Do you have this problem that I do with food sticking to a stainless steel pan? Then, you’re in the right place. I have an easy remedy for you. It involves 2 kitchen staples, 5 minutes of your time and a little patience before you begin to cook your food in a stainless steel pan. This remedy also works for cast iron pans. 

I learnt this trick from watching my grandma, mom and aunts cook in our family kitchen, in the south of India. I never understood why they used an onion to grease their stainless steel and cast iron pans. I always though it was because we didn’t have pastry brushes in our kitchen in India like how they have in the western world. Only later in life, when I started cooking on my own as a student in Canada in the 1990’s, did I learn about the dangers of non-stick and why the elders in my household used ONLY stainless and cast iron pans and cookware.

Start by chopping an onion in half, any kind of onion will do – red, white, shallot or even green onions (if you are using green onions or spring onions as they are often referred to, then they need to be chopped into smaller pieces). Dip your onion in oil and rub the onion all over your stainless steel or cast iron pan, while your pan is on medium heat.  Make sure you rub the onion, face down for a good 60 seconds or so, till the acid releases from the onion onto the pan, forming a barrier on the pan and creating a “non-stick” coating. Rub the centre and sides of the pan really well and go over the pan a few times back and forth by pressing down the onion onto the pan, while heat is on, the onion will get a bit browned or caramelized. Now you know your pan is ready to begin cooking with. 

Turn down the heat to one level lower and then begin to cook your food the way you normally would. If I am frying an egg or frying any other kind of food that has protein in it, I always add a little good quality oil and wait for the oil to heat before I begin to cook in the seasoned pan. Any food that has protein in it, will generally stick to a stainless steel or a cast iron pan. This onion hack will prevent food from sticking and always works for me. It takes just 5 minutes to do and you save so much more time during clean up, as there is no scrubbing of sticky food from pans. Also, make sure to allow your oil or any fat you use to heat up before adding your ingredients. 

Watch the video below to see how it’s done. The video demonstrates in under 2 minutes a simple yet effective way to make your stainless steel pans and cast iron pans non-stick.

A few more tips:
1. If you are using green onions, fry the green onions till browned, allowing the acid to release from it (also shown in the video below).
2. Never overheat or under heat your pan and always wait for the fat (oil, butter, ghee, etc) to come to a medium-high heat before you start cooking your food.

One may ask, why bother with this method above, when using a non-stick pan is an easier option!

Truth is, non-stick pans can be detrimental to health because they contain layers of synthetic material with the chemical polytetrafluoroethylene. When these non-stick synthetic materials are exposed to high heat, they can become a source of perfluorooctanoic acid, which is a long-chain chemical compound that has repeatedly been linked to a range of health problems. The most common brand of nonstick is Teflon, but there are many other brands on the market.

Often you hear people say, it’s all about how you use and treat your non-stick pans and cookware, if treated well and used as per manufacturer’s instructions, then non-stick cookware is safe. I disagree with this, because, if you are cooking on a regular basis, you are bound to over heat your cookware sometimes. Other time, you might use the wrong spatula or spoon (when in a hurry) and scrape the non-stick coating slightly. Everyone in your household who cooks might not follow the manufacturers instructions on how to use and treat your non-stick cookware. Over time, or sometimes very quickly (depending upon use and care), the non-stick coating is chipped or repeatedly over heated and they release dangerous fumes that are inhaled or consumed in food, which can led to many serious health problem. Here is a link that discusses this further.

About the Author Lillian

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