Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Must Have My Cast Iron!

I've been cooking with cast iron since I was big enough to stand in chair beside my mom at the stove. This is my newest edition, a great waffle maker. Pour in your batter and close, cook a while, then it swivels on a ball hinge to cook the other side. 
                                                          How  cool!
I got it a few weeks before I started blogging so I didn't think to take pictures, but it was rusted and cruddy. The person who had it before didn't know what they had and/or how to care for it. $8! The lady I bought it from said "That might make a cute decoration but I doubt it's usable". I told her it was fine for what I wanted and walked out grinning like the cheshire cat. 
There are so many myths and misunderstanding about cast iron I could write pages just on what not to believe. If your learning to cook or learning to camp or learning to homestead, I think a few iron skillets and pots should be at the top of your list of must haves. Quick count here is about 45 of different styles, sizes and shapes. I know, can anyone say "obsession"...I like the old ones best myself but don't throw out those new ones if that's how you roll. 
There are a lot of theories about how to clean up the ones that are rusted or cruddy. Some say soak in a mix of vinegar and water, wash, then soak in baking soda (to neutralize the vinegar) and water. Then season. Some scour with salt and oil. These are worth looking up if your new and just want the info. But I have never had to use those methods. 
For cruddy rusted flea market finds.
Check for cracks. These are DOA and should not be used because they can split the rest of the way.
Step 1: Grab one of those metal scouring pads. Steel wool is fine but I don't usually use the ones with soap in them unless you have the sticky oil film that just won't come off. Scrub with dish soap and hot water. Rinse.
Step 2: Heat your pan to dry. I like to do this outside on a grill or over a fire pit because your going to want it to smoke when you add the oil. Let it get HOT. Hold your hand about 1 inch from the bottom surface of the pan, should take about 2 seconds to make you pull your hand away. CAREFULLY set the pan away from the heat source. If you have lard (or bacon grease) I recommend that, if not then crisco or vegetable oil work fine. Add about 2 tablespoons. Use a pair of tongs or pliers and a rag to spread the oil all around the inside of the pan, it should smoke. Give it min and then spread any that has collected again, turn it over and do the same on the outside. Repeat heating it to smoking point and oil again. Let cool.
You can use the oven @450* or stove top but make sure to turn on a fan and/or open a window.
The idea behind this is that the heat expands the metal and then the oil is trapped as it cools creating the slick seasoned surface.
Your pan is now ready to cook with. The more you use it the better the seasoning will get and the more non stick your pan will be. It takes a little while to get one really slick.
I have read articles that say do not use metal utensils on your iron. This is wrong. They mention them "scraping off" the seasoning layer. Best I can figure what they are actually getting is some burnt on crud that they didn't remove well because they tried to clean it with a soft sponge. 
Cleaning your cast iron after cooking with it.

Depends on what you cooked. If I scramble eggs (and the skillet was well seasoned) I just wipe it out with a rag or paper towel.
        I went ahead and rinsed this one after the pic. but this is how it looked just wiped with the towel.                                                             

Gravy, hot water and a good scrub.

Fried potatoes, water and a little soap, I like to burn my onions a little.

If you really burn something into you pan don't worry. It happens. Heat with enough water to cover burnt stuff to a boil for 5 min. Turn off heat and let soak till cool. Scrub with a little soap.
All iron pans should be dried as soon as washed. 
Set washed pan on stove over med heat. Let dry. Add small amount of oil, this depends on how big your pan is, and spread it around. Let cool. If they look a little chalky you may want to repeat and/or use it more. :)

The more you use them the better they get. I like to use any new additions to fry chicken, bacon anything that creates a lot of grease. This gives it time to soak in.
Country Fried Chicken:
Pound chicken breast to about 1/2 inch thick
Heat 1/2 to 1 inch oil in skillet to about 350'. A drop of water should sizzle when it's ready.
Dredge chicken in flour. salt and pepper mix.
Gently place chicken in oil.

5-7min on each side, or til golden.
Drain off most of chicken grease and make gravy. 
Heat dinner rolls in iron pan in oven, set aside and heat broccoli. 

Don't be afraid of tomatoes. I make spaghetti sauce in mine all the time. You do want to wash them soon after because the acid from the tomato will cause rusty spots if you let it sit.
I don't usualy boil water in mine. Mostly because boiling seems to always involve a white starch and the iron in the pan will give a slightly dingy color. (noodles, rice, potatoes) But I always cook my dried beans in them.
The saying that they heat especially even is and isn't true. Like any pan the spot where the heat is actually in contact with the pan will be hotter. But the entire pan is conducting the heat so it is 'more' even. If you use it over an indirect fire or in an oven then it is true. The whole pan heats and holds the heat. I wouldn't use anything else to make cornbread or pineapple-upside down-cake.
That's the final point. Cast iron is great on the kitchen stove, in the oven, on the grill, over a fire. You would really have to get carried away to hurt it.
 And in case of emergency, cast iron has been a recommended attitude adjuster for years...