Recently I was emailing with my friend Charlene about pots and pans. She's due for a new set and wanted my advice. I told her that instead of buying an entire set of pots and pans (although they are cheaper to buy this way) I prefered to create my own set by putting together really great and really useful individual pieces.
My own collection of pots and pans is limited to two materials: stainless steel, "clad" cookware for its non-stickiness and ease of cleaning and cast-iron for the even way it conducts heat and ease of cleaning. Both materials are also oven safe and I do a lot of stove-to-oven cooking so this is essential. I avoid non-stick/Teflon coated pans because I just don't trust the off-gases that occur when heating it.
If I could create the perfect CityMama Basic Un-Set of Cookware the set would include:
1. A great sauté pan (too many uses to name from making tomato sauce to curries to sauteeing fish):
2. An 8-inch frying pan (for omelettes, scrambled eggs etc.):
All Clad Fry Pan $80 (will last forever and is dishwasher safe)
Tramontina Fry Pan $20
3. A cast-iron skillet, at least 10.5 inches across, (for searing steaks and fish and for cooking chicken paillards in the absence of a grill):
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet $17
6. A good stock pot (for cooking pasta and making stocks and soups):
Cuisinart 12 quart stock pot $60
And that is basically it. These items are a great starter set for a cook of any ability. Again, it is probably cheaper to buy a set of good pots than to piece it together from open stock, but it's not cheaper if you buy pots you will never use, and it's not cheaper if you buy a cheap set that doesn't conduct heat well or has knobs that melt off in the oven. Buying by the piece can be comparable if you wait for sales. I hit up Macy's post-Christmas sale every year. Two years ago I found a fabulous cast-iron Dutch oven for 50% off. Last year it was bakeware
Also, quality cookware is an investment that will last you a lifetime. My stainless All-Clad looks brand new even though it's at least 10 years old. It's dishwasher-safe and that keeps it looking great. Cast iron pans are cheap and will also last forever. You can even buy them pre-seasoned so you don't have to bother with that. A properly seasoned pan will always be non-stick so you can get rid of your Teflon.
If you wanted to add to this set I would start with a cast-iron grill pan and a wok and then see where your cooking takes you. Perhaps a ceramic tagine is next or a smaller fry pan or a steamer for whole fish, but until then, this makeshift set should serve you very well.