August 2020 News/Columns Recipes

Recipes: Three-Bowl Breaded Crappie, by Vernon Summerlin

Three-Bowl Breaded Crappie

Pan versus Skillet?


by Vernon Summerlin

  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds crappie fillets
  • Salt and pepper fillets
  • 1 /2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cold water, a splash
  • 2 cups plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Season fillets with salt and pepper
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • Wedged lemons and malt vinegar for dressings

Three bowls for ingredients. Place 1/2 cup flour in your first bowl. Whisk egg and water in second bowl. Season plain bread crumbs with mustard and cayenne in the third bowl. Coat fish in flour, then egg and then bread crumbs. Heat vegetable oil in skillet to 365 degrees F. Season fillets with salt and pepper. Gently set coated fish into hot oil and fry each side until medium golden brown in color. When the fish is evenly golden all over, remove and drain. Dress with lemon slices and malt vinegar.

Pans vs Skillets

Do you know the difference between a pan and a skillet? I thought a pan and a skillet were the same thing until I began researching the history of skillets for this column. To my surprise I learned they aren’t the same but either term can be used for both styles of cookware. Confused? A skillet, also known as a fry-pan, has some distinct differences from a sauté pan and the pan you choose can affect your cooking experience.

A flat-bottomed pan with straight vertical sides (90-degree from base to top) is called of a sauté pan is perfect for (take a guess!) sautéing. Hence forth in this column it’s called just a “pan”. Its sides are typically shallow, though often slightly deeper than most skillets. You can use this for pan-frying, just like a skillet, to sear and fry food but you can also use it for liquid cooking methods and those that require a lid: think poaching, braising and cooking a mess of greens.

A skillet is also a flat-bottomed pan that is used for sautéing, grilling, stewing and roasting plus being used for deep and shallow-frying. It’s ideal for stir-frying and quick cooking techniques where you’re moving ingredients around a lot.

You can think of a skillet as a pan with slanted sides. It has shorter, curved sides. With their flared rims, skillets provide a wide, open view and convenient access to stir, move or flip ingredients. The smooth, curved sides also help you quickly slide a finished dish from pan to plate.

Many of us envision skillets of heavy cast iron, which can last a couple of forevers once seasoned and maintained. This is my go-to skillet for frying fish. Here’s how to season a cast iron skillet.

1. Scrub a new skillet well in hot soapy water and dry thoroughly.
2. Spread a thin layer of melted shortening, lard or vegetable oil over the entire inside of the skillet.
3. Place it upside down on a middle oven rack at 300°. (Place foil on a lower rack to catch drips.)
4. Bake 1 hour; let cool in the oven. You may want to repeat to oiling and heating to hasten the seasoning process.
5. Wipe the skillet clean it. Do not wash the skillet after frying. This is the technique handled down in my family.
6. After several frying episodes the skillet becomes more stick-proof as grease hardens and fills the pores in the metal. Your grand and great
children will appreciate the inheritance of well-seasoned skillet.

While pans and skillets are available in an assortment of materials — stainless steel, nonstick surfaces, ceramic, cast iron, etc. – a single layer of metal can’t provide all the functions needed for a variety of cooking. A good choice, especially for heavily used cookware, is a tri-ply or five-ply combination of stainless steel and aluminum (or hard-anodized aluminum). Stainless steel provides a durable surface, providing excellent heat retention. Interior layers of aluminum ensure heat is evenly distributed. All metals work together to create the ideal cooking base.

Either a skillet or a pan would be an important and useful tool for any home cook. While both can be used to sear a tenderloin steak or chicken breast to perfection, skillets probably better for your stir fries and for easy pan-to-plate fare. Sauté pans, on the other hand, are perfect for longer cooks, high volumes of food or any dish with a decent amount of liquid.

The most popular sizes of these implements for home cooking are 8-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch diameters. With their straight sides, sauté pans have similar bottom and top measurements, so a 12-inch pan provides a cooking area of the same size. Sauté pans are often described according to capacity and a good choice for home cooking ranges from 1 quart to 7 quarts. The 12-inch skillet gives you 10 inches of cooking surface.

Pan or skillet, either can get most of your stove-top cooking done flawlessly.

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