The rise to social media superstardom can be unpredictable. It’s hard to predict which perfectly preened fitness influencer or impossibly cute puppy will garner thousands of likes.
But the latest Instagram sensation — beloved of Oprah and described as having ‘cult status’— is surely one of the strangest of them all.
Because it’s a cooking pan.
A very unique one, admittedly. It was introduced to the market with several oh so-hip advertisements. But then at £150, including a bamboo steamer attachment, the Always Pan had better be special.
It comes in gorgeously muted Farrow & Ball-style colours, with names like Spice, Sage and Char. It also promises to replace no less than eight items in my kitchen — a frying pan, saucepan, saute pan (a smaller pan with curved sides), sieve, steamer, skillet, spoon holder and serving dish.
Tanith Carey (pictured) put one of the first models of the Always Pan to go on sale in the UK at Selfridges to the test
The hidden shame of my kitchen is the countless blackened pans in a cupboard, all threatening to collapse if I attempt to take one out. Given the opportunity to substitute them all with one perfectly made pan, I’m tempted.
It looks like I’m not alone.
When the Always Pan was launched in America just before the first lockdown, it became known as ‘Le Creuset for Millennials’. Perfect timing. With more people forced to cook at home, it was rumoured to have gained a waiting list of nearly 50,000 and was dubbed the ‘kitchen magician’ by Oprah Winfrey.
It also has serious green credentials: the carbon-neutral company behind it was founded by entrepreneur Shiza Shahid, a co-founder of girls’ education charity, the Malala Fund. It has an aluminum core and a ceramic nonstick coating. The pan claims that it uses only sustainable, non-toxic materials.
With its smooth lines and silky finishes, there’s no doubt it looks the part.
We are busy families of four, who cook mostly from scratch. Is it now that the time is right to clean out my cupboards?
After grabbing one of the first models to go on sale in the UK at Selfridges — in a gorgeous, peachy pink shade — I put it to the test.
Considering it’s a substantial size — with a 10 in diameter, 2.7 in depth, and 2.6 quart capacity — I am surprised by how light it is.
It weighs in at 4lb even with its lid. Lifting it with just one hand is easy.
A fried egg is the best way to test a nonstick pan. I add a little oil, as usual, but soon wish I hadn’t. The coating is as slippery as ice and doesn’t need lubrication. Annoyingly though, as it’s slightly domed in the middle, the oil stays around the edge.
Tanith said the best test of a non-stick frying pan has to be a fried egg. Tanith attempting to fry an egg in his Always Pan
Throughout, I am mindful of the instruction to use only a low to medium heat so as not to tarnish the pan’s beauty.
In just five minutes, my egg is perfectly cooked. Even better, instead of having to scrub the pan in the sink I only have to use the eco-sponge recommended to clean it. You can’t pop it in the dishwasher though, which is a drawback but no surprise for a fancy non-stick pan.
Next, we have the saucepan. It is deep enough to boil water. So I tried it out by making rice noodles.
The makers boast that the pan creates even heat — and this is borne out by the fact that, as the water starts to boil, all the bubbles that form are identical in size and spread evenly across the surface. Impressive.
The skillet functions look identical when I use a vegan steak. To keep the oil spits in check, I prefer a cast iron skillet with sloping edges. I have learned my lesson and use virtually no oil in the Always Pan and, once again, after nine minutes it’s browned perfectly. Another win.
A stainless steel basket comes as part of the set. It can fit into your pan to steam vegetables. The basket can also be used as a small sieve.
However, here I’m less impressed. As the basket stands only a couple of centimetres tall, you can only pour a very small amount of water into the pan without the food — in this case broccoli florets — being submerged. There is a snugly fitting lid, so it’s true that I can cook my florets well with only a little water.
Tanith confesses that cooking peanut satay sauce on low heat was a concern, even though she kept it at a very low temperature.
But the lid is not see-through, so I can’t really see what’s going on or whether the water has all boiled away, without letting out lots of steam.
If the steamer in metal is not for you, you may choose to use a bamboo steamer that sits on top of your pan. This is really well designed and sits firmly on the pan, unlike other bamboo steamers I’ve used.
It was easy to do with one set of Chinese bao buns, and they came out great in just five minutes.
The saute pan is next on our list. However, at 10 ins wide the pan seems a bit too big to replace my original saute pot.
When I try to cook up some peanut satay sauce, I worry it’s so thinly spread, it will burn.
The makers recommend that I keep the heat to very low so as not to cause any browning or scorching. It has two spouts so that I can pour the sauce directly onto my plate.
As for the spoon holder — well, the pan handle is quite square and the truth is it’s not always that comfortable to hold. It does have a small notch that can be used to attach a wooden spatula. That’s particularly important, given that the instructions warn metal utensils will damage the non-stick coating — particularly as some reviewers in the U.S. have complained this has worn out more quickly than they hoped.
Tanith (pictured) said the Always Pan limits you to one-pot meals unless you buy several pans which would quickly exhaust my household budget
Finally, the pan can be used as a dish.
Normaly, I wouldn’t waste my time or risk burning myself by transferring cooked meals to another pan.
My pink Always Pan, which I had made for my guests this weekend when they came over to dinner, was their first impression of the stove. Then as we were serving mushroom risotto — perfectly al dente, according to my husband Anthony who was also impressed with the pan’s capabilities — I was only too pleased to bring it to the table to be served.
It is said that looks only take you so far. They can go a long way with this pan.
Even with this, I don’t know if my pantry is ready for me to clean out. For one thing, you can’t make more than one dish at the same time, so you are limited to one-pot meals unless you buy several pans which would quickly exhaust my household budget.
Then there’s the fact that it’s not ovenproof so my Le Creuset is safe, even if it does take up loads of space. Then of course there’s the price. For £150, I could just about buy all eight things it claims to replace.
Still, it’s the perfect gift for someone without much space, or for yourself if you’re trying to use less oil in your cooking — or even have an Instagram-worthy stove. Although I may be shallow, my kitchen is now my favorite.