Cooking with Cast Iron
Wow, two cooking posts in two days time, is this some kind of miracle or something? Who knows? I don’t.
Anyway, I am kind of surprised I haven’t written about this sooner seeing as about six years ago I don’t think I had ever used cast iron cookware, and now it is a real staple to my culinary practices. Cast iron cookware is, simply put (and in my personal opinion), an essential for any complete kitchen.
While you can certainly cook much the same stuff with some good stainless steel cookware (and really, let’s be honest, don’t use teflon non-stick shit, go with stainless steel. If you know what you are doing this should never be a problem in the first place), there is something unique and enjoyable about the use of cast iron. I think part of it is just the solid heft of the things. There is no denying that you need a bit of muscle if you are going to be using cast iron cookware regularly. Another part of it (and arguably the more important part from a cooking perspective) is the way that cast iron is so successful at evenly distributing its heat. Even more so than stainless steel, cast iron provides a nice diffusion of heat.
As I said above, six years ago I had never cooked with cast iron. I knew what it was, but because my parents had never owned any, and because when I was really getting into cooking, in my college years, I never had any money to afford the cookware, it had just slipped from my personal practice. When I moved to South Carolina in 2007 I got my first experiences with using cast iron cookware. Walker and Natalia, whom I lived with from summer 2007 to March 2008, had some cast iron cookware and this allowed me to get my feet wet with the stuff. Admittedly, at the time, I had a bad tendency to cook things at too high a heat, and also to not pay as close attention to my cooking food as I should be, and so the results were mixed-negative at first. But in time I got better and better. Cooking a number of meals with Evan and Meg using cast iron provided further skill and knowledge of the cookware. Living with Dan from summer 2009 through January 2011 allowed me to have constant access to the cookware as Dan had his own cast iron skillet (the cast iron skillet, for those of you not in the know, is basically the essential cast iron piece of cookware). With Dan I also learned the pleasures of using cast iron on a grill. When I moved in with Eliza in February 2011 I inherited a large number of cast iron skillets (I believe we currently have six) ranging in size from just large enough to cook a couple of eggs to big enough to roast a chicken in it.
Over the past year I have taken to using cast iron very frequently. I sometimes just use them on the burner like a normal skillet. I cook bacon in a medium-sized one out on my grill (the bacon grease makes for a fantastic seasoning for the cast iron). As I said above, we roast whole chickens in our giant cast iron skillet. We usually bring one or two of the medium to medium-small skillets with us whenever we go camping and use them right over the fire (this was, historically, the original intended use of cast iron cookware). For Christmas Eliza got me a nice cast iron press, which can be heated up real hot and used to cook the top of and press down food stuffs (so far I’ve only used it to make some seriously crispy bacon). The other night Eliza’s mom made an awesome cornbread in her cast iron skillet, which has provided me with yet another realm of cooking to attempt with the cookware.
So, if you haven’t tried it yet, and you’re as into cooking as I am, get yourself a nice ol’ cast iron skillet and give it a try. Admittedly, new cast iron cookware can be a bit pricy, but it is worth it in the long run. Cast iron cookware is extremely durable and can easily last through multiple generations (several of our skillets originally belonged to Eliza’s grandfather). They take relatively little maintenance, just the occasional seasoning (using some source of fat; bacon grease, olive oil, butter, whatever your prefer and some heat), and, assuming you don’t get anything too burnt on or stuck in there, just a quick wipe down after use (ideally you don’t want to over wash cast iron cookware as it removes the oil seasoning and can promote rusting). So give it a shot, and do yourself some cast iron cooking. I am willing to bet you’ll like it.