Use the Leidenfrost effect to make your stainless steel pan non-stick
Stainless steel pans are the most common type of cookware used in restaurants. Yours may be sitting there, probably neglected after you tried to fry a chicken breast. This resulted in a messy meal and a thickened ring of carbonized proteins stuck to the bottom.
” “There has to be a better method!” you exclaim as if it were a real-life infomercial. You can use science and heat management to make stainless steel cookware nonstick.
We don’t want this to be overhyped, so let’s clarify that you won’t be able to crack an egg into a cold stainless-steel pan without oil, fry it on low heat, and then slide it onto a plate. You won’t have to use a chisel again to wash your dishes. Your food will move when it needs.
How do you use stainless steel pans correctly
Unless you are just heating something up, you shouldn’t put food in a cold stainless-steel pan. Always pre-heat any cookware before you add anything, even oil.
There are two reasons for this. There are two reasons for this. This is how your chicken was stuck to the pan last time. Although there is no scientific consensus on why this happens some believe that the same principle applies for eggs and their shells. This is why always boil them instead of starting them cold. The protein-rich white of eggs can bind to the outer membrane and make it difficult to peel them once they are done. The theory is that if you boil them, the proteins will bind to each other, allowing the shells to fall off.
[Related: How to season a cast iron pan]
The second reason why preheating your pan is so crucial is that stainless steel has a porous exterior. As the pan heats, the pores shrink and become smaller. This makes it easier for food to stick to. The time it takes to heat your pan will depend on the size of your stove and the make of your pan. It’s also important to know when you should start adding your ingredients. This is why the water test is important.
A drop of water in a pan at the right temperature will not evaporate immediately, but it will roll around like an air hockey stick. That’s because the principle, called the Leidenfrost effect, is the same in your kitchen as at the arcade. The disc becomes almost frictionless by having a thin layer between the puck’s surface and the ground below. However, the droplet has a thin layer that vaporizes instantly when it touches hot metal. This creates a gaseous coating which allows the rest to glide on steam. It’s easiest to see using a droplet of water. However, food can also benefit from the same sliding superpowers if the moisture in the food hits the pan.
Once your pan is hot enough, pour the droplet out, and then add your cooking oil.
But don’t stop there. You still have to maintain a high temperature for the Leidenfrost effect. Don’t add any ingredients straight from the fridge or freezer. A large piece of cold meat will likely reduce the metal’s surface temperature to the point where it will bond with stainless steel. This will render the entire preheating process useless. The same piece of meat that is room temperature will quickly heat up in the hot oil. It will release its water and then start to sizzle as it turns into steam.
Adding food at room temperature can also reduce the risk of thermal shock. This is bad news in two ways. First, the drastic change in temperature could ruin your pan by warping it, but also result in splashing, dangerous hot oil.
Do I need to season my stainless steel pan?
No. Only cast iron and carbon steel pans need seasoning, which results in layers of slippery polymerized oils. This is not to make them more slippery, but to prevent them from rusting quickly without a protective barrier. Stainless steel pans aren’t reactive so you can throw them in the dishwasher without worrying.
I still can’t flip this burger. Help.
On stainless steel pans, flipping your food is a must. If your burgers resist you, don’t force it. As long as you have a well-oiled and preheated pan, cook your patties. It takes time for the proteins in the pan to bind together. This process almost guarantees a good sear so it also has flavor benefits.
[Related: 6 metal myths and tips for cooking]
Don’t worry about your hamburger drying out as you cook them more. In 2020, a group of Korean scientists at Seoul National University found that a good sear has negligible effect on internal moisture and it’s just more delicious. Unfortunately, the method they used was not documented, making it difficult to replicate their experiment. However, a stainless-steel pan would be a great choice if you decide to do this experiment yourself.