Your Guide to the Best Cookware for Indian Cooking Without Having to Buy Expensive Specialty Cookware You’ll Rarely Use
Ever been captivated by the aromatic spices, vibrant colours, and diverse flavours of Indian food?
Perhaps you’re a regular at your local Indian restaurant who can’t get enough of their creamy butter chicken or eggplant curry.
Or maybe you’re looking for ways to expand your vegan or vegetarian menu at home, and the allure of Indian cuisine’s myriad of vegan and vegetarian dishes is simply too irresistible.
It’s no surprise that Indian cuisine has captured hearts and taste buds worldwide.
So if you’re seeking to expand your culinary horizons and experience the wonder of Indian cooking at home, you’re probably wondering if you need new cookware to help you ease into your new cooking adventure.
While it’s perfectly normal to want the right tools on hand when you’re trying out something new, it’s not always possible nor is it essential. Especially when it comes to trying out different cuisines.
So do you really need new cookware to cook Indian food? Let's find out!
Getting to Know the Two Most Popular Indian Cuisine and Their General Cooking Techniques
India is an incredibly large country with a kaleidoscope of regional cultures and traditions. What we collectively know of as “Indian cuisine” that is readily available internationally can actually be split into two different cuisines;
Northern Indian Cuisine
Southern Indian Cuisine
Northern Indian Cuisine and How it is Commonly Cooked
Northern Indian cuisine is known for their rich, creamy gravies and delightfully smoky tandoori dishes. Its flavour profile is often lighter than their Southern Indian counterpart. Fine examples include the ever popular butter chicken, samosas, tandoori chicken, and dum biryani.
This also means that their cooking techniques typically involve slow cooking, frying, sautéing, and grilling.
Southern Indian Cuisine and How it is Commonly Cooked
Think chicken vindaloo with its spicy kick or your favourite coconut curries and you’re probably thinking of Southern Indian cuisine. Southern Indian dishes are famed for their spicier and often tangy flavour profile due to their use of fresh roasted spices and coconut. The gravies are often more watery as they are commonly enjoyed soaked up with rice.
Common cooking techniques of Southern Indian cuisine include tempering, where whole spices are briefly roasted in hot oil or ghee, steaming for their steamed rice cakes (idli), or fermentation.
5 Factors to Take Into Account When Shopping for the Best Cookware for Indian Cooking
Walk into any kitchen that regularly cooks Indian food and you’ll often find stainless steel pots and pans, cast iron cookware, and non-stick pans. That’s because these are the best cookware materials to cook Indian food.
Stainless steel cookware is versatile and handles almost every task you throw at it with ease. Cast iron is the king of excellent heat retention while delivering flavours like none other. Then we have non-stick cookware, which makes cooking with minimal oil a dream thanks to its easy release.
Indian cuisine recipes typically involve the use of yoghurt, tomatoes, tamarind and lime to balance the robust flavours of Indian dishes. These ingredients are naturally acidic, so using cookware made from certain types of metal such as aluminium, copper, and cast iron will cause it to react and impart a slight metallic taste.
Ideally you’ll want to avoid using cookware that will react to acidic ingredients especially when it comes to cooking dishes that require prolonged exposure like stews, marinades, and curries.
3. Size and Capacity
Indian recipes generally involve cooking larger quantities, so you’ll want to get cookware that accommodates your needs.
Take frying pans for example. While pan-frying certain carbs like dosa (Indian pancake) and paratha, a larger frying pan like one between 26cm - 28cm would certainly be more handy over a small one that can barely fit those two! Not only would you be able to do multiple pieces at a go, you also won’t have to worry about whether it’ll fit or not.
4. Heat Distribution
Even if you’re not solely doing Indian cooking, getting cookware that provides even heat distribution helps ensure that your dishes cook uniformly and don’t develop dreaded hotspots.
Even heat distribution is a fantastic asset for Indian cooking because of the complex blend of spices and ingredients involved. With that, you can avoid undesired results like an imbalance in spices and texture to enjoy the aromatics and full flavoursome nature of Indian cuisine.
This is my usual advice to cookware shoppers…
GET. COOKWARE. YOU. CAN. USE. OFTEN.
The unfortunate nature of buying specialty tools often means that their use is one-and-done. So yes, you can get the right cookware for Indian cuisine. But make sure that it's also suitable for everyday use.
6. Maintenance and Care
Are you the type to give your cast iron cookware regular seasoning sessions? Or do you prefer to pop your cookware in the dishwasher and call it a day?
Always consider the cleaning and seasoning requirements before you buy any particular type of cookware. Especially cookware like cast iron which requires you to season it regularly to maintain its natural non-stick cooking surface.
Now that you’re familiar with what to look out for, let’s dive into the best types of cookware material for Indian cooking!
5 Best Cookware for Indian Cooking That Will Get You Fantastic Cooking Results and Are Incredibly Versatile For Your Kitchen
1. Stainless Steel Cookware
A timeless classic and a chef’s trusty sidekick. Stainless steel cookware is a staple in kitchens that regularly experience Indian cooking as it is highly durable, versatile, and it can withstand moderate temperatures and high temperatures.
It’s an excellent choice when it comes to preparing a wide range of cuisines and Indian food is no exception. Whether you’re simmering flavoursome curries or sautéing vegetables for a colourful Indian stir-fry, high quality stainless steel cookware ensures even heat distribution so food cooks beautifully.
Stainless steel pots and pans are also non-reactive so you won’t have to worry about metallic flavours leaching into your food over the cooking process.
