Don’t Fear the Skillet!

Posted April 28th, 2012 in Posted in News & Announcements

Cast Iron Skillet

“Do you have a black iron skillet? You are a southern mountain girl, I can’t imagine you would not. Put it on the kitchen table. Turn on the overhead lights.

Look into the skillet, Clarice. Lean over it and look down. If this were your mother’s skillet, and it well may be, it would hold among its molecules the vibrations of all the conversations ever held in its presence. All the exchanges, the petty irritations, the deadly revelations, the flat announcements of disaster, the grunts and poetry of love.

Sit down at the table, Clarice. Look into the skillet. If it is well cured, it’s a black pool, isn’t it? It’s like looking down a well. Your detailed reflection is not at the bottom, but you loom there, don’t you? The light behind you, there you are in a blackface, with a corona like your hair on fire.

We are elaborations of carbon, Clarice. You and the skillet and Daddy, dead in the ground, cold as the skillet. It’s all still there. Listen.”

-Hannibal Lector in a letter to Clarice Starling, “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris


How about you?? Got a cast iron skillet? A flat griddle you bought, dreaming about sizzling fajitas, or a spicy flat iron steak?  One that beckons to you to fry eggs; while you reach for the Teflon-coated pan, you don’t really want to use?

Most of us are guilty of it – skillet envy – whereby you covet the cast iron your neighbor seems to use so effortlessly but always use your nonstick version.  I’ll let you in on a little secret – they were scared too.  Like you, they wanted it… The heft of the pan, the slick of the perfectly seasoned surface, the slight bite of the iron in the back of your mouth when you swallow, the “I cook with cast iron” swagger, as you enter your local butcher shop – knowing that your butcher most definitely does too.  The difference is that they conquered their fears & rather than relegating their cast iron to rust & relaxation in the back of the cabinet, they work those babies.  Step inside our kitchen, and we’ll show you how.  Relax, it’s just FOOD – we’re not talking world peace - that’s another blog – Peace through PORK!

There are a number of cast-iron options. Let’s run through a few.  There’s straight up cast iron (think cowboys on the range), pre-seasoned cast iron (all the rage these days) and enamel coated cast iron (fancy, Food Network, pretty colors).  Personally, I gravitate towards both pre-seasoned and enamel, and I use them in different ways.  My pre-seasoned are skillets – big and small, that often just live on my stovetop and wait impatiently for the next meal.  I use them for eggs, fried chicken, cornbread, quick sautés, and all kinds of meat – blackened, pan-fried, minute steaks.  My enamel-coated cast iron serves a different but equally important purpose–low, and sloooowww… Stews, paella, braised meats – started on the stove and finished in the oven, tomato sauces, soups (I use the same Dutch Oven for my Bubbe’s Brisket that I do for her matzoh ball soup, and stuffed cabbage).  Don’t get me wrong, you can do low and slow in straight up cast iron, it’s mostly personal preference, and the tomato thing.  The acid from tomato based sauces, soups, braising liquid, etc, can “pit” the iron and leave it flawed, while also releasing a strong iron taste into the food.  I’ll do quick things, like a chicken primavera with cherry tomatoes in my cast iron skillet, but I won’t do an all day Bolognese.  Capisce? {correct spelling?}

Once you make your choice, if you’ve gone with the NON seasoned pan, you will need to season it.  Seasoning requires only one additional product (oil, or fat) and your oven.  Preheat the pan in a low oven, around 200, once warm turn the oven up to 350 & remove the pan.  Coat the inside of your pan with either vegetable oil or shortening (personal preference) and return it to the oven to “bake” for an hour.  While still warm wipe any excess oil from the pan and let it cool completely.  If you don’t wipe the excess, you’ll get a sticky residue, which will just cook off when you use the pan.  Some recommend turning the pan upside down to avoid the potential stickiness – BUT if you do this be sure and line your oven with foil.  The first seasoning isn’t going to get you that shiny, slick surface you covet, but it will come with time. Feel free to re-season as often as you’d like to hasten the process.

So you’ve seasoned the huge skillet you found at the local flea market, or you bought yourself a nice pre-seasoned, and you’ve made a fantastic meal for family and friends.  Here’s the part you’ve been dreading… “WTF do I do with this hulking piece of iron on my stove?? I know I can’t put it in my Bosch. Soap, no soap? UGH!” Relax. A well-seasoned pan often only needs a quick wipe out and a swipe of oil.  If there’s a little something stuck in there pour in some coarse salt and scrape out the residue with a wooden spatula. Still not enough?  Add a little water to the pan and bring it to a gentle boil, scraping as you go.  Just don’t add cold water to a really hot pan, you could stress or crack the iron.  Option number three—a stiff nylon bristle brush, some warm water, even a little mild soap if it makes you feel better.  After the pan is clean DRY it – don’t let it air dry, please, that’s how rust develops.  It will discolor your drying cloth, so you may want to reserve one for cast iron alone.  Once dry, wipe it with a bit of oil or shortening and you’re done until the next day when you can’t WAIT to use it again!

Choosing, seasoning, and cleaning. The three biggest hurdles to USING your gorgeous cast iron.  Now you should understand that it’s no big deal – WAY easier than putting together those IKEA bookshelves and you accomplished that without jumping off the bridge, right?

Here are a few additional tips:

—    Don’t start your skillet on a high heat, add a thin coat of oil/shortening before you preheat & gradually bring it to temperature.  Cast iron heats a little slower but it will retain heat evenly and longer – so beware the hot handle.

—    Don’t be afraid to re-season.  If the food sticks – you must re-slick!

—    Store cast iron in a cool, dry place.  The oven is good – just remember to remove the cast iron BEFORE you preheat your oven.

—    We don’t want you to cook your meat without letting it come to room temp, and neither does your cast iron.


Now that you know what you’re doing - put that cast iron to good use! 

MmmMmm GOOD!

References and Links We Like:

Love our advice or hate it? Trying one of the recipes? Did we inspire you to dust off the old cast iron?  Ideas for future blogs? Let us know! We love to hear from you!



One Comment:

  1. ben says:

    I gotta say, the best cast iron is the old stuff. Newer cast iron is almost never polished, and the sand used during the casting process is less fine, which means it’s necessary to use a skillet for a very long time before it really becomes non-stick. The older skillets (I’m talking pre-1950s here), were machine polished after casting and are smooth as glass. It’s not really necessary to “season” them in the same way - oil doesn’t have to build up to make a slick surface because the surface is already smooth. I use only pre-1940s cast iron (and I have PLENTY of it!) and I can scrub the bottom with a scouring pad (no soap!) and just spray a little Pam on it when its hot and it’s perfectly non-stick and never rusts…

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