This past summer the Washington Post ran my Top 20 picks for kitchen newbies. The list was pretty straightforward—vegetable peeler, whisk, cutting board, a good knife. The heavy-bottomed roasting pan didn’t make the list, but under my fifteenth pick, the 13- by 9-inch pan, it won honorable mention: “You’ll eventually want a roasting pan,” I advise, “but for now this works for baking a cake, casserole, or small roast.
For those with a limited repertoire—canned soup, scrambled eggs, cheese quesadillas—and no plans to expand it, your money is probably better spent elsewhere. But for those who sear, sauté, stew, and simmer—especially when cooking for more than four—a heavy-duty roasting pan is worth putting on your Christmas list.
So serious my commitment to this piece of kitchen equipment, I bought Maggy and Andy one their first Christmas. (Unfortunately I forgot just how small their apartment-size British oven was. Since then it’s been relegated to bread and cracker storage on top of their fridge.) Unless you say no, Sharon, you’ll find one under your tree this year too. Here’s why.
In Julie & Julia, recall Julie’s delight with her well-browned mushrooms. The key, per her ghost-mentor, Julia Child, was not to overcrowd the pan. It’s true. Even in a large skillet, a pound of sliced mushrooms are stacked three or four deep. Take the same pile of mushrooms and sauté them in a heavy-duty roasting pan over two burners. The doubled pan surface not only improves browning, it also decreases cooking time.
And in that same flick, remember Julia’s famous Boeuf Bourguignon? Picture the pile of beef chunks that need searing before stewing. You can brown them in three batches in a dinky Dutch oven or you can do it in one batch in a roasting pan set over two burners. At eight minutes per batch, that’s a sixteen-minute time saving.
I promote this technique when I can and although no one ever says why, some food magazines I write for don’t like it (and won’t publish it). I’m sure they think the technique’s a little risky. It’s true that when stirring your arm might hit one of the hot metal handles, but—nothing a little foil cover wouldn’t prevent. It’s also true that cooking in a roasting pan over two burners is hotter, faster, sweatier… racier. For the uninitiated, it could feel a tad stressful.
I’ll continue to promote the benes of roasting pan cooking. For the nay-sayers, however, I borrow a line from Julia’s husband Paul, who, when the original publisher rejects her book for a second time, delivers two deliciously choice words. (And it’s not “Screw ‘em”.)