Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Kitchen Tools: Cast-Iron Pans

When I think of cast-iron pans, I think of my mother's kitchen. I think of omelets and toasting spices, caramelizing onions and sauteing mushrooms. It was always on the stove top or in the cupboard just below. And, I remember avoiding it almost as much as the drawer full of mismatched Tupperware- it was heavy, never quite clean and when in use it had a dangerously short and often hot handle.

Cast-iron pans are wonderful to cook with but are often overlooked. Wonderful because they are inexpensive, distribute heat evenly and, if properly seasoned, are nonstick and last a lifetime. They maintain heat, and get hotter than most pans so you can get a great crust on food such as seafood, chicken or steak. And, since it is heavy, it doesn't cool down as much when you put food into the pan. I think the younger generations (me) who now find themselves in the kitchen have overlooked these pans because they are old fashioned, heavy and the same as what our parents had.

The New Kitchen

Hang onto your oven mitts because this year the ageless cast-iron is making a comeback. January's issue of Bon Appetit featured the cast-iron skillet and why we love them so. They can be used for braising, frying or toasting and can be transferred to be oven for baking. Even better then Emile Henry.

I've been wanting one for a while now and Jeremy surprised me with one for Christmas. I've always been one for practical gifts and he knows it. My kitchen's new addition is a mid-sized 10-1/4 inch skillet (seasoned) made by Lodge.

If you're thinking about buying one, I recommend purchasing a pre-seasoned pan. It's just easier. They can be bought new or found second-hand at thrift stores or consignment shops. If you're buying used, make sure it doesn't have any rust. The pre-seasoned pans still need to re-seasoned from time to time, by oiling and baking it, which gives cast iron its signature shiny black patina.

How to Season

1. Heat the oven to 250 - 300 degrees.
2. Coat the pan with lard or bacon grease. Don't use a liquid vegetable oil because it will leave a sticky surface and the pan will not properly season.
3. Put the pan in the oven. In 15 minutes, remove the pan & pour out any excess grease.
4. Place the pan back in the oven and bake for 2 hours.
5. Repeating this process several times is recommended as it will help create a stronger "seasoning" bond.

Also, when you put the pan into service, it is recommended to use it initially for foods high in fat, such as bacon or foods cooked with fat, because the grease from these foods will help strengthen the seasoning.

Cleaning and Caring
  • Clean the cookware while it is still hot by rinsing with hot water and scraping when necessary. Do not use a scouring pad or soap (detergent) as they will break down the pans seasoning.
  • Dry the pan immediately with dish towel or paper towel.
  • Don't wash in the dishwasher.
  • Scrub any rust spots with steel wool and mild soap.
  • Boiling water in your pan will wash away the seasoning.
  • Don’t cook highly acidic foods in cast iron such as tomatoes, as that will destroy the pan’s finish.
"When I finish using my pan, 99% of the time it doesn't even hit the sink," Swartz says. "I put in salt and a little oil, clean the pan with a wad of paper towels, and then I oil it lightly and it's good to go." Scott Swartz, chef and instructor at the Art Institute of New York

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excuse me!
It's your mother speaking -

My Frying pan WAS clean!!
It has been well seasoned
for 36 years.
You got the heavy part right.