Prologue: I am making a batch of crêpes or pancakes. I am using a cast-iron frying pan that has been around for a while, so it behaves almost like a non-stick pan. I’m using whichever oil or fat I have – no, I actually use sunflower oil. The first pancake sticks to the pan. After that, no pancake ever sticks to the pan again.
There is this German cooking show, where Johannes B. Kerner jogs around and breathes down the assorted necks of a couple of chefs and cooks, who are preparing a joint dinner, and says “ist ja toll” and “hmmmm!” and other friendly things. Luckily, Kerner doesn’t sign up to the tradition of making painfully distorted faces every time he tries something. German TV is improving.
While the guys were fighting with slices of liver, a stew and indescribably ugly, wobbly miniature piles of layers of crisp bread, cooked mushroom quarters, some creamy, quarky, shallotty component and fried bacon bits, a Luxembourgian lady was making Crêpe Suzette. She didn’t really have her day, or perhaps, she wasn’t used to talking while cooking: the orange sauce had to be repeated, because she hadn’t kept her wits about the hot pan (what a relief. I always thought I’m the only one who is a little scared of the combination of sugar and heat) and, as they were folded up just before the Suzetty flambeing had to take place, some of the crêpes looked like moth-eaten dachshund skins. No matter, everyone groaned with delight about the result. Naturally we dry-mouthed, peanut nibbling tv-viewers found the crêpes heavenly too.
So Johannes Kerner asks the Luxembourgian Chef, who is folding dog skins, why the first pancake always goes wrong. “Well,” she says, “it is actually very simple: the pan is just not yet hot enough!”
I liked that lady and her cooking, but this, I am sorry to say, is nonsense. Your frying pan can be red-hot and the fat can smoke so the neighbor’s fire-alarm goes off, but the first pancake still sticks to the pan like magic. Why, oh why? Unfortunately my secret weapon, French kitchen-chemistry wiz Hervé This-Benckhard does not come to rescue me on this one. But I have a theory.
I have tried to make the first pancake really small, like a belly button or so. I did this only because it would be easier to scrape it off the pan that way. After that miniature pancake, the second one did not stick to the pan. There must be something going on with the chemical makeup of the hot oil as soon as it comes in contact with the batter. Most likely, of course, it becomes less healthy. All things in the kitchen that work more smoothly are less healthy. No pancake would ever stick to the pan, if one would use coconut fat or lard, for example.
Cooking shows have their own set of rules, I acknowledge that. One should nevertheless unite against the Quick Silly Answer. It is so sad that Johannes B. Kerner still doesn’t know why the first pancake sticks to the pan.