Cooking with Cast Iron

You may have noticed throughout a lot of my cooking photos that I vastly prefer cast iron cookware to most other materials. This is, mostly, true. I really like the flavor and character cast iron adds to a lot of dishes, especially one pot meals, which I tend to make often. But there are a few things not quite ideal for, I’ll be writing on those in the future. But in the meantime, here’s how I use my cast iron and how I maintain it.

What do I have: I took a picture of what I own below. But I have an 8″ skillet, a 10″ and a 5 quart dutch oven. I find between these three vessels there isn’t much I can’t cook. I have other pots and pans for boiling water, making soups and stuff, but these cover just about everything else.

What I cook with it: I basically cook everything besides eggs in my cast iron (for eggs I use calphalon pans). Any time I want good strong browning and flavor development on the food, I use cast iron. It almost picks up the flavors from everything else you’ve cooked and adds to it. There are a few things to avoid. Anything with high acidity can damage the seasoning on the pan, more on seasoning in a bit, so if you make a tomato sauce or something with wine in it then consider cleaning it right away.

How I Maintain It: Many people complain that they can’t wash cast iron. That’s not at all true. You can totally clean it in the sink with water. You can even use soap. In fact you need soap to cut through the grease layer that will invariably build up on it. The trick is doing it quickly. You don’t want soap or water sitting on it for longer than a few minutes because that will ruin the seasoning. So just a quick go under the faucet, a tiny drop of dish soap, and some light scrubbing. You also want to be careful what you use to clean it with, aggressive scrubbing with a steel wool will rub the seasoning right off. You can use steel wool just be gentle. Even better they make plastic scrubbers that can’t possibly damage the seasoning.

Seasoning it: You’ll have to do this occasionally. But it’s not the bizarre, arcane process everyone seems to think it is. You set the oven to 450, wait for oven to come up to temperature. Heat the pan on the stove top. Carefully wipe some high smoke point oil in the pan, I use canola, get a good even and rather liberal coat on all cooking surfaces. Then put the pan upside down in the oven to focus the heat on the oil. Leave it for 3 hours. If you have a timed bake function on your oven you can basically forget about it. This will season it every time and should be done once every two months at least.

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