The Knitting Journeyman

Gathering Up One Thread At A Time As I Weave This Web Of Mine.....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cast Iron Cookware

            I don’ think I went into great detail about my new all cast iron cookware the other day.  I was far too happy about all the bunny stuff going on that week-end.

            I have been researching non-non-stick coated cookware for a couple years now.  Why?  No matter how careful you are, no matter how good that cookware, the Teflon, or whatever the coating is made out of, is going to scratch.  Once that stuff scratches, who knows what sort of chemicals begin to leach into your food.  It was two? Three?  Years ago that I set out in search of older cookware at the thrift stores.  The kind that has no non-stick coating.  The kind w just plain old stainless steel or even ceramic for the insides.  Long ago, the ex had loved the glass corningware cookware, but I didn’t care for it, because it sucked to clean if anything got stuck to the bottom.  During my thrift store searches these past couple years, since I could not find an actual store that sold glass corningware cookware any more, I found a couple of those glass pots.  I love them now.  I did manage to find quite a few non-non-stick coat pots.  Most of them, however, were the huge ones, not the small we’re making a can of soup pots that we needed.  I bought them anyway, because I needed something and wasn’t going back to the non-stick garbage.

            Now, I used to have a set of cast iron.  Eons ago.  The ex might have gotten it for some holiday or another.  No one told me how to season them, really.  No one explained how to take care of them.  I was given very vague directions and left to do things on my own.  You grease ‘em up and then you cook ‘em was the gist of my information then.  I was working in operator services at SBC then and my wrists were far far weaker than they are now.  Even the smaller skillet was a bear for me to wrestle up and onto the stove.  I gave up on them fairly quickly and they disappeared from my life.

            R has the most amazing cast iron skillet.  I love that thing.  It is simple to use.  Despite it being one of the larger ones, I have little trouble lifting it.  It cooks like a dream.  There is no problem cleaning it, no matter what we cook in it.  Plus, he explained how to season things, how to clean them, and how to take care of them, in detail.

            Cast iron requires a small bit of work, but it is well worth that minimal effort.

            We found a seven piece cast iron cooking set, on clearance, at the local feed store.  The kids have since run off to play w the amazing wooden box the cookware came in.  R and I had plans for it, when we go camping this year. 

A skillet.  A two-sided griddle.  A Dutch oven w lid.  A smaller cooking pot w a lid.  And the hook  handle thing to lift the pots off and onto the fire when you’re out camping.  During our excursions to investigate buying cast iron cookware, which is anytime we went to stores like Cabelas in search of fly fishing rods or whatnot, R always said he needed one of the hook things to lift pots in and out of the fire while camping.  It was a fluke this set came w one.

            Now, this set came ‘pre-seasoned’ for instant use.  When I pulled it all out, sure, it wasn’t the bright shiny silver of unseasoned cast iron, but it wasn’t that nice uniform black that is so wonderful either.  They were a weird dull grey.  So, I seasoned them myself, just to be sure.

            I first washed everything by hand, to ensure that any garbage left from the processing or making of the stuff was removed.  I rinsed everything well.  I did not specifically dry anything though.  I made sure there wasn’t a bunch of water pooling, but otherwise, I didn’t much care about things being wet.  Note:  never ever let water just sit in your cast iron for an extended period of time, or let your cast iron sit in a sink full of water.  This is how rust starts.  Rust and cast iron are not friends.  Rust is BAD for cast iron.  Rust ruins cast iron.

            I grabbed my 100% vegetable shortening and rubbed the shortening all over, inside and out, of each piece.  Pots.  Lids.  Everything but the hook thing, which does not need to be seasoned.  My boyfriend uses a paper towel, dipped into the shortening, to rub everything into the cast iron.  Me, I use my hands.  The shortening makes a great skin softener too.  Not that I would use it all over my body, not since I was a teen-ager tanning on the roof.  But for hands, in the kitchen, it’s not half bad. 

