This Feather-Light Cast-Iron Frying Pan Is So Great, I'm Almost Annoyed
I'm really fussy about cast iron. Not in the "Ye shall not allow soap within one hectare of the sacred skillet lest the grandmothers of yore take corporeal form to whomp you upside the head" sense, because that's a load of nonsense. It's more that I get super skeptical about the new wave of cast-iron purveyors who by their very existence are trying to assert that they can make a better product than the smiths who wrought the century-old pan that permanently resides on my burners—and that they tend to charge a squillion dollars for it. (I feel legally obligated to mention here that I have a masters degree in metalsmithing, so I come by the crankiness honestly.) I've tried various of the culty brands and for the most part, they're fine-to-good, and to me, not worth the eye-popping price tag when Lodge and various yard sales yield battle-tested gear that will still net you change back from your $50 bill. But the Vermicular isn't fine or good; Vermicular is extraordinary.
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I'm borderline annoyed with how much joy this pricey frying pan and lid bring me, but I'm a sucker for a gorgeous object—if it delivers on function. The selling points of the new breed of cast iron tend to be the lighter weight and smoother surfaces than that of heritage brands, but the form is fundamentally the same. Vermicular—a family-owned Japanese brand with 80 years in the cookware game—explored and adapted every aspect of the frying pan and made some audacious upgrades that I didn't even know it needed.
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Once I got past the sheer terror of placing this seemingly delicate object over the flame of my gas stove (full disclosure: Vermicular sent me a 24cm Deep pan and lid to test-drive, and the pan is also available in a shallower but wider version), I got all persnickety and pedantic, almost hoping that I'd find some fault so as not to have a new three-figure obsession on my hands. OK fine, the remarkably deep, slope-sided pan took me a second to wrangle because it clocked in at a good four-ish pounds lighter than my equivalent workhorse skillet, and I'd need to recalibrate my two-tricep, brute-force cooking stance because even with one bare hand, I was practically flinging this thing across the kitchen. And yes, I said bare hand. The standard metal grip has been supplanted by a U-shaped wooden (your choice, oak or walnut) handle, capped with a sleek hook for wall hanging, and here's the kicker: the metal handle of the optional glass lid and the pan handle of the deep pan are cantilevered at angles that makes them flush with the wall even if the lid is in place. The lid can also stand vertically to minimize its footprint. That may sound like a small thing, but in a kitchen where counter and cabinet space are at a premium, it's an outsized benefit.
Then again, the Vermicular frying pan may never leave your stovetop. Aesthetics are dandy and all, but it's gotta actually cook. I put this one through its paces, making eggs, vegetables, rice, and chops like I would in one of my old battleaxe skillets. In every case, the enameled surface heated rapidly and evenly, released every scrap of food cleanly, and was just ineffably pleasurable to handle. That impression may also have been colored by just how dang easy the cleanup was after. Not only do the high walls minimize stovetop spatter—the pan can go right to the sink for a quick soap and water rinse even before the metal cools. Heresy in cast-iron fetishist circles, but heavenly when you just wanna eat, clean up, and turn on Netflix without incurring the wrath of the ancestors.
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Does anyone need a $155 (plus $40 for the lid) frying pan for their survival? Of course not. But if you can swing it (or convince your loved ones to pool their cash for your next gift-receiving occasion), you'll hit the kitchen jackpot.