My favorite pan

by
10 Lodge Cast Iron

10" Lodge Cast Iron

A few years back, I was living in eastern Washington, where only the most intrepid friends and family members came to visit.  One such adventurous soul was CW, who brought me a copy of The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook, thinking that, the sort of cook I was, surely I’d have a cast iron pan or two around.  But though I had gotten rid of everything non-stick several years before, at that point I only had a set of stainless steel Revere-ware and some other miscellaneous SS things.  No worries though, because CW also needed a chicken waterer, so we headed out to Ranch & Home, an all-purpose everything sort of store:  chicken waterers, gun safes, Justin boots, cast iron pans inside; hot tubs and livestock trailers in the parking lot.

There was an extensive assortment of Lodge cast iron pans available, but I chose what looked to be the most utilitarian – a 10″ non-preseasoned open skillet.  It was less than $15, hefty but light enough for me to lift with one hand.  CW left for parts west before I could cook anything in it.

People shy away from cast iron, maybe because it is so inexpensive.  More likely it’s because they have heard it takes special care.  You have to “season it”.  It rusts.  It’s heavy.  It’s old-fashioned and science has given us all these wonderful ultra-slick surfaces to cook on.  All of these things are true.  Yet the special care it requires is less than what I had to give my high-tech non-stick pans, and the advantages of cast iron far outweigh any other drawback.

Here are the pluses of cast iron, as I see them:

  • Holds heat for a long long time
  • Can be heated up incredibly hot – hot enough to get a great sear on meat
  • Goes from burner to oven with no trouble
  • Produces a fantastic crisp crust on any baked good
  • Cleans up with paper towels, hot water, and a brush
  • Metal utensils are encouraged – there’s no delicate finish to scratch or damage.

Cast iron does require seasoning, which essentially is the creation of a non-stick surface by polymerizing a thin coating of fat on the metal.  Cast iron is moderately porous – when you run your fingertips or nails over the surface, you can feel a slight grainy roughness.  To season a pan, use your fingers to rub a small amount of solid fat (either lard, tallow, or hydrogenated oil – though some folks use liquid vegetable oil) all over the entire surface of the pan, both inside and out.  Coat the handle too, because seasoning also prevents rust.  After you’ve thoroughly covered it, wipe the pan with a paper towel to take off the excess.  My main mistake when I was initially trying to season my pan was using far too much fat.  It really takes a very small amount.

Put the coated pan upside down in a 350 deg F oven for at least an hour.  I tend to season my pans after I’ve been baking something, or after dinner has come out of the oven.  When the hour is up, turn off the heat but leave the pan in the oven to gradually cool.  It’s easiest for me to leave them overnight, taking them out of the oven in the morning.  The fat will have left a slightly sticky brown coating on the pan – this is exactly what you want, so don’t try to scrub it off!  Just cook in it.  Using the pan frequently for fatty meats like sausage or bacon will help to keep it seasoned, as will making grilled cheese sandwiches or frying eggs in butter or olive oil.

If you cook something liquid and acidic (a tomato or wine based pasta sauce, say), your carefully applied coating will disappear and you will need to reseason.  With daily use of my pans, I find I need to reseason every 3 – 4 months.  The bottom of the pan (the cooking surface) will start to look grayish white instead of black/brown, and things will start to stick a little.

If you are a baker, and have a temperamental oven with hot spots, stick a large cast iron pan on an unused shelf, or invest in a cast iron pizza pan to use as your baking surface.  Let the pan heat up with the oven and the additional mass will even out some of the worst fluctuations, including tempering the loss of heat when you can’t resist opening the oven door to peek.  If I’m making a freeform loaf, I place it on an aluminum pizza pan which I then set atop my cast iron.  Standard loaf pans can either go on top of my cast iron pizza pan or on the rack above.  To get the absolute best crust on corn bread or a dutch baby, pre-heat the pan with the oven and when it’s at temperature, remove the pan, drop in some fat, then pour in your batter.  Return to the oven and bake for the recommended time.

To clean up a cast iron pan, don’t even think about using detergent or soap – it will attack and remove the coating.  Drain any fat into a can for disposal (or re-use), wipe out as much of the remaining fat with a paper towel (recycle with food waste if your community offers it, or compost it), then run hot water into the pan and scrub any stubborn stuck bits off with a brush or steel Chore Boy (used with a light touch).  Rinse again with hot water, then wipe dry.  Store in the open air if possible – I keep mine on the stove top.  If you need to stack pans for storage and aren’t using your cast iron every day, you might want to rub a small amount of oil or fat on the cooking surface and keep a paper towel between pans – this is only to help prevent rust and isn’t necessary if you use your pans every few days.

If you do find some rust on a pan, simply scrub it well with a steel Chore Boy and detergent, then reseason.

Since my first cast iron purchase, I’ve since acquired the aforementioned cast iron pizza pan, a 14″ skillet (definitely requires 2 hands to lift), a scone/corn dodger pan, and a small 6″ saute pan for eggs.  I don’t use the scone/corn dodger pan often enough, but all the others are in constant rotation.

Update:  Here’s a tasty cornbread recipe, perfect for a 10″ skillet

1 cup medium grind cornmeal

1 cup flour

4 tbsp sugar (or less)

1/2 tsp salt

3 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

1 cup + 2 tbsp whipping cream (30 – 36% butterfat)

1/4 cup water

optional:  1 cup sweet corn kernels (may be fresh, canned, thawed if frozen, or leftover)

Heat the oven to 400 deg F with your cast iron skillet inside.  Sift all dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. When the oven (and your skillet) are at temperature, pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir well until everything is mixed.  Fold in the sweet corn kernels if you are using them.  Remove the hot skillet from the oven and add a tbsp of solid shortening (lard, butter, Crisco).  Spoon the batter into the skillet over the melting shortening.  Return the skillet to the oven for 30 – 35 minutes.   When done, the edge will be dark golden brown and the center just slightly golden.  A broomstraw should come out fairly clean, but the touch test normally used for cakes will not work.

Slice into wedges and serve hot.  Wrap the cooled remainders and eat within a day – wrapped in foil, they will reheat okay in a moderate oven (20-25 min).  Microwaving will heat them up, but the texture will suffer (still very tasty though!)

jaq

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2 Responses to “My favorite pan”

  1. bethberes Says:

    I love cornbread and my cast iron skillet

  2. Jaq Says:

    Update: I now use flax seed oil to season my pans – the seasoning lasts an improbably long time. Also, since we’ve moved to a different place with a very different stove, I store my pans stacked together on an open shelf. I use large woolen squares that I knitted from fisherman’s wool in the Grandma’s Favorite washcloth pattern to keep them separated and let air circulate.

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