Stanley Tucci is describing what he thinks makes a good pan. We are eating a lunch of gnocchi in sage butter, seared lamb chops with roasted root vegetables and poached pears in red wine at Fortnum & Mason to mark the launch of his own collection of cookware in collaboration with GreenPan. Tucci’s pans come as a set of 11 in colourways including Venetian Teal, Carrara White and Milano Black.

“A good pan has to have many qualities,” Tucci says. “Durability, even heat conductivity, quick responsiveness to heat and a level cooking surface. It must have weight – but can’t be too heavy – clean lines and, very importantly, no toxicity.” We can assume the Tucci by GreenPan range – which features PFAS-free ceramic non-stick technology and heavy-gauge bodies with induction-ready bases – scores high on those requirements. Like Tucci himself, the pans are certainly stylish, with curved edges and black- or champagne-coloured handles in a corrosion-resistant finish. But how important are looks in a pan? “For me, very,” says Tucci. “But if a pan doesn’t work, who cares?”

Whatever your criteria, finding the perfect pan is not straightforward. “We obsess far too much over precisely which cooking pot to buy,” argues Bee Wilson in The Secret of Cooking (4th Estate). “You can cook perfectly lovely food with imperfect pots and pans.” Mine are cases in point. Some were gifts, including a stainless-steel Brabantia set that saw me off to university. Some were special purchases, such as a pair of cream-coloured enamelled cast-iron casserole dishes from Le Creuset. I have a Ken Hom wok, an Always Pan from Our Place and a 30cm HexClad frying pan that is ideally sized for cooking a full English for a full house at weekends. None is perfect, but each does the job just fine.

Tucci with the GreenPan 7.5-litre stockpot from the stainless-steel 11-piece set
Tucci with the GreenPan 7.5-litre stockpot from the stainless-steel 11-piece set © Greenpan

Like any avid cook, however, I dream of acquiring the ultimate batterie de cuisine. But where to start? Mostly the choice comes down to the properties of different metals. Copper, for instance, is highly responsive to heat. This means no hot spots and precise temperatures, which is ideal for cooking foods that are liable to burn. But like aluminium, it loses heat quickly – a problem when searing steak. Stainless steel is durable and easy to clean but a poor heat conductor. As Wilson points out, it’s often a trade-off, though top brands such as All-Clad sandwich multiple layers of different metals in order to maximise the benefits.

Many cooks favour cast iron and carbon steel (the latter is the lighter of the two). Both are good at retaining heat and get better with age. Spun iron, a speciality of Netherton Foundry in Shropshire, is similar. But these pans need to be seasoned and properly maintained. Seasoning involves oiling the surface and applying heat to create a protective layer. This prevents food from sticking. It’s not difficult but it is the kind of “mysterious” process, says Wilson, that can put off home cooks. This may be why non-stick pans, which are often cheaper, remain so appealing.

To fry for – five great bits of kitchen kit

Our Place ceramic Blue Salt Always Pan 2.0, £130

Mauviel aluminium M’Stone frying pan, from £92,

All-Clad copper-core frying pan, from £165,

Caraway sauté pan in Perracotta, $145

Netherton Foundry 13in spun-iron wok, £79.35

Brands such as GreenPan, Caraway and Our Place specialise in smarter, non-toxic, ceramic non-stick cookware in bold colours. But all non-stick coatings degrade, even if pans continue to function with a little extra oil. For this reason, professional cooks, including food writer Ed Smith, are loath to recommend that people spend a fortune on one. Smith’s latest book Good Eggs (Quadrille) explores a food known for testing the stickiness of any pan. For fried eggs, the way he likes them with crisp skirts, he uses a seasoned 6in carbon-steel frying pan from Alex Pole. “The slightly imperfect non-stick nature of the contact between egg and surface means it’s easier to achieve texture – crispy edges – colour and therefore flavour,” he says. The pan also has a hand-forged stainless-steel curved handle that’s a joy to grip.

For French omelettes, however, Smith favours non-stick: “A French omelette should be smooth and entirely without blemish or colour,” he explains. “That’s easiest to achieve in a pan with a factory-made non-stick surface, as the egg doesn’t stick and, at a gentle heat, doesn’t colour.” He recently splashed out on a 24cm flared non-stick omelette pan from Mauviel. It was “over twice as expensive as the one I could have got from Nisbets, but twice as pleasing to hold and look at,” he says. “I’ll hide it for now, bringing it out only for my eggs.”

Sensory pleasure can be just as important a factor as cost and functionality. “Any chef will tell you the best knife is one that feels best in your hand. The same with a pan,” says Wilson.

Similarly, if you’re a massive Stanley Tucci fan, getting one of his pans can bring a bit of that stardust into your kitchen. In traditional families, pans would be passed down and have this emotional aura. But if you didn’t learn to cook as a child and watched Stanley Tucci instead, he is your grandmother. There’s nothing wrong, in other words, with letting your heart – or celebrity crush – be your guide.


Letter in response to this article:

My cast-iron omelette pan is still going strong / From Angela Huxter, Letcombe Regis, Oxfordshire, UK

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