Saturday, 20 July 2013

Copper Love

Why do cooks love copper so much? What is about that rosy hue that sends the heart racing when you catch sight of the magnificent display at the Essential Ingredient?

It is, let's face it, the Rolls Royce of cookware - the conductivity of copper means that it transfers heat more quickly than other base metals. Many fine-dining kitchens show a glistening wall of copper sauté pans and, if you're lucky, a tiny mini-pan on your table holding your Paris mash or sautéed green beans.

Copper display at the Essential Ingredient

Historically copperware has been lined with tin. After many years of use, this wears through and must be relined as otherwise it will taint your food and could cause illness. Many modern brands now use stainless steel as a lining, which has considerable convenience for home cooks.

The Essential Ingredient provides tips for caring for your copperware:
- Do not heat an empty copper pan and do not pre-heat before use. Because copper heats quickly, it should be used over a lower temperature than other metals.
- Copper pans should be washed by hand (not in the dishwasher) while still hot, using detergent and a soft brush or pad, not steel wool or scouring pads. If food is burnt or stuck on, soak for up to an hour before washing.
- Copper requires no special treatment but an occasional polish with a dedicated copper cleaner will retain the bright colour. Do not use powdered cleaners as they may scratch the surface.
- The tin lining used on most copper cookware will discolour with time and use, and over the years it may even wear off. Do not use the pan if the copper is showing through the lining. Either have it re-lined or relegate it to a decorative item only. Stainless steel linings are virtually indestructible. 
- Use wooden, not metal, spoons and other utensils.

There's some interesting information here and here on the French practice of using unlined copper jam pans to cook preserves (personally, I always believe anything Christine Ferber, the undisputed Comtesse des confitures says).

Copper is considered excellent for whipping eggwhites and is also traditonally used in Italy for the making of that delightful dessert zabaglione. Cook's Illustrated testing found:
The deep, bowl-like shape of the zabaglione pan is thought to facilitate whipping, and we were curious to see if this was true. We did find it much easier to whisk the eggs in a zabaglione pan than in a bowl or small saucepan. The custard also seemed to cook more evenly in the zabaglione pan than in the bowl or saucepan, both of which collected more bits of overcooked egg. We can only speculate as to why, but it may be that the custard is moved about so efficiently in the zabaglione pan that not one drop remains in one place long enough to overcook. The pan, made of unlined copper, is also an excellent conductor of heat, which is why it is so important to cook the custard over a very low, gentle flame.
Display at Flawless Flowers
 95% of copper is used for wiring, plumbing and industrial machinery, so it's a very small fraction that makes its way into high end cookware and decorations. But there's much more to copper than meets the (gorgeous) eye. Wandering through the Big Top last week, I found Emma Whiting of Flawless Flowers washing down three stunning copper tubs. Emma had been looking for these for ages and when she saw them at a local trash and treasure stall, she pounced.

"They're perfect for tulips, the copper feeds into the flowers' systems and they last longer. Any kind of metal is good but copper is best." I am extremely jealous and will do my best not to pinch them. Ahem. Emma also recommends tipping copper-coated coins into a tall vase to keep your flowers fresh. So, useful and beautiful - who could ask for anything more?

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