In the cooking world, few tools are as versatile and indispensable as the saucepan. From simmering sauces to boiling pasta and everything in between, the saucepan plays a crucial role in the culinary world. But what exactly is a saucepan, and how does it differ from the other pots and pans in your kitchen?
In this blog post, we'll explore what a saucepan is, its use, and how to choose the right one for your cooking needs. Whether you're a seasoned chef or a home cook looking to expand your kitchen knowledge, understanding the saucepan is essential for mastering various recipes and culinary techniques.
What Is A Saucepan?
Saucepans were originally used solely for making sauces and didn't appear to have entered the cooking scene until the 17th century. Today, it's a staple tool in most home and professional kitchens and is frequently used for much more than thickening sauces! However, a better sense of what a saucepan is (perhaps more importantly, what it isn't) will help home cooks use this tool more effectively.
The saucepan typically has a small diameter and tall sides, making it ideal for heating liquids. They hold between 2 to 3 quarts of liquid, depending on the size of the specific pan. Saucepans are deep, with straight edges where the sides meet up with the flat bottom. There is typically one long handle on a saucepan instead of a pair of loop handles more frequently found on pots.
Saucepans are manufactured using a diverse range of materials. Copper saucepans, stainless steel saucepans, cast iron saucepans, and various nonstick saucepans are available today. They frequently are sold with a glass or stainless steel lid.
Saucepans are intended to be used on a stovetop, although some may be oven-safe. If your saucepan features a nonstick coating, be sure to check the manufacturer's instructions before placing it in an oven, as the high heat might cause the nonstick coating to flake away.
The saucepan excels at cooking methods that involve boiling liquids - but those liquids don't necessarily have to be sauces! Use saucepans for:
Heating Liquids: The primary purpose of a saucepan is to heat liquids, such as water, milk, or broth, for various cooking tasks.
Making Sauces: Saucepans are ideal for making sauces like béchamel, hollandaise, and gravy due to their even heat distribution. It is also great for reducing pasta sauce.
Cooking Pasta: Boiling water in a saucepan is essential for cooking pasta, grains, and noodles.
Blanching Vegetables: Blanch your vegetables briefly in boiling water to preserve their vibrant color and delightful texture.
Simmering Soups and Stews: Saucepan's low sides and controlled heat make them perfect for simmering soups, stews, and chili.
Poaching: Poach eggs, fish, or chicken by gently simmering them in a flavorful liquid.
Melting Ingredients: Use saucepans to melt butter, chocolate, or cheese without scorching.
Reheating: Quickly reheat leftovers or sauces in a saucepan.
Steaming: Steam vegetables or dumplings by placing a steamer insert in a saucepan.
Prepping Ingredients: Saucepans can be used to blanch, parboil, or pre-cook ingredients before incorporating them into other dishes.
Candying: Create sugar syrups for candying fruits or making caramel.
Boiling Eggs: Boil eggs to the desired level of doneness.
Warming Milk: Warm milk for beverages like hot cocoa or coffee.
Cooking Grains: Simmer rice, quinoa, or oats until tender.
Making Custards: Create custards and puddings by applying gentle, controlled heat during the cooking process.
Mashed potatoes: Boil and mash the potatoes in a sauce pan. Add butter, milk, and seasonings for a creamy and delicious mashed potatoes side dish.
A saucepan is a versatile tool, serving almost as a hybrid between a pot and a pan. However, it has its drawbacks.
The deep, straight sides promote heat distribution throughout the saucepan's interior, but it requires frequent stirring to prevent the food from touching the bottom from burning. This is particularly true of the food that sits at the corners. The taller sides of a saucepan frequently meet up with the base at a right angle or nearly so. The food in those corners is at a constant risk of burning, so it's important to keep stirring to avoid burned food! Slow cooking, where you "set it and forget it," should not be done in a saucepan.
Those angled corners have another downside. They're difficult to clean! In contrast to the rounded corners found in frying pans and stock pots, it may take some elbow grease and specific cleaning tools to remove all the food residue from these sharp corners.
