Preparing and cooking with your cast iron pan
Cooking with a cast iron pan is the best way to cook – you get a bit of iron in your food, and the heat can be really really high if you need it to be.
When you shop for a new pan you will find raw cast iron (looks like aluminum in color and have spots of rust) or preseasoned ones. Cast iron is naturally stick free if it has been prepared right and since the preparation process can be quite time and labor intensive, you can purchase preseasoned pans for quite a hefty price. The advantage is that you can start cooking with these heavy duty pans right away.
To prepare your “raw” cast iron pan, coat it with oil or fat. You can use vegetable shortening (i.e. Crisco) or the old folks like lard or bacon fat. Bake the skillet upside down, with a sheet of foil below to catch the drips, in 400º oven for an hour. Make sure your kitchen is well ventilated with the vents going and your windows open. It will be smokey. Remove the pan after it is cool.
Cooking with cast iron is wonderful. For even heating, start with low heat and then increase the temperature slowly. Preheating the pan in the oven is great too, but be careful when you remove the hot pan from the oven – make sure you have insulation on your hands before touching, and do not set the hot pan down on your countertop or table – put it on your stove’s burner right away. Cast iron does not heat fast, but once it is hot, it is piping hot all the way through the handle – so protect yourself and your surfaces.
After the pan is nice and hot, add your cooking oil and throw the ingredients to cook with sizzle and oomph! Cast iron pans can go directly from the stovetop to the oven, since they are practically indestructible and 100% plastic free.
Cleaning the pan is much harder than the lightweight non-stick pans, and much heavier to handle. The trick to cleaning them is to remove food residue without damaging the seasoned surface or encouraging rust. The old way is to scrub with hot water and a brush or coarse salt, but no soap. If this makes you uncomfortable, then using a mild detergent after most of the residue is gone is fine. Never put the pan in the dishwasher. Scrub with steel wool only to remove rust. Uncle likes to fry steaks over high heat with the pan – so ono with Hawaiian sea salt and Canadian steak seasoning – yum!!!
Aunty has to “remind” him to put a cup of water in the pan after he is finished so the gunk gets softened and makes it much easier to clean after we have finished eating.
After washing, towel dry or set it on a low burner to remove all moisture. Drying well and quickly will prevent rust. Oil the pan lightly before putting away.