May 4, 2010

Cooking with Cast Iron Pans

Recently, I've come back to cooking with cast iron. Years ago, my dad gave me some beautiful old cast iron pans and bakeware, but when I tried to use them, everything stuck to the pans. But now that I know the simple secret of keeping cast iron cookware beautiful and nonstick, I love using it.

Cast iron conducts heat beautifully, which is why many professional chefs use it. It also goes from stove to oven - which is why I always use it for making Shepherd's Pie. You can using any type of cooking utensil with it. You don't need to cook with oils or fats. It's nonstick (once you know how to season it). It lasts for generations. It makes amazing cornbread and pancakes. And it adds beneficial iron to your diet. What's not to love?

Scrub it Up!
Before using any new (or old) cast iron pan, you should scrub it. Use dish soap, hot water, and a steel wool scouring pad on the entire surface. If the pan has any rust on it, this should take care of it easily. Pat the pan dry, then place it on a warm burner for a minute or two until it is completely dry.

Seasoning Cast Iron
Once you know how to season cast iron cookware, you'll have highly durable, non-stick cookware. For the initial seasoning, I recommend dumping a heaping tablespoon of lard, bacon drippings, or coconut oil into the pan, then placing it in a 400 degree F. oven. Once the fat has melted, very carefully wipe some of it onto the sides of the pan, using a paper towel. Allow the pan to sit in the oven for about 10 or 15 minutes, and repeat the wiping of fat onto the sides once more. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool until it's just warm. Wipe away any remaining fat and allow the pan to cool completely.

If your pan seems to become less seasoned as you use it (which usually happens because you cook things too dry, too hot, or you wash the pan with soap), dump about a teaspoon of fat into the pan, place it on the stove, and turn the burner to high. Let the fat completely melt, then carefully wipe fat onto the sides with a paper towel. Let the pan sit a few more minutes, then turn off the burner and allow it to cool to just warm. Wipe off any remaining fat and allow the pan to cool completely.

Ongoing Care
Here's the way my dad taught me to use a cast iron skillet - it's the traditional method: After cooking, allow the pan to cool and scrape it down with a metal spatula. Period.

However, unless you use the pan every day, several times each day, the oil or fat in the pan will go rancid. Yuck. So here's my preferred method:

After cooking, allow the pan to cool. Scrape the pan with a metal spatula or plastic pan scraper, using warm water. Rinse well, pat dry, and place on a warm burner until completely dry. 

Cooking with Cast Iron
Using cast iron cookware is pretty much like using any other type of cookware. However, here are some special tips:

* Always preheat cast iron cookware. When you think it's heated, run your hand under the faucet, then shake it once over the pan. If the water evaporates right away, the pan is too hot; if it sit and bubbles, it's too cool; if it sizzles, it's just right.

* Do not place cold liquids in very hot cast iron pans. This may cause cracking.

* Generally speaking, use medium and low settings on your stove.

* Tomatoes and other acidic foods will appear darker when cooked in cast iron because they leach more iron from the pan than other foods. This is normal and perfectly safe unless you have a lot of excess iron in your body, according to The Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

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1 comment:

  1. Our method is a lot like yours. I use cast iron pans regularly. It's the only set of pans we own that do not face threats of being thrown out the back door! After each cooking use (such as scrambling eggs, or other watery/acidic foods), I cover only the bottom of the pan with water (just water) and set it back on the warm stove; simmer, then use a spatula to scratch away stuck on particles. Dump the water out, wipe pan with a paper towel, set it back on the warm stove, drizzle a little fresh grease in the dry pan and heat. If pans are used for deep frying, just strain the grease, dump out the particles. Store used grease in the pan, inside your cool oven, or in a heat resistant jar. Cast iron cookware should not be put in a dishwasher. It may sound like a lot of extra steps, but it really isn't. And best of all, no more eating teflon pieces or other pan coatings! :)

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