Cast Iron Cooking:
As a young child my mom had this giant heavy black pan that I couldn’t even lift let alone cook with. Fried chicken, bacon, fried potatoes and fried pork chops were a few of my favorites cooked in my mom’s Cast Iron Skillet.
Non-stick pans. stock pots and stainless steal skillets have their place in the modern kitchen. However…Once you start cooking with cast iron and start understanding it’s advantages; you will reach for your other pans and skillets less and less. Cast Iron has seen a resurgence in popularity among professionals and home cooks. The cool thing about cast iron is; the more you cook with it the better it gets! The protective coating on the pan is actually layers of burned grease and fat.
I have three cast iron skillets and love them all. Cast iron holds heat very well and evenly distributes it across the pan. A well cured pan will have a wonderful natural non stick coating well suited for searing meat and blackened recipes. Since cast Iron is 100% oven safe, you can go from stove top right to the oven. Oven Fried Potatoes with Sage and Rosemary is a perfect dish to do in your cast iron skillet. Pan seared rib eyes and New York Strips started on the stove and finished in the oven are one of my favorite ways to use cast iron. I have done Flattened Tuscan Chicken on the grill by placing a hot cast iron skillet on top of the chicken and closing the grill. The cast iron sears the skin and gives it a nice crisp texture.
Dutch ovens with a ceramic coating are also very useful and versatile. I use my Dutch Oven more and more lately finding and developing recipes to take advantage of the Dutch Oven. Braised Chuck Roasts, stews, soups and Coq Au Vin are my favorites using the cast iron Dutch Oven. I even use my Dutch Oven to marinate large roasts overnight.
Cast Iron does have some drawbacks. Cast iron is not ready to cook with when you bring it home; it must be cured (Seasoned) several times in the oven. Periodically you will have go through the seasoning process again; it never hurts to season your cast iron. Some cooks like to store food for a short time in the pans it was cooked in; we can’t do that with un-coated cast iron. Any kind of moisture will ruin your protective coating. I have had to re-season my pans after leaving food in overnight. Cast Iron is very heavy; my oven racks can barely hold it. The racks bend a little with my dutch oven. Since cast iron retains heat so well; it takes forever to handle safely. I have been burned as long as 20 minutes after the skillet comes out of the oven.
The rules for cleaning your cast iron are quite simple. (In my Chris Tucker voice from the movie Friday) Never ever ever ever use soap to clean your cast iron. The soapy flavor will stay in the coating of the pan. Do not use steal wool or metal abrasives to clean your cast iron unless you’re scraping away rust in which case you will have to completely re-season the cast iron. There are scouring pads made of synthetic material that work great with hot water. Never store food in the pan or soak with water, cast iron can rust in a matter of hours. Run hot water into pan and use a synthetic scouring pad to get all the burned residue off the pan. Dry with paper towels and apply a light coating of cooking oil with a paper towel. Do not be alarmed if the paper towel looks dirty. When cleaning cast iron, less is better.
Do not store any pans inside of cast iron. When any other pans touch cast iron they will rust including other cast iron pans. Store in a cool dry place, moisture is cast iron’s biggest enemy.
Seasoning Your Cast Iron
I have used several types of fat to season my cast iron; bacon grease, lard, canola oil and vegetable oil. Rinse new pan with a very small amount of dish detergent. This is the only time you will ever use soap. Rinse and dry completely. Apply oil, grease or lard with fingers or paper towel to entire surface including the handle and outside of the pan. Do not put too much oil at a time. Place cast iron into a 400-450 degree oven and bake for about an hour. Let cool. Repeat process 3 or 4 times before using your cast iron. The oven will smoke a bit from the burning oil. Open your windows and turn on your exhaust fan. The cast iron may need to be re-seasoned from time to time.
I know this seems like a lot of work for nothing but until you cook with cast iron; you will never get it! There was a time when everyone owned at least one cast iron skillet.