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Le Grand Pan

(Photo by Heath Robbins)

In 2004, I checked out of my life in Boston and decamped to Paris for a year of food shopping, cooking, eating, and traveling. A small, and I do mean small, apartment on the hairy northern edge of the 18th arrondissement served as base camp. Preflight website pictures showed a minuscule kitchen in which you could reach everything without moving your feet. It came "equipped" with two tiny saucepans and a cheap skillet that appeared to date from the French Revolution.

Clearly, I needed cookware reinforcements, but with so little kitchen space, I couldn't bring an armory of pots and pans. I needed a single piece that could fill many culinary roles. The choice was clear. I grabbed a 3-quart, nonstick, straight-sided All-Clad saute pan and its lid, jammed them into my bulging duffel, and bolted for Logan.

Nearly everything I cooked that year came out of that pan. I was able to saute all manner of meat, poultry, and vegetables, often without resorting to multiple batches because of the pan's generous 10-inch diameter. The nonstick surface was a compromise that limited fond development, but it allowed me to cook eggs and fish with no worry about sticking.

The heavy-duty construction, full-aluminum core, and metal handles (including a helper handle) meant my trusty pan could go into the oven. It easily accommodated a 3-pound chicken with shallots and three heads of garlic for poulet aux quarante gousses d'ail (chicken with 40 cloves of garlic) and a 4-pound pork loin roasted with rosemary and fennel. It roasted vegetables, and turned out multiple iterations of my favorite gratins. It produced fideos with shrimp, a wild-mushroom lasagna, a fruit clafouti, and, in separate demonstrations to disbelieving French friends, a meatloaf and a batch of blondies.

The lid and the straight, 2-inch sides (which allow the pan to hold more liquid than flared sides) meant I could make sauces from Mornay to marinara, and stove-top and oven braises, including ratatouille, Basque piperade with eggs, and bouillabaisse de poulet. It cooked many a kilo of white beans, batches of lentil soup, and even a modest boeuf bourguignon. It pan-fried breaded pork cutlets, and, in a pinch on Christmas Eve, I used old faithful to make my family's ritual cheese fondue.

When it was time to return to Boston, I bequeathed my beloved saute pan to an American friend who was just settling into her own Parisian sojourn. Since then, she has moved to Bordeaux, then to England, and most recently to New York State, where I saw our pan just last month - still hot to trot.

At almost $185, that All-Clad wasn't cheap, but similar pans can be had for less. Just look for sturdy construction and ovenproof materials and you can find a new pan that will become your old faithful.

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