Pan frying

July 2, 2011

When going through recipes from the 15th – 16th century I was surprised by the amount of recipes that required a frying pan of some sorts. This will of course be reflected in the dishes I make, but requires a bit of reflection.

One of the main questions is exactly how they are used, that is when oe should considered a dish to be fried, deep-fried, cooked, heated or reduced. While the recipes sometimes are rather clear other occasions we end up with a recipe that simply states that we should cook this or that in a pan.

One clue is the shape and construction of the pans. From Scandinavia some pans remains, what survives until today is mainly the ones made of pottery and designed to stand on three legs (eg. these have a rater high side which allows them to hold a fair amount of content or fat. The construction using three legs indicates that it should be heated over embers rather than a fire. The other type that remains but is far less common as a surviving find, but often depicted in images of kitchen is the metalpan without legs ( This was most likly designed do be hold above the fire – which is somewhat tiresome but can provide a more intense heat.

Luckily I have been provided with both types of pan. As both pans has a pronounced rim, they can both be used to cook food that is runny or requires a decent amount of fat. The main differences between the pans is the material and the way they are heated. The pottery pan is being heated over the embers and with a thicker less conductive material it s possible to keep it at a low even temperature for a longer time. The metal pan is rather designed to be held over the fire, getting a more intense heat. As this replica lacked any legs it seems to have been designed to be held over the fire by hand, this is quite in accordance to many images ( It was quite obvious that using it in this manner was somewhat demanding of the chef. Another observation I made during my use of the pans was that the clay pan did heat up much quicker than the three-footed clay pots. The flat bottom and smaller amount of liquid certainly played an important role for this.

It is likely, though I need to reflect on this some more, that the different pans were used for different types of dishes. This will hopefully become clearer with some more experimentation. Another important question to consider is why there is this increase in the use of pans during the 15th – 16th century. Does it reflect that one in the north had access to more types of fat all year round (with the reformation butter and lard could be used all year round)? Or was it a refection of a changing preference or some technical advances? Or is it just that I have not reflected as thoroughly on the methods used in medieval recipes?


2 Responses to “Pan frying”

  1. Dan said

    Hej Daniel,
    In terms of the met al pans, I’ve seen illustrations of German trivets with long handles, and supports for the pan’s handle. if you look on p 97 of ” Gedichte vom Hausrat aus dem XV und XVI jahrhundert” at Google Books, there’s what *I think* is a 14th-15th century picture of one-my German is even worse than my Swedish, so I may have misread it. There are also some illustrations of actual examples of that kind of pan support in “Das Deutsche Haus und sein Hausrat” (also Google Books), although I have no idea when they date from-that book was printed in the old German blackscript, and every time I try to read it, I remember other things I should be doing…But if you know someone who can really read German, they might be worth looking at.

    • Andreas Klumpp said

      “Das Deutsche Haus und sein Hausrat” is from 1906 and as most old literature not very academical written. Secondly the topic is ethnological contempory house forms and house equipment. That means the author reflects the situation of the latter 19th century and the early 20th century, The oldest detailed examples mainly date from the 18th century. The whole chapters including archaeological evidence of older eras are based on a very incomplet data base and are filled with speculation.

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