            Also, make sure you have a drip pan or something on the bottom of your oven, to catch any of the shortening that drips off during the seasoning process.  That stuff hits the bottom of the oven and starts to bake there and you will have fumes for days.  I forgot I had the drip pan in the oven once I was done seasoning things, turned up the heat to make French fries, and the smoke that suddenly hit the whole house and set off all the smoke detectors on the first floor took me over an hour to get out, w ceiling fans running full blast and every window open.

My oven is not very big, so I only greased up as many pieces at a time as would fit into the oven, the pots I put in upside down.  I had the oven set at 350 degrees.  Each set of cast iron baked in that heat for no less than twenty minutes, although one set was in there for nearly fifty because I went outside to check on the kids and ended up talking to a neighbor.  The longer time did not hurt anything.

            This is the process you repeat until you are happy w the amount of seasoning, the color of the black, whatever, on your cookware.  Cover w a thin layer shortening and bake for twenty minutes or so.

            Now, when you pull this stuff out of the oven, it is HOT.  Cast iron retains that heat, which is one reason, I have learned, that cooking w this stuff is so amazing.  Be careful and let it cool down some if you are going to repeat the seasoning process.  Do not grab a skillet or pot out of the oven and think, I’ll spread some more grease on it and toss it back in.  Grease burns hurt, baby.  Be careful if you are pulling it straight out of the oven and planning to cook right away w it.  It is pre-heated and ready to go.

            Cooking w this stuff is a dream.  I love watching R cook.  I love using his skillet.  Yesterday, we were home at our house, and I made sautéed asparagus, which I dearly love.  I turned the burner on to a low to medium heat.  Let the skillet warm up a little.  Added the oil, the asparagus, the salt and pepper.  I don’t think I have ever made this stuff where it has come out so perfect before.  It’s not that the cast iron adds any sort of taste to it, but there is an absence of something, not really a taste per se, but something like that.  The food tasted, cleaner?  Purer?  I am not sure how to explain it.

            I also made Mexican hot chocolate.  In the cast iron pot, with the lid, I dropped a whole round of Abuelita chocolate.  I turned the heat on low.  I added milk.  I put the lid on.  The milk warmed faster than usual.  The chocolate melted faster and more thoroughly.  It was pretty amazing.  I am used to this taking ten minutes w a regular pot, without the milk actually reaching a boil.  In five minutes, the milk was starting to boil, all the chocolate had well incorporated into the milk.  I turned off the heat.  The milk in the pot stayed hot for the hour or more that it took me to drink it all.  That’s w keeping the lid on except to dip out more hot chocolate to drink.  There was a light scrim of milk solids on the top, as is normal when we make this, even when we left the burner on warm before we turned to cast iron, but it was nothing like usual.  When I stirred the scrim in, it dissolved into the milk, rather than retaining its skin-like texture the way it does in other cookware
            Clean up was also simple.  A hand-knit scrubby made from acrylic yarn and some dish soap cleaned both skillet and pot.  No sink full of water.  Just enough to get things wet and soapy.  I do not leave the water running when I hand-wash dishes, or anything else.  I rinsed them well.  I shook off as much water as would shake off.  I rubbed the insides of both pot and skillet w the vegetable shortening.  I set them both on burners, turned on the burners on a medium heat, and let the heat melt the shortening.  Now, here is where I will actually use a paper towel, especially if there is water in something.  I use the paper towel to wipe the shortening all around.  The towel will pick up any excess water while it rubs the melting shortening into the pan.  I even rubbed the lid of the pot down w shortening, inside and out, since the inside had been hit w condensation from the milk.  I simply left the lid on top the pot while the shortening melted.  I turned the lid over so that both sides could reach the heat.  Now, the lid, I did have to rub the shortening into more, as I did not leave the pot on more than it needed, so the shortening on the lid was not all melted completely and dripping.  It was warm enough to rub into the lid, while leaving just a bit of a hint of the white still all over.  I left the lid on top the pot when I was done.  The heat the pot retained afterwards helped work the not entirely melted shortening into the lid that much farther.

            Cookware done.

            Which reminds me.  I still have to go through things in order to donate to the women’s shelter next week.  This is a good time to put my money where my mouth is and donate all that other no longer needed cookware.  Brilliant.

            Thanks for listening.