Walk in to any kitchen supply store, and the shine from all the glistening pots and pans may make you reach for your sunglasses. Your senses are immediately assaulted: All the cookware claims to be the newest and best thing to hit the market. No-stick, non-stick, stick-resistant, a little stick -- who can you believe, and how can you determine what shiny or brightly colored saucepan is the right one for you? Two terms jousting for the title of "best cookware" are hard anodized and porcelain enamel. Distinguishing between the two isn't difficult if you know how to wend your way through the language of surfaces on pots and pans.
Building a Better Model
Realizing the weaknesses in aluminum cookware, but aiming to maintain the high conductivity of the element, scientists at Calphalon created the first hard anodized aluminum cookware in 1968. Through an electro-chemical process, they fused the aluminum in an acid bath jolted with an electrical current -- do not try this at home -- resulting in an oxide blend that had greater resistance than the original aluminum. The process also created a lovely gray coloring, and the scientists noticed that food was less apt to stick than with the original aluminum.
Porcelain, a combination of kaolin clay and glass fired at extremely high temperatures, was first fired onto iron in the 1800s, creating a pot lining that eliminated the leaching of iron into food. Through the years, aluminum and stainless steel have also been fused with porcelain, adding to the myriad of cookware choices.
Benefits of Hard-Anodized Cookware
Touch a hard-anodized pot to realize its strength. The smooth cooking surface is stick-resistant, and its solid surface won't corrode, leach or suffer abrasions. If satellites in the sky can depend on the strength of hard-anodized parts to protect them from the rigors of space, then a mere saucepan is sure to have a long life. Hard-anodized cookware also has excellent heat conduction and cleans safely.
Hard-anodized saucepans are safe at high temperatures, making them ideal for stovetop-to-oven cooking. Just be sure to use potholders when removing the cookware from the oven.
Porcelain Enamel Pros
The high-temperature firing of porcelain onto iron has driven the cookware market for over a century. The process was then expanded to include stainless steel and aluminum. The porcelain isn't a coating over a base metal, but a fusion of the two. The rock-hard surface is resistant to scratching and peeling. However, heavy use will turn the enamel color darker, which does not affect the cooking qualities of the pot; instead, it simply indicates years of use. While aluminum and stainless steel porcelain enamels are lighter second cousins to cast iron in the realm of cookware, it's the heft of the iron that gives porcelain enamel its edge with serious cooks.
Aluminum porcelain enamel doesn't leach, making it a safer choice than unfused aluminum.
Beware of chips in iron-based porcelain enamel that expose the under-surface, as the base metal can transfer to the food.
A Sticky Subject
Hard anodization of aluminum not only creates a smooth surface; the result of the fusion process is that the base aluminum becomes non-porous. Food adheres when first put into the pan, but as it nears doneness, it's released from its bond. Hard-anodized cookware is stick-resistant.
Pre-heat hard-anodized cookware on a medium setting prior to adding food. Do not use high heat.
The little bits of food that don't resist sticking, which are left in the bottom of a saucepan once the has released, make an excellent base for gravy or an elegant sauce.
Use utensils of any fabrication without risking damage to the cookware.
Porcelain enamel over iron, aluminum or stainless steel is non-stick. Bits may be left behind, especially during high-heat cooking, but they scrape off with little effort. A good soak in warm water rinses away any residue without effort.
Use wood utensils or those made from silicone to prevent scratches on the surface enamel.
Pre-heat porcelain enamel cookware before adding any cooking liquid. Due to the thickness of the fabrication, it may take several minutes for the pan to reach the optimum temperature. Hover your hand over the pan to test for heat intensity.
Both hard-anodized aluminum cookware and porcelain-fused enamel are considered safe. The biggest concern is leaching from the base metal to the food, and if chips in the porcelain are avoided, they are not dangerous. The FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has deemed enamel-coated cookware safe, including products that are imported.
Buy only good-quality cookware and avoid imports that are merely glazed, not fused.
Do not use aerosol sprays in either hard-anodized or porcelain enamel cookware. Instead, cook with vegetable or olive oil and butter.
A Beauty Contest
Hard-anodized aluminum cookware is one color -- gray. That's the result of the oxidation that takes place during the chemical fusion process. Porcelain enamel over a base metal are manufactured in a riot of colors, which makes them ideal additions to well-decorated kitchens. Many cooks tend to collect porcelain enamel cookware in one color and display them as accessories instead of hiding them in cupboards.