Thursday, November 09, 2006

Big Iron

I love cast iron skillets. For a long time I didn't have any. Several years ago, when visiting my mother, I mentioned to her that I always liked cast iron skillets and had never had one. The next Christmas I got two brand new cast iron skillets, a small one and a large one.

One of the keys to using a cast iron skillet is that they need to be "seasoned". That is basically creating a coating of burned on grease which fills the pores of the cast iron and creates a "no stick" surface. Seasoning, cleaning and care of cast iron cookware is almost a sacrament of Southern Cooking. Many cooks will assert with absolute confidence that there is only one true way to season and clean a cast iron skillet.
Cast iron cookware has many unique qualities. It distributes heat very evenly. It holds heat well, so well that if you turn up the heat too high you can't get it to cool off quickly. It does take some time to heat up so you need to preheat the pan to avoid sticking. It's also cheap, 6" skillets start at about $4.00 and Sears has a set of 3 for $17.00.As we cleaned out our house we set aside the things we though we could salvage. One of the things I put in the carport was my muddy, rusty cast iron skillets. Still full of flood water when I found them. I wasn't sure I could save them. Since cast iron is so cheap, I probably should have replaced them. It wouldn't have been the same. They wouldn't have been the ones my mother gave me and they wouldn't have survived the flood. I set them aside to try to clean.

After about a year I finally got around to recovering my cast iron skillets. First I scrubbed them with a Brillo pad (it was cheaper that SOS), until almost all of the rust was gone. Then I ran them through the dishwasher. That was to remove more rust and to disinfect them, but also so She would be happy and possible eat something cooked in them. Finally I scrubbed them again and dried them.

The final step was to season them. There are several methods of seasoning cast iron

The most popular and easiest is to simply coat the cookware in Crisco and bake it. I think lard would work better but it's a little hard to find these days. There are different opinions about how high and how long. I favor a high temperature for a long time. I think the higher the temperature the better. The longer the better. Some people even recommend using a self cleaning electric oven. You set to self clean which will get very hot, hot enough to turn baked on food to ash. We doesn't have a self cleaning oven, so I just cranked it all the way up and went to bed.
I got it a little too hot. After a couple of hours the whole place filled with smoke from the smoldering Crisco. It didn't cause any lasting damage but it did work. It seasoned the pans very well. The seasoning created a hard black coating over the entire surface of the pan almost as slick as Teflon.
The proof is in the eating. cast iron is the best way to cook a real southern breakfast of bacon and eggs.

1 comment:

Sophmom said...

Cast iron is the best way to cook everything. There is, in fact, no other way to cook cornbread. I have oodles and oodles of it (including muffin and "corn stick" pans). I love to buy it at flea markets. In my experience there is no amount of rust that can't be managed. They can always be reclaimed if one is willing to do the work. Well done, Mominem.