I am a big fan of cast-iron cooking. The pans, which can go from stove to oven to table, are efficient and last forever. Cast iron is an ideal cooking surface for anything that needs a good sear, like a sizzling steak, and it is also perfect for roasting a chicken or baking lamb chops.
But, sadly, our cast-iron pans seem to hide away in cupboards, far from the action, because there is a notion that they need special care. There are a lot of myths about cast iron, so let's dispel them.
Most pans today come pretreated, but I prefer to give them another seasoning. Wash the pan with a little water and dry it well. Soak a paper towel with vegetable oil and rub it all over the pan – up the sides, even over the handle. Keep swabbing until the pan has a sheen. Heat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Place the pan upside down on the middle oven rack (put some foil on the rack below to catch any drips) and bake for 1 hour. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool down inside the oven. It is now ready for cooking.
A popular myth is that you don't wash cast-iron pans. But you do. Wash with warm, soapy water after each use and dry immediately. For a newer pan, rub on a little oil before storing, but you don't need to do this once the pan matures; it maintains its own surface. Don't use metal scouring pads. If food is stuck, sprinkle on a layer of kosher salt and rub the pan with a cloth. Salt is a wonderful abrasive.
Why go to all this trouble? Cast iron is superb for searing everything except delicate fish. Meat attains a deep hue, for that braise you are making or the steak you are frying. A well-seasoned pan makes perfect fried eggs. Cast iron is wonderful as a wok, and also a deep fryer since it holds the heat so well. Fry some chicken in a cast-iron pan and you will be amazed at how wonderfully juicy and tasty it is. Start the pan on a low heat and raise the temperature to high once the pan is hot. This way it heats evenly and stays hot, hot, hot.
Cast iron comes in a variety of prices. One of the easiest brands to find is Lodge, which is in the mid-range price. Fancier and even heavier is Finex, which I use all the time as a roasting pan, deep fryer and serving vessel. Check online for availability in your area.
Go find that pan you hid, reseason it, and enjoy the ease of cooking. An extra bonus: The weight helps you build arm muscles.
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