When I got home from my trip this weekend I found that one of my skillets had been somewhat ill-used; the food melded on the bottom of the pan so that it could not be removed seemingly. I do not begrudge the cook this, aluminum pans (as opposed to non stick) can be tricky to use, no worries chef.
I started on the scrubbing yesterday but the task was herculean so I stood it off to soak and to try again later.
As I worked on the pan I went through a series of interesting thoughts about cookware as metaphor regarding relationships in particular. This is probably brought on by a friend’s marital troubles that emerged on my radar this week but overall burnt-food cookware issues really could speak to just about any difficult issue one might be facing so I thought I’d outline what the “process” looked like in my kitchen.
(For the record this metaphor is in no way meant to reflect a judgement on my part about my friend’s way of working through troubled times, it just provided a moment of reflection on my part.)
I’m not sure it was entirely important knowing the offending food but at the very least it did give me a bit of insight into how to approach this. I was told it was “probably macaroni” which is odd considering the pan in question is a skillet but to each his own, yes?
In approaching the problem at hand I think that if it had been ONLY macaroni we might not have a problem at all but it must have been macaroni AND cheese and therein lies the problem.
It might have felt good to see the pan, play the blame card and toss the pan in the garbage to make a point. I certainly think I have done this in the past out of martyrdom, anger or plain laziness but today, it felt like the pan was worth saving. I thought about where I had gotten this pan, how my chef brother had encouraged me to keep trying it and had given me tips on how to use it properly. I decided it was indeed worthwhile so that is where I began.
The Dry Scrape
I was told once that “wet” burned on food is harder to remove than “dry” burnt on food. I don’t know about that but it’s always worth a shot. I got the proper tool for the job, basically this little piece of plastic called a “scraper” (oddly enough..lol) courtesy of Pampered Chef. I think it was the best $1 purchase I ever made through PC. I set out scraping the food with little to no visible difference. The one thing it produced was a horrible sound and nobody likes that but we had to start somewhere. It may have perhaps at least scratched the surface of the problem so to speak.
Sometimes in the course of difficult times it becomes important to let things soak. Tossing aside The Dry Scrape I resort to the Soak. I imagine the water like time edging itself under the problem and softening the hard crust that has developed on top. The amount of time varies according to what was burnt, how long it was left on the heat and the kind of pan used. In this case I started with an overnight soak.
The Wet Scrape
The morning brings with her a renewed commitment to the pan and a vigor to solving the problem at hand. I start again with the trusty scraper. We take off more layers of what brought us to the edge of throwing it all away. I start to see the bottom of the pan but it still seems a long way til things are back to where they ought to be. The pan is unusable, I think again about whether it is worth the trouble but I continue on.
When approaching a problem such as this it’s important to have a variety of tools at hand. When the scraper can go no further we move to the big guns…the scrubbing pad. The very good thing about having chosen an aluminum pan is that this is a tool I can actually USE to clean this pan. Sissy non-stick pans are so delicate that one can never use such a brash brush. One could argue that if the dreaded “non stick” had been used in the first place then we wouldn’t be in this sorry mess but frankly then I’d not have considered this metaphor at all…so there.
I scrub until my hands hurt and there is still more to go before I sleep so I pull the troops out and move to phase II.
The Soak Redeux
Often at this point all we can throw at a tough issue is to soak it again. Water has amazing properties in all aspects of our lives so why not for our cookware as well? I run the soapy hot water in the pan, a culinary spa treatment and go bed, hoping for the best that time and h20 can offer.
The Wet Scrape Redeux
In the morning when things are calm I take a moment to empty the water. I don’t expect it to be clean, just a little softer and some of it is softer and some, not so much. I bring the scraper to the ready and take away another couple of layers, this is the last of it…this is the CHEESE, I tell you. Cheese must morph into some strange form of tar when heated in aluminum pans at great heat and not enough stirring. I scrape for all I’m worth and see the bottom of the pan. As I scrape I see more and more black removed. I have to keep cleaning the scraper because it’s covered with the tar pit cheese. The hardest part is around the rivets which bear the handle. I pick at those delicately, taking time with them. It’s not that hard to take THIS off now, it’s just been ignored until now. The last of the food comes off in the rinse. One last scrub with the scrubber and the shine is revealed…not new, not different, but brought back to life.
This metaphor breaks down on so many levels, obviously, but there is something here for us. One thing is that there is no such thing as a teflon coated marriage. Those of us who move into marriage with eyes open and hearts ready are aluminum and prone to burn when heat is too high or the cooking is not attended with great care.
Another piece is that sometimes, I admit, the damage to the pan is beyond repair, no amount of scrubbing or soaking will bring it back to it’s former self. Sometimes, sadly, we do have to throw away the pan. I hope, at the very least though, that there has been some degree of soaking, scraping, scrubbing and so on…if not to save the pan, at least to say we tried.