PRODUCT Cast iron skillet

PRICE HK$80 for the 10.5″ pan

PRODUCT RATING Excellent for pan-frying, braising, searing and sauteing (and quite possibly as a weapon …it is very, very heavy). Due to the excellent heat diffusion and retention properties, you can get that sizzling golden brown, teppanyaki effect that just can’t be duplicated on a non-stick pan. I think it would be great for searing meat, although I haven’t tried it myself, as I stopped cooking meat a few years ago.

GREEN RATING Deep Green. I’ve only owned it for a short time, but have a feeling that it will last forever. This is just so much greener than throwing a non-stick pan into the landfill every 6 months.

AVAILABLE AT We bought ours at a cookware shop on Shanghai Street (Yau Ma Tei MTR). There are various brands at different price ranges available at kitchen shops around the city.

Yvonne Chounard, Patagonia’s founder, defined a well made, well designed product as one that lasts a long time, is easily repaired and then finally breaks down in many places at the same time. For example, a pair of Levi’s lasts many, many years, but when its seen too many days, it gets holes in the knees, frays at the bottom, small change falls through the pockets all at the same time. He defined a poorly designed product as one where if one part breaks, the whole thing is trashed. For example, if one tiny part in our stereo, TV, or computer breaks we end up throwing the whole thing away.

Based on this definition, non-stick pans are pretty poorly designed. After 6 months of use, the pan still looks fine, but because the non-stick coating is worn, the whole thing has to be thrown away. I’ve tried many brands from Meyer to Tefal to Silverstone and they all end up in the trash within a year. I end up buying a new pan every year and throwing my old one into the landfill.

Non-stick coatings are considered “safe”. But I can’t help but wonder if the coating really is safe to eat? (Remember how BPA in water bottles was “safe” for decades until it suddenly wasn’t) If the coating is coming off the pan, it stands to reason that it must be getting on the food I am eating. Has anyone done testing to confirm that a lifetime of eating non-stick coating is good for your health? According to this review of cookware safety, cast iron may actually improve health (it’s good for those with anemia or iron deficiency, but may not be for those with an excess of iron which is an extremely rare condition).

To put an end to this absurdity, I experimented with a couple of options. First, I tried using a stainless steel pan like the ones professional chefs on TV use. The sales person will tell you that if you heat the pan slowly with oil, that it won’t stick. I can tell you…it will stick. Then I tried using a wok. That works really well, except when you’re trying to make something flat like pancakes. Finally, I tried a cast iron pan and I must say I’m in love. The heat that comes off it is amazing. It’s got this sizzling effect and things come out really nicely browned. You still need some oil but I’d much rather eat oil than Teflon.

There are only two drawbacks. First, it’s really heavy. There are a couple of things you can do to deal with this. I keep mine on the burner closest to the sink to minimize the distance I have to move it. Then I only wash it when it looks like it needs it (just wash it with hot water and a stiff brush). The weight also makes it impossible to toss food in the pan like Jamie Oliver. If you’re concerned about the weight, it may be better to buy one with two handles. The second drawback, is that the handle also heats up so you have to be careful handling it. With some cast iron, you may also need to season it by coating it in oil and heating it up (you can also buy pre-seasoned pans). If you can live with these minor drawbacks and enjoy that sizzling effect… this is a great choice.