The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

You can help by leaving comments on posts and by becoming a follower. I'd really like to know who you are and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing. To date, more than a quarter million people have viewed the blog and that's great. But every great leader needs followers and if I am ever to achieve my goal of becoming the next great leader of the Italian culinary world :-) I need followers!

Grazie mille!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cast Iron Cookware

You gotta love cast iron cookware. At least, I do. Take care of it and it'll last forever.

First things first: clean your new cookware. Most new cast iron pots and skillets have a protective food-safe wax coating on them. It won't kill you, but it'll sure taste funny if you don't remove it before using the pan. Try to avoid using soap to clean your cookware. Some people say it ruins the seasoning; some say it doesn't matter. I always prefer to err on the side of caution. Unless it's really gross, just scrub it with a scouring pad -- not steel wool, but the little green or blue scouring pads, or something equivalent -- in really hot tap water. Dishwashers are a definite no-no! And, obviously, you want to make sure your cast iron cookware is thoroughly dry before you put it away. Rust is ugly and it doesn't taste good.

SEASON, SEASON, SEASON! Otherwise your cookware will rust, your food will taste funny and everything you try to cook will stick. Seasoning is easy. After your initial cleaning (or anytime, really) coat the cooking surface of the pan with oil, shortening or lard. Yes, lard. Personally, I use bacon grease, but Crisco or vegetable oil works just as well. Rub a little on the outside, too, just for good measure. Turn your oven on to 350° and stick the pan in there for an hour. Some people say you should turn it upside down for the first half hour then turn it over. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't; I've never seen the difference. It helps to have a cookie sheet or aluminum foil on the rack below the one you're "baking" your pan on. Catches any oil that drips and keeps your oven clean. After an hour, take the pan out and let it cool. Ta-da! It's seasoned. Sort of. You might want to do it more than once. And, once it's seasoned, the more you use it, the more seasoned it becomes. Things might stick a little the first time or two, but after you get it broken in, you won't be able to tell it from Teflon. People look at my skillet all the time and exclaim, "Why doesn't mine look like that?" It's all in the seasoning and maintenance, folks.

If you're not going to be using the skillet every day, lightly coat the inside with a little oil before you store it. Just a few drops spread around with your fingers or a paper towel. Cooking sprays work well, too. Just remember to wipe this out before you use the pan again. Sometimes the surface oil will get a little rancid and can taint whatever you cook. Don't store your cookware with a lid on. Cast iron needs air circulation. For the same reason, don't stack your cast iron cookware. My skillet, grill pan, and griddle all hang from individual hooks mounted on the wall next to my stove.

Gas flames are best for cast iron cooking. Electric burners tend to cause hot spots and you have to be careful about high heat settings. But gas stoves and cast iron cookware are made for each other.

You can cook just about anything in cast iron. It conducts heat evenly and well. Cast iron is great for frying and sautéing. You can even use it in the oven for baked dishes and cornbread. Be careful when cooking acidic foods like tomatoes. The acids in tomatoes -- and some beans -- can cause problems with cast iron. Not so much with the cooking, but if you don't remove the food from the pan immediately, you might wind up having to reseason your pan.

Cast iron is not indestructible. Close, maybe, but not impervious to damage from abuse. High heat is not good for any cookware. Exposure to high direct heat for a lengthy period can cause cast iron to crack. Not pretty. Medium to medium-high is the best temperature range for cooking and cast iron is great at low, simmering temperatures.

Don't store foods in cast iron. A lot of people are bad for taking a pan off the stove and sticking it in the refrigerator, thinking it'll be easier to just heat up whatever is in it tomorrow. Do that with cast iron and you'll get some unpleasant tasting surprises. The iron will leach into your food and cause discoloring and a metallic flavor and the oils and acids from your food will leach into the iron, pitting the surface and ruining the seasoning. It's worth the extra minute to put your food in a storage container.

Cucinare felice!

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