the true cover story
This is one of those tools we take for granted a thousand different times and a million different ways....the lowly pan lid.

At first glance, it doesn't seem like much.  It's made to fit a certain pan, has a handle, yadda, yadda, yadda.
So?   It's a lid.  What else is there to say?

Plenty! Once you take the time to notice the subtle and not-so subtle differences between them.

One lid type has this profile
Take for example the one that comes with most sauce pans....round, solid metal, handle....all standard issue.  But take a sideways glance at it.  Check out that profile!

Some have a flange-like rim.  This keeps the heat in, and also keeps the lid on. I think a majority of lids have this flange thing in varying degrees of depth - probably for the same purpose.
Another metal lid with smaller flange

What does a lid actually do?
Are there times when you don't want to cover your cooking?
These are important questions!
Knowing the right answer can literally make or break what you're trying to produce.

Everybody knows the heartache of broccoli that's been allowed to steam itself to death.  There's nothing worse than discolored, mushy, overcooked broc!

So what's the secret?  It seems to depend on what's cooking and how long its being cooked.

Specialty lid with vented edges
Steaming green vegetables that will be steamed for more than five minute? Don't use a lid.  Why? It has to do with something called "out gassing."  The green vegetables release volatile acids that need to dissipate into the air. Covering while cooking traps the acids in with the veggies, causing them to turn an unappetizing shade of grey.

Boiling water to cook pasta?  A lid is good to use at first.  This will help retain the heat and cause the water to boil quicker.  Once the water has reached that rolling boil state, remove the lid and add the pasta.  Cook it uncovered.  That's very important.  Otherwise the pasta will bubble over and you'll have quite a mess!

As a contrast, a lid is absolutely required when preparing things like rice, grits and other cereals.  Covering and lowering the heat go hand in hand when it comes to these cereals. And as far as pressure cooking is concerned, it wouldn't be possible without a tight fitting lid and a gasket to keep steam from escaping.

Enameled pan lid
In short, if a recipe calls for using a lid, use it.  If not, don't.  Using a lid unnecessarily can cause excess moisture to collect inside the pot or pan.  This can result in soggy food, improperly browned meat and crispy food that's lost its crispiness.

"Universal" lid
Covering a pan, sauce pot or any other cooking vessel makes the heat act differently toward the food. This covering can be anything from the factory made mate to your pan, one of those "universal" pan replacements, an "orphan" lid from a garage sale, a dinner plate, aluminum foil or even another pan.  The effect it has on the food and resulting cooking time is effected by things like the lid's density, fit and whether or not it is vented.

My favorite glass lid w/ safety handle
Lids can be made of aluminum, stainless steel, enameled steel, ceramics or glass....or any combination thereof.  My favorite ones are made of see-through glass with stainless, flanged edging and safety or heat resistant handles. I like being able to look into the pan without negatively impacting the cooking time by lifting the lid.

The most important thing to remember is these things get hot, so handle with care and a great deal of respect.

If you have any additional information on lids, or comments or recipes please feel free to submit them! In the meantime, Enjoy!