Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cooking with Cast Iron!

Hi Friends:

Don't tell me you don't own a cast iron pan! I bet your grandmother had one and so did her mother. If you're not a fan of cast iron cookware, my aim is to convert you by the end of this post! Made with comparatively low level technology, this cookware has excellent, I repeat, excellent heat retention and non-stick properties!

Cast iron pans were used as early as 206 BC by the Han Dynasty in China. Before stoves were created in the mid 19th century, cauldrons, dutch ovens and kettles were relied upon to cook meals in a hearth. Early cast iron pieces were made with handles so they could be hung over a fire and were prized for their durability. In the early 1900's, most Americans were using cast iron pans until the development of teflon-coated non-stick cookware in the 60's which we all now know can't handle high heat the way cast iron does and is not environmentally friendly. And no, enameled cast iron is not a good substitute either. While it can be cleaned more thoroughly, it, too, can't stand searing heat and resist sticking the way cast iron can. Also, it can be quite expensive and it chips!

What should I cook in cast iron? I'm glad you asked. First of all, cast iron can be used indoors or outdoors on the grill. Because it withstands high heat, it is excellent for searing fish, meat and making stir fried dishes. Meals can be seared or fried on the stove and then finished in the oven. Many cooks bake in cast iron, especially cornbread. Pancakes made on a cast iron griddle are the best; you get a great caramelized edge! And look at these toasted hot dog rolls! 
Cast iron is best suited for dishes that have a bit of fat or oil in them. Boiling or using very cold foods in a hot pan is not recommended as it can damage the pan. Noteworthy, too, is that cooking in cast iron pans provides dietary iron.

What about the rust/cleaning issues you ask? Most cast iron cookware today comes "seasoned." Lodge, the only major manufacturer of cast iron cookware in the United States, "sprays vegetable oil onto the cookware and then bakes it on at high temperatures to create a natural, easy-release cooking surface." These pans should not be cleaned like other cookware; washing in a dishwasher or heavy scouring will damage the seasoning. I have never needed to use more than dish soap, hot water and a scrubby. I then dry the pan and apply a thin layer of oil with a paper towel. This builds a seasoning layer which protects the pan from rusting and ensures a non-stick surface. A well-seasoned pan is much easier to clean than many high-end brands of cookware.
Well-Seasoned Griddles
My Skillet's Just A Youngin At 30 Years Old!
Have I convinced you? Not yet? Take a look at this stir fry made in a cast iron wok from Lodge's Specialty Cookware.
I love this pan!
If you just don't cook, cast iron is collectible and can be used in home decor. Georgia's repurposed this hard-to-find vintage cast iron ham boiler into a log holder. This old vessel has definitely been durable and reliable!


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