Let’s have a chat about the new rage in cooking, much talked about, and greatly misunderstood. I speak, of course, about Cast Iron cookware.
Why is it all the rage?
Mostly, because it works. The high density of the cast iron allows great heat absorption, and an even heat dissipation into the food. This allows the maillard reaction, browning, to occur generating the distinctive flavors of well colored food.
Many TV-Chefs and food bloggers are hopping on the cast iron horse, some will much less success than others. Here are a few tips to allow you to be more successful ..
Select a decent pan
As with many things, price is NOT an indication of quality. You are looking for a heavy pan, a well finished interior. If you are new to using cast iron, or you are looking to add an additional skillet to your collection, do not rush out and grab a $200 artisan crafted skillet, a $22, 10 inch skillet from Amazon will serve just fine.
Whilst the high end skillets with their machine honed, slick as a piece of glass interiors are very attractive, and yes I drool at them, but shudder at the price tag.
Seasoning your new cast iron
Like any other tool in you kitchen, cast iron requires maintenance. Lets start with how to season a cast iron skillet, and how to maintain that seasoning.
Seasoning is the process of building up a fat based polymer, that adheres to the skillet and provides that super slick, no stick, surface.
I will do the following with any new cast iron I purchase, even the one’s that are “pre-seasoned”. A well seasoned pan has a very dark cooking surface that has a reflective sheen to it.
- Wash a new pan thoroughly with soap and water.
- Dry completely
- Apply a light coat of neutral oil
- Bake in a 500 degree oven for an hour
- Let cool and apply another light coat of oil
- Either store the pan or repeat the cycle. I tend to repeat this cycle at least three times with a new pan
Cleaning your cast iron
- Clean After Use: Clean the skillet immediately after use, while it is still hot or warm. Don’t leave it in the sink because it will rust.
- Add hot water: Wash the skillet by hand using hot water and a sponge or stiff brush. Avoid using soap, or soaped steel wool, as these may strip the pan’s seasoning. NEVER THE DISHWASHER!!
- Scrub off stuck-on bits: To remove stuck-on food, scrub the pan with a paste of coarse kosher salt and water. Then rinse or wipe with a paper towel. Stubborn food residue may also be loosened by boiling water in the pan. I also have a chain mail scrubber I use.
- Dry the skillet: Thoroughly dry the skillet or dry it on the stove over low heat.
- Oil it: Using a cloth or paper towel, apply a light coat of neutral / vegetable oil
- Put it away: Store the skillet in a dry place.
Cooking with cast iron
- Always pre-heat. Never add food to a cold pan then heat. IT WILL STICK
- Pre-heat gently. Start over low heat, then move to medium low, to medium, to medium high, etc. This allows you to control the heat of the pan.
- I try to never go to full wack on the stove as this will just generate annoying clouds of smoke and tend to burn the seasoning off the pan. Things will sear and brown quite nicely at medium high with a proper pre-heat.
- Clean after use.