Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Zack recommends: Cast iron

Some shrimp fajitas I cooked in the ten-inch pan, doesn't the food just look better in cast iron?

Initially, cast iron scared the crap out of me. "What do you mean you don't wash it?" "Doesn't everything stick?"

But after awhile my opinion changed, but it took awhile. My buddy Ed is the reason I first bought my first cast iron pan about four-years ago. He told me about this great way to cook steak. You crank the oven to 450-475 and throw the pan in there for at least a half hour to get nice and hot. You take your steak, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and place it in the pan for three to five minutes a side depending on thickness and how you like it done.

That first 10-inch cast iron pan, which I still have, was used at first for just cooking steak, which meant I used it three or four times a year. But it was cheap, costing around $20.

But then I found another use for the pan, roasting chicken. I've posted this recipe before, but I can't emphasize how well the chicken turns out using this method. I made one last week and it was just fantastic.

The monster 15-inch cast iron pan, look at how much space it takes up on the cook top.

Cooking chicken like this caused me to purchase my second cast iron pan, a mammoth 15-incher. You could kill a man with this pan, I'm not joking, it weighs a ton. I bought it for $40 from the Wooden Spoon when I took a cooking class there.

I bought it because I figured I could roast two chickens at once, something I still haven't done two-years later. In retrospect this pan isn't very practical. It's so big it doesn't heat well over on burner and so heavy it's a pain to move around easily, especially when it's been in a 450 oven for half an hour. That said I do find myself using it a little more often because the 10-inch pan is too small for some things I've been cooking.

However, I find myself using the 10-inch pan on almost a daily basis. I keep it on the cook top and use it for eggs in the morning and if I cook in the evening I saute in it. It's taught me the importance of heat control and I love how easy it is to take from the cook top to the oven. It may be the most versatile piece of kitchen equipment I have.

But it's not without it's share of pain. Cast iron is very different from non-stick cookware and will take some getting used to, but I think the food tastes better when it's cooked in cast iron and it's worth taking the time to learn how to use.

I think the steps I took would be a good way to get to know your cast iron. But one and experiment with chicken and steaks and then test other recipes.

As for cleaning the cast iron you can use water. Sometimes I'll get the pan hot, pour a little bit of water in there and scrap out any dried on bits. While the pan is still warm take a little vegetable oil and whip it around the pan to keep it in good shape.

I do have one other piece of cast iron cookware, an enamel cast iron dutch oven that adore, but that's an entry for another time.

Business note: I'm out of town next week travelling on business so I probably won't be posting.

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