Notes on Cast Iron
You may have noticed from our many skillet recipes that we’re pretty obsessed with cast iron cookware. The fact is, we use our cast iron dutch ovens or skillets at some point during the preparation of the majority of our recipes and could probably cook and bake using solely cast iron cookware if all the other cookware in the world was consumed in a great fire that obviously cast iron would survive.
The Freds’ cast iron devotion started innocuously enough. We both had come into poseesion of cast iron skillets before we were even sure what to cook in a skillet. I was pretty into soups at the time, since it was the only genre of food I felt any confidence cooking, so I picked up a Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron dutch oven so I could toss my scary cancer-laden nonstick pot. But our fanatacism really picked up when I purchased an antique Griswold cast iron dutch oven for Fred before we moved in together. It was a beauty but was covered in pig fat due to what I can only imagine was a strangely misguided effort to re-season the thing. So the real gift turned out to be a lesson in cast iron rehabilitation, which took some time but yielded tremendous results. So by the time we moved in together we had two cast iron skillets and two dutch ovens. The most recent addition to our collection is a small hand cast skillet from a Maine metalsmith we adopted from an antique store on our last trip to ‘vacationland’. It’s perfect for a two egg breakfast. Think that’s enough cast iron for one household? Not for these Freds! I have my eye on one of those cast iron cornbread pans shapped like corn cobs…
Why Cast Iron?
Ok, so we’re clearly fanatics, but why should you be? Well, we could go on forever, but for now we’ll stick to our top three reasons cast iron is the best:
1. It’s naturally non-stick. No yucky chemicals, no worrying about scratching your pan with metal utensils, no scary cancer fears. If you season your cast iron correctly and take good care of it, it will rival your nonstick cookware for nonstick-ability.
2. It distributes and holds heat marvelously, far better than aluminium or stainless steel cookware.
3. It lasts a lifetime. Seriously. Even if you neglect if for years. It can always be salvaged. Exhibit A. The 90 year old Griswold we cook most of our stews in.
When To Use Your Cast Iron
Cast iron is great for most dishes but particularly shines in a few arenas. When browning meat or vegetables, cast iron can’t be beat. It’s also great for any recipe that requires you to take something from the stove top to the oven – like this one. One of its best qualities is its incredible ability to hold heat practically forever, making it perfect for maintaining your temperature when frying.
Care and Cleaning
Once your cast iron is seasoned, routine washing should be done in hot water with a scouring pad, not steel wool or anything else that will damage the seasoning. While some people think a little soap is ok, the Freds are old fashioned and never allow soap near our cast irons. Hot water only! This preserves and improves upon the seasoning with each use. Never let your cast iron soak or sit in water or even air dry, however, as this can lead to rust. You can always scrape off the rust and re-season, but that’s a hassle. So do yourself a favor and dry your cast iron right away. We generally wipe ours out with a paper towel or rag (don’t use your nice kitchen towels as the pan will leave black residue on your wiping medium) and then throw it back on the stove over high heat to completely dry the pan. Often, we’ll give it a quick swipe with a lightly oiled rag or paper towel as it heats, just to keep it conditioned, especially if we haven’t been cooking a lot of oil rich foods in the pan.
To season your cast iron, first give it a good scrub (you can use soap here, since you’re seasoning it after anyway). Dry the pan completely, then using a brush, clean rag or paper towel, spread a tablespoon or so of a fresh neutral oil like corn or grape seed, or melted shortening, in the pan, evenly covering the entire cooking surface and sides. Put the pan upside down in an oven preheated to 400 F and bake it for an hour. It may smoke a bit ,that’s ok, open a window. After an hour, shut off the oven and allow your pan to cool inside it before attempting to handle and store. That’s it, your seasoned!
In conclusion, cast iron is the bestest and you should certainly get over any intimidation you may have and add some to your collection!