When it comes to cast iron cooking, there seem to be two vastly different groups: folks who swear by cast iron cookware, and those who have no idea (and often are intimidated by) how to maintain and use these tools. I belong to the former, so I thought I'd address cast iron cooking in this post to entice the uninitiated into trying out this wonderful tradition, which can be helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
First of all, why should you use cast iron?
- It's so easy to maintain a great pan.
- If a pan is well seasoned, you need to add little additional fat to it for most applications.
- Nothing sears meats like a well-preheated cast iron pan.
- Because cast iron pans are heavy, they distribute heat very evenly.
- Cast iron cooking imparts a little extra iron into your food. Yay, nutrients!
- Clean up is a breeze; not only do you not have to wash cast iron, you SHOULDN'T.
- Cast iron pans are inexpensive.
- Since cast iron cookware is heavy, fitness happens every time you pick up the pan. :D
- Cast iron pans can perform the function of non-stick pans, and will do so without any unnatural and potentially dangerous stuff flaking into your food.
- Well-seasoned cast iron pans are culinarian status symbols, and make wonderful family heirlooms for future generations.
The maintainance of cast iron cookware is exceptionally easy. Many brands of cookware available these days come with instructions on the label. The general idea is that fat and salt are great for cast iron, while water is not.
By using cast iron to cook fatty foods, such as bacon and sausage, you will improve the health of the pan; I recommend doing so at some point early in the pan's career. After cooking something, it is best to clean cast iron while it is still warm. Simply take a kitchen rag or paper towel and wipe out any remaining food stuff. Then with a clean rag, apply a little olive or canola oil. This protects the pan until its next use.
If the pan gets really dirty or food sticks onto it, avoid scraping it too much to clean it. When you scrape a cast iron pan, you are removing the seasoning, which is what establishes the non-stick nature of cast iron. If needed, you can use water to clean a cast iron pan, but immediately dry it with a towel after washing and apply a good amount of oil to avoid rust development. Pans can be brought back from being rusty, but it is easier to avoid that situation altogether.
So what cooks well in cast iron? I love it for omelets and frittatas, sauteing vegetables, roasting chickpeas, crisping up diced potatoes, and searing chicken and steak. Cast iron cooking is my substitute for grilling if it's raining or below 40 degrees outside; turkey burgers and sausages cook better in cast iron than on stainless steel. Pancakes, french toast, and crepes are amazing. I even use my cast iron for stir frying. In general, if I am making a recipe that does not require deglazing (adding a sauce or water to a pan to pick up the bits of flavor from the pan), I am going to reach for my cast iron skillet.
What is your favorite use for cast iron cookware?