Almost all professional cooks prefer copper pots and pans to any other material. Copper is durable, and well-cared-for pots can last 20 or even 30 years. Copper is a great conductor of heat. Because it evenly heats food, it is hard to burn sauces and soups made in copper pots. Copper has the added benefit of being decorative. The subdued glint of copper pans hung on walls or from pot holders are an elegant accessory to any kitchen as well as making the resident cook look like a professional.
Cooking With Copper
When you buy copper cookware, check to see whether the outside has been lacquered. Lacquering prevents the copper from tarnishing during shipping, but it must be removed before you heat the pans. If left on, the lacquer will melt, ruining the pan and your stove top. Remove lacquer with acetone or a lacquer thinner, which can be found in most hardware stores. Be sure to wash your pots thoroughly after using these chemicals.
The inside of copper pots are almost always lined with tin, steel or silver. Tin is a soft metal and should not be used at temperatures higher than 450 degrees F as this will cause tin to melt.
Regardless of the lining try to limit the time salted water spends in heated pots. Salt water can cause pitting in the lining and should only be added at the last moment to boiling water.
Don't use cooking sprays with copper pots. The active ingredients in the sprays will leave a residue on your cookware that is hard to remove.
Never heat an empty copper pot. This can cause the pot to warp. The same warping can happen if you place a hot copper pot in cold water.
Use wooden or plastic utensils exclusively with copper pots, regardless of the lining.
Always use the lowest temperature possible when cooking with copper because it is an effective heat conductor. It may take practice to find the right temperature to use when cooking with copper, but if the heat is too high you may damage both the lining and exterior of your copper pot.
When you are done cooking, allow your pans to cool down. Wash in warm to hot water with a soft cloth or sponge and use a mild dishwashing detergent. Use a circular motion to clean the interior of copper cookware. This circular motion is most effective in removing food and stains and prevents scratching of the lining. Do not place in a dishwasher. If you do, it will severely shorten your cookware's lifespan. The heavy water spray in dishwashers can blemish the outside of the pan as well as remove the copper.
For stuck-on foods, use a wooden spoon to get the food off. If that doesn't work, fill the pan with hot water and allow to soak overnight. You also can make a paste of baking soda and water to use on stubborn food. Allow the paste to stay on overnight before scraping off with a wooden spoon.
Rinse copper pots thoroughly to remove residue left by the detergent. Always hand-dry copper pots with a soft cloth because air-drying could result in water spots that will stain the copper finish.
Some cooks relish the patina that forms on a well-used copper pot. Others prefer the subdued glow that only comes from a well-polished pot. There are several methods to polishing copper. You can use a commercial copper cleaner or you can rub the outside of your copper pots with half a lemon sprinkled with salt. Another homemade formula is a paste made of equal parts of salt, vinegar and flour. Apply and allow to dry before buffing off.
Whatever method you choose, always use a soft cloth to apply and buff off polishing products. After polishing, wash and dry your copper pots to remove any remaining residue.
Polish your copper pots at least once every two months. People living in humid areas may have to polish their copper more often. Always polish copper if you see signs of tarnish.
If you like the look of the patina that forms on copper, watch out for small spots of tarnish or blackening on the copper exterior. This creates hot spots that cause food to cook unevenly. You will need to polish your copper pots if you see this spotting.
When to Replace
The lining keeps the copper from reacting with the acids in food. Replace the lining when it becomes excessively pitted, is discolored or is worn to the point that you can see copper. It is less expensive to replace the lining in a copper pot than it is to buy new copper cookware.
What Not to Use
Never use abrasive detergents or cleaning materials on the inside or outside of copper cookware. Never use metal cooking implements with the exception of whisks (the metal is bent in such a way it does not cause scratching).
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