What I ended up with was a pot full of greasy, broken cream, with a broken ego to match (the ego has since been repaired, but the cream was a lost cause). Tipping it out into the sink revealed a ½-inch-thick crust of brown crud on the bottom. The problem? My pot was too thin and its conductivity was too low. Rather than distributing the heat evenly over the bottom of the entire pot, the heat was concentrated in the areas directly above the flames.
Those areas got overheated, causing the proteins in the cream directly above them to coagulate, stick to each other (and to the pot), and eventually burn. Without the emulsifying effect of the proteins, the fat in the cream separated out into a distinct, greasy yellow layer. Ick. Obviously, it was the pot’s fault, right? Well, not exactly. You often hear the expression
“A bad cook blames his tools,” and it’s true: bad food is rarely bad because the pot was too thin or the blender was broken. But I think this is often misinterpreted. Nobody is saying that a good cook should be able to cook any dish regardless of the quality of their equipment. Reducing cream without a heavy, adequately conductive pot or an adequately low flame is nearly impossible, no matter how good a cook you are. Thin pots don’t burn cream—people burn cream.
But I think the thin pot helps. In reality, bad food is often bad because the cook chose to try and cook something that he didn’t have the proper tools for. This is, of course, just a more complicated way of saying, “Don’t be stupid.”
And that’s good advice for all walks of life, whether or not they involve homogenized emulsions of butterfat, water, phospholipids, and milk proteins All of this is just a roundabout way of saying that the physical hardware you stock your kitchen with is just as important as the ingredients you choose or the techniques you use when you cook. Good equipment is the third side of the Triforce of cooking: good ingredients + good equipment + good technique = good food.