Cooking

How I learned to love cast iron

November 3, 2015

For a long time, I was afraid of cast iron. I’d see cast iron pans and skillets in all shapes and sizes in Marshalls or HomeGoods and think to myself, that could be fun. The rustic look appealed to me, but the care was intimidating. Each time I’d pick one up, appreciating it’s weight, I’d read the tag and place it back on the shelf. They weren’t that expensive, but what did seasoning mean? And how on earth do you get something clean with no soap?

I finally decided to take the plunge, and if I remember correctly, my cast iron skillet was a birthday gift from my brother and his wife, Kristen. You know Kristen, the other person who writes this blog? Yes, her. You know it’s her birthday today. I’m going to take a moment to say that Kristen may be the sweetest, most adorable, most generous person out there. She’s excellent, and I hope she’s having a day to match.

Anyway, I was so excited to finally have my pan! I washed it with soap and water, then lightly coated it with olive oil and placed it in the hot oven so the oil could soak in a bit. Tada, seasoned. There are a million articles and infographics on how to season and care for your pan (seriously, go search on Google or Pinterest), so I’m not going to get into it here, but trust me – it’s not nearly as hard as you think.

Just a use or two and I was hooked, and now, it’s my favorite. I learned to love cast iron honestly, just by giving it a chance.

I make a beautiful flat, round loaf of bread in it, crisp on the outside with sea salt and rosemary sprinkled across the top. I’ve made cornbread in it, and you can make desserts like the plum cake Kristen shared a while back.

A brunch favorite around here, you can make a delicious frittata with nearly anything you have in the house. You’ll need 8 eggs and veggies. Sautee some spinach and onions, throw in some diced zucchini or lightly steamed broccoli, or maybe try loose sausage and sliced peppers. Top it with tomato slices or don’t, add cheese or not. The basic recipe is so simple, it can be customized however you like. I admit, I’ve made a frittata for dinner a couple of times when I was just out of ideas. A wedge of veggie-filled frittata next to a nice green salad makes a very decent dinner.

Then there’s frying. I’m not big on frying. It makes such a mess and takes so much oil (that being said, you bet I’ll be frying potato pancakes when December rolls around, mess be damned). In most cases, I’m happy to bake things instead of frying. But then every nowcast iron skillet old fashioned modern living and then you just want the crunch. Potatoes and tofu are my favorites to fry in my cast iron skillet. I’ll wash the potatoes and cut them into quarters, then slices, and boil them quickly so they’re mostly cooked. I use just enough oil to coat the bottom of my cast iron pan and let it get screaming hot, then carefully place the potatoes in (be sure you drained them well, water and oil spatter!) I’ll sprinkle my favorite herb blend on and let it sit for a moment, then gently begin nudging the pieces around, turning them over. As they turn, golden brown crispy sides will be revealed. Continue until you’re satisfied that at least most of the sides are crispy, and you’re done. The tofu is even easier – chunk firm tofu (my favorite is the organic tofu that I order from Farmigo.com), and once the oil is nice and hot, throw it in. For this I use tongs to turn the pieces over and over. No coating, nothing extra needed. They crisp up beautifully, and can be tossed in with veggies or doused in soy, teriyaki, or our favorite, Trader Joe’s Soyaki Sauce.

Once you’re done, let the pan cool down and then scrub it out in the sink. I use a stiff bristle dish brush and course sea salt. Then rub with a little oil and it’s good.

There really are countless resources available for cooking with and caring for your cast iron skillet. And they’re hard to damage. A sweet friend recently cleaned up after a weekday brunch and scrubbed my cast iron pot with the sponge and soap without realizing. She was so upset, thinking she killed it! Well, as I’ve assured her many times, she didn’t. I didn’t even re-season, just coated it with oil and you know what, I’ve used it twice since with no problems. If perchance your skillet does get rusty, you just sand that off and keep right on using it. These things can last forever.

I honestly think my cast iron skillet may be my favorite thing in my kitchen. I don’t use it as often as my paring knife, and it’s not as pretty as my collection of cooking and serving utensils in all shades of blue, but it’s such a versatile and timeless piece that I think it may beat the others out. It lives on my stove top on the back burner that I never use, wearing it’s pretty little quilted handle cover. It’s decoration as much as it’s practical around here.

If you’ve been wondering about cast iron but were nervous, I’d recommend taking the plunge!

Do you use cast iron? I’d love to hear some of your favorite uses!

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