Because I’m a lazy and inattentive cook I quite often leave pans on a bit high and food sticks to the bottom. Your nose will tell you before anything else but there’s something about the way the food separates and bubbles on the very surface that when you see it you just know, “thats stuck”. Occasionally I go to stir a pan and that first drag across the bottom causes a rapid bubbling up as the insulating burnt layer is rubbed away and the hot food above it crashes onto the hot pan bottom. Stuck on. Burnt. They should all be bad things right? I don’t agree. In a few circumstances, it’s a great thing.

It’s also a massive waste to check stuck out because it’s a caught a bit. Such things upset me.

Oh crap - it’s stuck!

  1. Don’t panic. This dish is not ruined
  2. Grab any other heat proof container that will hold everything in the pan
  3. Get the pan off the heat.
  4. Upend the pan into the new container and get everything out quickly. DON’T TRY AND RESCUE THE STUFF ON THE BOTTOM. DON’T SCRAP AT IT, JUST LEAVE IT ALONE.

Now the main body of your dish is safe. With the exception of milk (and probably a few other things), when it sticks to the bottom of the pan the food above this burnt and stuck layer is just fine.

At this point you can assess the damage. Is this actually too burnt on? If so, transfer the main body of the food to a fresh pan and carry on. Pop an inch of hot water and a squirt of soap into the burnt pan and pop it back on a very gentle heat. Once it’s boiling have a good go at it with a wooden spoon and then turn the heat off and leave it until after dinner. The soap and surfactants will do their job and it shouldn’t be too bad to clean up.

But not everything is worst off

There are certain things where I’ll happily scrape off those burnt on bits. Midweek spag bol is one. Blackbeans to go with Mexican food is another. Those slightly charry, slightly burnt-sugar flavours are great. Obviously if you’re burnt it so hard the bottom inch of the pan is solid don’t bother, but in most cases, this dish is totally rescueable and might even be better off for it.

  1. Follow steps 1,2,3 and 4 above.
  2. Inspect the burnt pan. Have a poke with a wooden spoon. Is this too burnt? Have a scrape and a taste.
  3. If no, add back the food you just dumped out and leave it off the heat for 5 mins. This gives the liquid and heat time to work into the burnt on bits.
  4. Give it a good scrape and stir with the spoon. If you can tit the pan and see the base it’s often surprisingly clean. I’m always a bi smug at this point.
  5. Return to the heat (probably more gently and with improved vigilance this time)

I feel there’s a story behind this post

You’re absolutely right. I was going to writing up “Sow cooked pulled beef and Mexican blackbeans” but when I managed to let the beans catch, I couldn’t resist writing this up.