Saucepans may not be the best choice for simultaneously preparing substantial amounts of food. You can make stock in a saucepan, yes. But if you need to make a decently large quantity of stock, you're better off swapping to a stock pot. If you need to cook up a large batch of stew or soup, reach for a Dutch oven instead.
What to consider when shopping for a saucepan
The material of your saucepan greatly impacts its performance.
Stainless Steel: Known for durability and resistance to staining, a stainless steel saucepan is excellent for versatile cooking. Saucepans provide consistent heat distribution and are simple to upkeep. Tri-ply or multi-ply stainless steel pans have layers of aluminum or copper for enhanced heat conductivity.
Nonstick: Nonstick saucepans are convenient for low-fat cooking and easy cleanup. They're perfect for tasks like making delicate sauces or sautéing ingredients with minimal oil.
Copper: Copper saucepans excel in rapid and precise temperature control. They heat up quickly and evenly, making them ideal for tasks that require precise heat adjustments, such as melting chocolate.
Aluminum: Lightweight and responsive to heat changes, aluminum saucepans are quick to heat up but may develop hotspots without additional layers or coatings.
Cast Iron: Cast iron saucepans are beloved for their ability to create rich, flavorful sauces and dishes. They combine the timeless quality of cast iron cookware with a specialized design tailored to the art of sauce-making, making them an essential tool for any serious home cook or chef.
Consider the capacity of the saucepan in relation to your typical cooking needs. Smaller saucepans (around one quart) are suitable for reheating and making sauces like tomato sauce, while larger ones (three to four quarts) are better for boiling, simmering, or making larger quantities of food.
Having a properly fitting lid is crucial for retaining heat and moisture when cooking. Some lids feature vents or clear glass for monitoring without lifting.
Choose a saucepan with a handle that stays cool while cooking on the stovetop. Ensure it provides a comfortable grip and is securely attached to the pan through rivets or welding.
Heavier saucepans tend to distribute heat more evenly and retain it better, which can be advantageous for slow cooking. However, consider your own comfort and strength when handling a full saucepan.
A saucepan with a thick, flat base ensures that heat is evenly distributed, minimizing the possibility of hotspots that can result in uneven cooking. Some saucepans have encapsulated bottoms with layers of different materials, enhancing their heat conductivity.
The interior surface can be nonstick-coated, stainless steel, or copper. Choose based on your cooking preferences and whether you prioritize easy cleanup.
Copper: Exceptional heat conductivity but requires regular maintenance to retain its shine.
Make sure the saucepan is compatible with your specific cooktop. For instance, if you have an induction cooktop, you'll require a saucepan with a magnetic base.
Set a budget before shopping, as saucepan prices can vary widely. Premium materials and expert craftsmanship may come with a higher price tag, but they can prove to be a valuable investment for long-lasting durability.
Check if the saucepan is safe in the dishwasher if you want a hassle-free cleaning option. Note that certain nonstick coatings may necessitate handwashing to extend their lifespan.
Alternatives To Saucepans
Different dishes require the distinct shape of different types of cookware. Saucepans are a popular cooking tool, but some other pots and pans can be used for cooking liquids and might fit your needs better!
Saute pans are a hybrid between a saucepan and a frying pan. They come with a lid but have a wider base and somewhat shorter sides. As a result, they are well-suited for tasks such as searing meats and sautéing vegetables while permitting moisture to evaporate. The shorter sides make them unsuitable for boiling water or other liquids.
The deep stock pot is the best option for cooking large quantities of food (specifically liquids, such as stew or soups). This larger pot can accomplish anything a saucepan can but in much bigger batches. They also typically have rounded corners, making cleanup easier!
While saucepans are well-designed for boiling and simmering liquids, oils and fats are a different type of liquid! A saucepan can be used to fry small foods deep, but the wide base and narrow sides of a frying pan are needed to fry meats and other dishes properly.