Many of us have countertops full of modern-day kitchen gadgets. With a quick glance, youíll catalog blenders, mixers, electric tea kettles and countertop grills. However, as I scan my own kitchen, one low-tech cooking mainstay always catches my eye first: the cast iron skillet my mom passed down to me.
In this age of gastronomic toys, cast iron cookware still rules. The wonders of this affordable pot and pan material are many, but cast-iron has two qualities that make it peerless: it can withstand high heat, making it perfect for searing and frying; and its heavy weight traps and maintains temperatures, which is ideal for braising. Properly cured and maintained, cast iron also can develop a wonderful nonstick surface, but you must follow a few simple rules.
- A scouring pad or wire brush
- Natural dish soap (Or try baking soda using this tip)
The best cast iron skillets and dutch ovens come from mom or grandma, but if you are in the market to buy new, follow these guidelines to make your cast iron shopping spree a success. New cast iron cookware comes with a coating, either shellac or wax, that you must remove before curing. A scouring pad or wire brush and warm water with a little dishwashing soap will get the job done. After the coating is removed, you should never again let soap touch the iron. Letís repeat that. Do not use soap on seasoned cast iron. The cure (seasoning) is based on grease, and soapís job is to remove grease. So if you wash your iron with soap, youíll destroy the very effect you are aiming for.
- Vegetable oil
Cover the panís surface, inside and out, with a liberal coating of vegetable oil. Put the pan in a cool oven. Turn the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The pan should remain in the oven during preheat, then an additional 30 minutes. For extra insurance (against burns, too), let the pan cool inside the oven once youíve turned it off.
Care and Feeding for Your Skillet
Here is cast iron maintenance in a nutshell. For many more tips on cast iron care, cleaning and seasoning, check out this great article all about cast-iron.
Clean gently. Properly treated, your pan will never be bright and shiny. Over-scrubbing ruins the cooking surface. Gently remove food particles with a scouring pad, then rinse with water. Soaking it could remove its protective surface. Always dry immediately. Never clean cast-iron in the dishwasher.
Keep it dry. Cast-ironís nonstick surface can be damaged by frequent exposure to water. Even making soup a few times can remove the coating. The best practice is to cook with dry ingredients or fry between liquid cooking. If you lose your coating, re-season the pot following the directions above. Try these mouth-watering cast-iron skillet recipes to be cooking like a pro.
Cool down slowly. Never hasten the cooling process by exposing a hot pan to cool water. It can damage or crack the surface.
Watch it improve with age. Chefs and foodies often brag about their decades-old or inherited cast iron pans. Thrift shops and garage sales are often good sources for similar vintage finds. If itís a little rusty, here are tips for removing the rust before you re-season.
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