OK, so, continuing with the “write for 15 minutes and then post” game that began yesterday (that’s what the “15 minutes:” at the beginning of the title means. I will try to stop commenting on it in the future unless I need ways to kill time. :), today I remembered a little rant that I had the other day that I thought it would be good to blog at some point.
Initially, I wanted to title the post “How non-stick pans are ruining a generation of home chefs”, but that seemed a bit harsh, so now I will just say this: if you ever want to make sauce or gravy – and really, if you are cooking with meat or onions on a regular basis and you don’t want to make sauce or gravy… why not? – please don’t use a non-stick pan.
The science behind this plea is quite simple, and I will let Wikipedia summarize it for me:
Deglazing is a cooking technique for removing bits of food from a pan in order to make a sauce with them. When a piece of meat is roasted, pan fried or prepared in a pan with another form of dry heat, a fond, or deposit is left at the bottom of the pan with any rendered fat. Usually, the meat is removed from the cooking vessel, the majority of the oil is poured off, leaving a small amount with the dried and caramelized meat juices. The pan is returned to the heat, and a liquid is added to act as a solvent. This liquid can be plain water, vegetable or meat stock, a spirit, some wine, verjuice or any other liquid. This allows the cook to scrape the dark spots from the bottom of the pan, and dissolve them creating a rich sauce. 
This method is the cornerstone of many well known sauces and gravies. The resulting liquid can be seasoned and served on its own (sometimes called a jus), or with the addition of aromatic vegetables such as onions or shallots. The sauce can also be thickened with a starch such as flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot, or reduced with a steady heat forming a richer concentrated sauce.
You see, something really cool happens when you heat up sugar, and it is what we call caramelization. You know, like caramel. Caramel is sugar that has been cooked at a high enough temperature that it turns brown, which gives it that characteristic nutty sweet caramelly taste. If you just heat up sugar alone and then add butter and milk in appropriate proportions, you get caramel, or butterscotch, and you have a happy day before you.
When you heat up other foods that have sugar inside of them, however (and a lot of foods have sugar in them somewhere – yay energy!), those sugars start to caramelize after a while too, and the way the food tastes changes. Caramelized onions, as the most famous example, are just onions that have been cooked for a long time. No caramel is added. It comes out of the onion like magic and bunnies. Cooking is chemistry, people, and chemistry is fun. :)
If you use a nonstick pan, however, you miss out on a lot of this fun. The sugars brown best when they get to stick to something for a while and get crispy, but nonstick pans are built around the notion that sticking is terrible, and we want to avoid it at all costs. That makes home chefs who aren’t used to browning action freak out a bit when they start cooking something and the sugars begin to caramelize, and the innate reaction is to stir and scrape and curse at what suddenly seems like a pan that will be really hard to wash.
As wikipedia explains above, however, you should just chill. Wait a few minutes. And add water. Or brandy! The process of ‘deglazing’ is an entry level concept for sauciers everywhere, and I think it’s a shame that people might not be able to learn it just because they got tricked into thinking that non-stick coatings are the best thing to happen to home cooking since the microwave.
I’m a couple minutes over, so now I leave.
I might come back later or post again with pictures.
In the meantime, have fun! Deglaze something! Trust me! :)