Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Carbon Steel Pans

My workhorse skillet has been a traditional 12" nonstick. But with almost daily usage, I find that they last about one to two years and then they need to be replaced. The nonstick components begin to die off. Scratches and other damage begin to take their toll. There always comes a day when you realize that this pan is done and it's time to order a replacement.

While nonstick skillets are convenient, they are treated with the chemical polytetraflouroethylene (PTFE). This surface, while nonstick, is prone to scratching and erosion over time. Plus you have all of the chemicals, perhaps, leaching into your food.

Cast iron is an excellent alternative that will last a lifetime. When well-seasoned, it can offer a similar nonstick experience. But they are heavy and have more responsibilities in the cleaning and maintaining end of things.

So enter, carbon steel pans. I was reading this article (limited access without a subscription) in a recent edition of Milk Street magazine and it introduced me to carbon steel pans. I've peered into enough restaurant kitchens to know that the stack of pans from which cooks draw from are their workhorse--carbon steel pans.

The article, entitled "Toss Out Your Nonstick Skillet," made the case for using a well-seasoned carbon steel pan instead of nonstick. The article and the video below say that carbon steel can offer a similar experience to PTFE nonstick but it will last a lifetime and skips the chemicals.

So based on the article, the video, and other research, I decided to start with Mafter Bourgeat 11 7/8" pan. Here it is as delivered to me from the factory.

Carbon steel pans need to be seasoned before use. The seasoning process helps to build a natural nonstick patina. From the factory, the skillet will be a metal silver color but the goal is, over time, to get it a brownish-black color. Seasoning directions as provided by the manufacturer (reworded):

  1. Wash the pan in hot water with a mild detergent, using a bristle brush, if necessary (as you can briefly see in the above video), to remove factory protective coating. Be sure to get both sides of the pan.
  2. Dry the pan thoroughly.
  3. Over medium to medium high heat, add 1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola), 2/3 cup salt, and the skins of 2 potatoes (I used russets).
  4. Sauté, continually swirling the contents around entire pan (including side), for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, let the pan cool slightly. Then discard the contents and rinse in hot water (to minimize temperature shock--but still be careful with this step). 
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 with another round of seasoning. 
  7. Let pan cool thoroughly (I did about 30 minutes). 
  8. Rinse the pan under hot water removing all of seasoning ingredients. Dry completely with a towel.
  9. Reheat the pan with a little oil
At around 10 minutes during round one, I noticed that pan began to darken. I don't think you need to be too religious about the 15 minutes, as I was. You can probably do a little longer without any negative impact. Remember that it will continue to darken with ongoing usage, eventually turning black.

Here's the pan after the double-session seasoning.

Like cast-iron, carbon steel pans should never be washed with detergent. Hot water and a gentle brush should be all that is used. Also like cast iron, water/rust is the enemy that can ruin the pan. After the soap free cleaning never air dry these pans. Dry thoroughly and do a quick season with a bit of oil before putting it away.

My pan's maiden voyage was with shrimp and yellow onion. I found the pan to be very nonstick even on its first use. The heavy seasoning that I used created some areas of blackening which I thought would be difficult to clean, but hot water and gentle brush got the pan very clean.

I look forward to continuing to try it out and watching it darken over time--improving the nonstick qualities.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Paint, Concrete Polishing, and Windows

There has been slow, but steady, progress on the downstairs renovation project.


We got a first coat of paint in the room. We are going with two shades of grey. Most of the room is a lighter shade of grey but the wall with the new windows will have a slightly darker shade. This is our "accent wall." After the first coat of paint was applied, the painter was reluctant to paint the second coat until after the concrete polishing was complete. He was concerned that dust and scrapes could occur. We agreed with his assessment and had him stop after the first coat. So he still has to come in for a second coat.

Concrete Polishing:

About a week later, we got the concrete polished. When we bought the place, the downstairs room had some cheap, adhesive tile squares on top of the 1956 concrete slab. As the room got demolished, we had the tiles pulled up since, somewhere in the design process, we decided to go with polished concrete instead of carpeting or tiles. The concrete slab that the downstairs room sits on was very intact for being fifty years old in earthquake-prone California along with being in a house with some creeping down the hill. There were no cracks. But there were some new patches that were part of the recent construction where the future sink needed to connect into the main outgoing water/sewer line which is under the slab.

Once we decided on concrete polishing, we began to notice it and study it everywhere. Look at the floors of Costco, supermarkets, stores like BevMo, and other strip mall drug stores.
And you will often find that polished concrete on most of the industrial floors you walk on. Sometimes you will see cracks or patches but the polishing just equalizes everything so that these imperfections--while still there--do not stand out as much. So after studying industrial flooring for awhile, we sought out a concrete polisher and went with a matte finish with no color. Depending on the company, you can get higher levels of sheen and also color the concrete.

For us, the mostly pristine slab did develop some cracks during renovation. this was probably due to us shifting the weight of the house with the piers or the temporary scaffolding while the wall was removed for the La Cantina door installation. Or both.

But we are very happy with the final product. Because of the previous adhesive tile, the concrete still shows some of the square patterns. But, based on our research, we knew that going in.

This week, the windows were installed. We had already replaced the windows on the top two floors, but didn't do downstairs, specifically awaiting this project. Unfortunately, we were no longer allowed to install the same double pane aluminum-framed window due to California's ever-evolving the Code of Regulations. The standards are updated periodically by the California Energy Commission to allow consideration and possible incorporation of new energy efficiency technologies and methods. So aluminum window framing is no longer accepted under Title 24 so our choices were fiberglass or vinyl. We thought we may paint the framing to match the upstairs aluminum, so we went with fiberglass (although more expensive) because it can be painted. It was also the better choice since we wanted the smallest framing option.

The new large picture window is now one solid plate of glass (the previous window had framing for two openings). The smaller window (which was where the door used to be) is a casement window that opens outward.