Just bear in mind that stainless steel pots and pans are typically only worth investing in if they are constructed with multiple layers of stainless steel, such as bottom-clad stainless steel and multi-ply stainless steel cookware.
2. Ceramic-Coated Cookware (Non-Stick Cookware)
Non-stick cookware is an essential in every home kitchen simply because it makes your cooking and cleaning tasks that much easier. Think easy release of food with little to no oil needed! But the key here lies in using ceramic-coated non-stick cookware over traditional non-stick.
Traditional non-stick cookware, especially low quality ones, generally come with controversial PTFE and PFOA compounds layered upon its surface - harmful chemicals we want to avoid due to its said carcinogenic nature. Whereas ceramic cookware’s non-stick surface is made from non-toxic, organic compounds (ceramic with a metal core) which are more eco-friendly in nature.
Ceramic cookware showcases rapid heat distribution thanks to its metal core, so hot spots are no longer a cause for concern. Let’s not forget that its ceramic non-stick cooking surface also makes it naturally non-reactive to acidic food, making it perfect for Indian dishes like curries, stir-frys, dosas, and idlis!
If you’d like to try cooking Indian dishes while having a versatile set of non-stick pots and pans, do check out Cosmic Cookware’s selection of beautifully crafted ceramic non-stick and non-toxic cookware in assorted colours. It’s truly a work of art that looks good and cooks good, perfect for days where you’re entertaining guests in the comforts of home.
3. Cast Iron Cookware
When it comes to cast iron, you’ll find two options; cast iron cookware and enamelled cast iron cookware. But before we get deeper into it, let’s look into the general characteristics of cast iron cookware.
For starters, cast iron doesn’t naturally have a non-stick surface. But it does develop a non-stick layer with regular seasoning and use. Cast iron is incredibly durable - one of the most durable types of cookware in fact - and while it’s a poor heat conductor, it makes up for it with excellent heat retention.
This very same ability to retain heat well allows you to cook curries and stews in a Dutch oven low and slow with maximum impact in flavours, and even extra flavoursome dosas and parathas on the flat surface of a cast iron griddle which can serve as a makeshift dosa tawa (traditional Indian specialty pan). Deep-frying is also a simple task once you’ve gotten it to the right level of heat, so you can say hello to crispy samosas, panipuri, and pakoras just like in restaurants.
Now that we know the gist of cast iron cookware, enamelled cast iron cookware essentially offers everything that cast iron cookware does, but better and with greater aesthetics. It has a moderately non-stick surface compared to cast iron, and it gets better with regular seasoning. It also retains heat beautifully for amazing curries and stews that you can serve from stove to table for that wow-factor.
The only downside is that cast iron typically comes with a hefty price tag that usually ends up being an investment for your kitchen and lifestyle.
4. Clay Pots (Earthenware)
Clay pots impart an authentic, earthy flavour to dishes, especially Indian dishes where a rainbow of spices and aromatics are involved. And did you know they're also a popular choice for oriental cuisine like the classic claypot chicken rice?
Earthenware, especially clay pots, typically feature excellent heat retention for slow-cooking, which is a tremendous help in getting even cooking results.
Its porous nature allows clay pots to retain moisture, resulting in tender and flavoursome curries, biryanis, and slow-cooked stews. But this same characteristic makes it prone to harbouring bacteria when not cleaned nor cared for properly.
So while it’s a traditional and visually stunning type of cookware, it does come with a high level of maintenance and care required because of fragile and porous nature.
5. Stone Cookware
While it was more popular during our nana’s time, stone cookware and kitchenware still holds weight in a traditional Indian kitchen today. It is non-reactive so many traditional Indian kitchens use it in the form of either a classic soapstone pan or pestle and mortar to grind herbs and spices or make chutneys. Pictured below is a lady mixing spices at a spice store with a commercial-sized pestle and mortar.
Other than Indian kitchens, stone pans are also popular in Italian kitchens in the form of a baking stone. A fine example are the baking stones used to bake traditional wood fire pizzas in the oven.
Another advantage of stone cookware is how it provides even heat distribution and fantastic heat retention, perfect for dry cooking or to cook dishes with minimal oil. Traditional recipes that call for gradual cooking typically benefit from stone cookware’s excellent heat retention.
That said, quality stone cookware worth its salt may be pricey and difficult to obtain due to its uncommon nature in this part of the world.
So Which Material is Best for Indian Cooking?
Stainless steel, ceramic non-stick, cast iron, earthenware, and stone are by far the best and most versatile cookware materials you can have in the kitchen to cook Indian food. They offer unmatched versatility in allowing you to cook various cuisines without being limited to only Indian cuisines.
Deciding on which is the “best” would ultimately depend on your lifestyle and budget. If you have deep pockets and are looking for something to last a lifetime, high quality multi-ply stainless steel pots and pans would be a fantastic choice due to its non-reactive and incredibly durable nature.
Those who appreciate functionality with equally high quality in aesthetics will enjoy using ceramic non-stick pots and pans in their kitchen. They offer unmatched beauty that allows you to serve in style, while its non-stick cooking surface makes everyday use an enjoyable one.
I would only recommend cast iron to veteran homecooks or those who are seeking to invest in a possible heirloom piece as they tend to require a certain degree of familiarity in cooking techniques to make purchasing one fully worthwhile.
As for clay pots and stone cookware, these would be the secondary compared to the first three as they are closer to the realm of specialty cookware even with the level of versatility they offer.