Part of the journey in returning to a simpler, artisanal kitchen is attained by getting in touch with better sources of foods. And the kitchen equipment we cook our foods with can be just as big a part of that journey as the food itself.
Donate all of your nonstick pans and celebrity-endorsed skillets to charity; you’re investing in cookware that beats them all: the cast-iron skillet. And with a little TLC, your trusty skillet is going to stay with you through the years.
Just head to the cookware department of your local kitchen store or mega market and your head can swim with confusion just by the sheer number of products available. It seems every celebrity chef has a personal line of cookware sponsored by another TV network, and there are enough appliances and gadgets available to try each cooking technique at least 100 different times.
But really, the secret to a good roast, bake, or casserole isn’t in the newest, shiniest, most endorsed product — it’s in the sheer robustness of the cookware and in the capability of the cook.
And then there are the health warnings that come with half of the kitchen cookware products these days — non-stick cookware that warns you not to preheat it, overheat it or overuse it. Let’s face it: those are three very essential parts of using any cookware properly and abundantly. Not very encouraging if you want that new nonstick cooking pan guaranteed to deliver the best fried eggs this side of town.
Enter cast iron cookware. Tried, true and timeless.
An iron skillet will last a lifetime. The cookware has been around for thousands of years and has put more pot roasts and breads in the oven than your grandmother. It is heavy, hardy, sturdy, important. An iron skillet conducts heat evenly, cooking foods consistently each time. It starts your food on the stovetop and finishes it off in the oven. It can even be taken camping and used over an open flame. It can grill your foods and bake them just the same.
Even the latest celebrity chef-endorsed cookware product can’t offer such reliable promises.
And best of all, the iron skillet is immemorial. Season your cast iron skillet and care for it with basic maintenance, and it will stay with you through all of your culinary years. Now that’s an investment worthy of any home cook — and usually around just $20 a skillet, it’s one of the wisest investments in one’s life.
You’ll be surprised at just how easy it is to properly season a skillet. Whether new or old, give it a gentle washing in light soap and water; let it air dry or towel dry it completely — no water should remain. Coat the skillet in a mild cooking oil (try safflower, sunflower, peanut or olive oil), and wipe off the excess oil so that the skillet is shiny but not soaking. Place it in a preheated 350°F oven and let it hang out for about an hour. Turn the oven off and let the skillet come down to room temperature in the oven. That’s it.
Each time you use the skillet for cooking, clean it with a scouring pad and coarse salt. If the skillet is particularly dirty, give it a gentle wash with water and a little soap, but don’t ever soak it or put it in the dishwasher. Place the cleaned skillet on a stovetop over a gentle flame to dry it completely; remove from heat and coat it with oil. As the skillet dries, that oil will once again seep into the skillet and help keep it seasoned for the next cooking.
Image adapted from cbertel, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0