stir crazy: The type of giant iron pans used by Chinese cooks. Photos: Suthon Sukphisit
The most notorious pan in Thailand now is the Korea King pan being sold through social media and home shopping networks. The value-adding word “Korea” makes the Teflon pan seem more hi-so and eligible to be expensive. The product’s advertisement claims that the frying equipment is worth 13,000 baht but the buy-one-get-one promotion offers shoppers two for only 3,300 baht. The importers are said to spend 15-16 million baht a month for such advertising but so far they have made up to 8 billion baht.
The Cornucopia column isn’t the most authoritative place to assess the pan’s quality. Is it really worth the money? We don’t know. Is it that incredible? We can’t tell for sure. But we can say that this is the most extreme pan-selling trend in the kitchenware industry we’ve ever seen. The trend, however, leads to the realisation that most households own more than one type of pan and preferably one of them is coated in Teflon.
It’s interesting to learn about the popular pans throughout time in Thai kitchens. In the early years, influenced by Chinese cookery, the pans Thai people used were made of brass because the material was easy to find. However, they needed to be used carefully as they didn’t resist heat very well. They were also quite expensive. Thai people tended to use it for low-heat cooking like when making desserts.
Then we moved on from brass to steel, suitable for all forms of use due to its durability. The price was still expensive but it was cheaper than brass.
In the old days, iron pans built up quite an industry. The best known were made in Soi Roang Krata (Wok Lane). There were also a big kitchenware shop and a factory in front of Mitr Samphan Road. The pans were made in several sizes. The largest, called krata bai bua (the shape is similar to a lotus leaf), was about 120 centimetres in diameter. The enormous size made it ideal for heavy cooking such as cooking rice for a large number of people; cooking vegetables during the vegetarian festival; making sugar from sugar cane, coconut milk and coconut oil; and frying patong koh (Chinese-style doughnuts)
Small woks used at home are made with two handles for holding and lifting. They are heat-resistant, good for deep frying. Chinese cooks and this type of pan are inseparable. The skilful ones hold the handle in one hand and use the turner to stir the ingredients in the other hand. To fry this way, they shake the pan constantly so that the food will be well mixed and the heat will reach the ingredients equally.
For home cooking, frying with little oil and overheating can be a problem as soft ingredients such as meat, fish and sugar usually stain the pan, making it hard to clean unless you use a brass brush. But if you use enough oil, that should be OK.
The iron pan design has improved over the years. They are now made with a wooden handle, making it more convenient, and quite popular in restaurant kitchens for frying noodles and rice. They may still be expensive, so aluminium is used to substitute iron. It’s cheaper, heat-resistant and easy to clean but the stain problem remains.
Heat-resistant Teflon pans solve the stain problem, especially when using less oil to fry or no oil at all. It can be used as a toaster by laying the bread on the pan with no oil. They come in many sizes and shapes depending on the pan’s purpose — smaller for frying eggs or squarish for making the popular Japanese omelette or deep-bottomed with a grille design to use as a griller.
Teflon-coated pans have disadvantages too. The turner used with it must not be made of solid metal like stainless steel. It must be either plastic or wood to prevent the coating being scraped off. You must wash the pan carefully with a sponge and rub it lightly. You also need to leave the pan to cool down before washing to preserve the coating.
There is another popular pan in the US which is used by Thai chefs over there. It is the heavy cast-iron pan that is set to dethrone the heat-resistant Teflon. It is suitable for all types of meats, with no oil or minimal use. But the pan must be hot first before the meat is added to fry. Heat will accumulate inside the pan so that the meat is cooked quickly. To clean it, use paper or cloth to wipe away the oil stains. If stains of meat and oil occur, sprinkle salt and use a scraper for the grease, then wipe with paper or cloth. This type of pan needs to be used very often because the fat from the meat will moisten the texture of the pan.
A pan is an essential utensil in the kitchen but users must select the appropriate type for their cooking. It all comes down to making the food taste good. The price tag of the highly advertised and overrated pan may have little bearing. If not significantly better than the others out there, why waste your money?