Cooking With a Cast Iron Skillet
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This long lasting cookware is the staple of many southern cooks. Fried chicken or potatoes, sausage gravy or cornbread made in a cast iron skillet are some of the best dishes you will ever taste. It’s okay to take a moment and savor a memory – probably one of your mother or grandmother making such a dish, fried to perfection, waiting for you at the dinner table.
When properly seasoned, cast iron pans are great for stove-top cooking and baking in the oven. Cast iron pans are heavier, but offer another benefit if you’re trying to build upper body strength. During the cooking process, a small amount of iron is absorbed into the foods.
Using cast iron cookware is also a good way to cook with less oil once it is seasoned properly. Who said southern cooking can’t be healthy?
If you are a well-seasoned (no pun intended) cook, who relies on your cast iron pots and pans or a newbie to cooking with cast iron, here are few reminders and useful tips to get the most of your cookware.
There’s a reason why cast iron pots and pans are found at antique stores and yard sales. They are tough and almost impossible to completely ruin.
Cast iron is slow to heat, but once it is hot, it stays hot. It is useful for keeping foods warm since it holds heat. While you are keeping food warm, just make sure the food temperature does not drop below 135 degrees and avoid warming foods for longer than 2 hours (this has never been a problem at my house – who can wait that long).
Cast iron pans (like most of us) just get better with age. Every time you cook in your cast iron pans, you are making them better by seasoning them. Also, the more you use the pans, the smoother the surface of the pans becomes.
There are a couple of recommended techniques to season cast iron. One method of seasoning cast iron is to cover the bottom of the pan with a thick layer of kosher salt and ½ inch of vegetable oil. Heat the oil on medium until it starts to smoke. Carefully pour out the salt/oil mixture and rub the skillet with a ball of paper towels until it is smooth.
Another method of seasoning is to rub with a thin coat of vegetable oil and place the pan, upside down, in the oven. Place a sheet of aluminum foil below the pan to catch any drips. Heat the pan for 30 minutes in a 450 degree oven. Turn off the oven and allow the pan to cool completely. Repeat this method 3-4 times to assure a good seasoning on the pan.
It is best to preheat cast iron pans when cooking on the stove top. A simple pop and sizzle test will let you know when the pan is ready.
Place the pan over a burner and let it preheat for about five minutes. Always set a timer so that you don’t forget that you have it on the burner. To test for readiness, drop a couple of drops of water in the pan. The water should pop and sizzle. If the water immediately evaporates the pan is too hot.
Never put cast iron in the dishwasher. Harsh detergents will damage the pan. Use a towel or kitchen brush with a small amount of soap to clean cast iron. Do not leave cast iron “soaking” in dish water. Empty the pan after cooking and clean it immediately. If any rust occurs, scrub it gently with stainless steel wool and season again.
Now that your pans are seasoned and you’re still thinking about that piping hot cake of cornbread, you might as well make a few more memories cooking with a cast iron skillet.