By Christa Ross
The workhorse of the kitchen, a good piece of cast iron cookware is like a fine wine or, perhaps more appropriately, a barrel-aged bourbon: It only gets better with age. From cornbread to southern-style greens, this pan can do it all, and with a little patience and good care, it will become your go-to skillet or pot in the kitchen. Cast iron pots and pans have been around since the Middle Ages. Many recipes and traditions have been built around these vessels and will forever be synonymous with these remarkable pans. Local to Tennessee, Lodge Cast Iron was founded in 1896 in South Pittsburg, just north of the Alabama border alongside the Cumberland Plateau. Lodge produces high quality cast iron cookware. Their skillets are sold pre-seasoned—a helpful start for newcomers to cast iron cooking. Mark Kelly, an employee at Lodge Cast Iron, refers to cast iron pieces as “the international language of cooking.” They are used in many traditions all over the world and have been for centuries. Why Use Cast Iron?
Cast iron is great in the kitchen for a couple of reasons. First, the cookware retains temperature and evenly distributes it throughout the pan. This means that you can use a lower heat and the pan will still cook at a steady, even temperature. Kelly points out that cast iron pots are known for retaining heat but it “is really any temperature that they retain well. Put them in the freezer and then serve ice cream out of them. It will stay frozen!” Another perk of using a cast iron skillet is seasoning. If the pan is well taken care of, the seasoning can act as a slightly non-stick surface, allowing you to cook with less fat or oil and make less of a mess. The seasoning, if done properly, can also add hints of flavor and depth to your meal. Cast iron can take extreme heat and because of that is quite versatile. If youâ€TMre camping and decide to cook over a fire, cast iron is your best option, but the pots are just as happy if used over a home stove. Some Dutch ovens have legs for sitting over a bed of coals—youâ€TMve likely seen historical images of cowboys sitting around a fire, cooking in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven. The best thing about cast iron skillets, however, is that they just make good food. Kelly at Lodge says that his favorite thing to make in his is a quiche. The pans transition well from stovetop to oven and he says the flavor of the crust out of his cast iron is one of the best. Laura Wilson, owner of Citizen Kitchen, says her favorite things to cook in a cast iron piece are the old favorites, cornbread and fried chicken. “Cook all of your bacon in cast iron,” she says. “I set aside one pan that is only for cornbread and bacon.” Seasoning and Care
Talk to 10 people and youâ€TMll get 10 different ways to clean and season a cast iron pan. There is no way that it has to be done but here are some of the basics: The most important thing to do when cleaning your cast iron piece is to not use a heavy-duty soap on the pan, or to scrub off the seasoning with something like steel wool. This takes away the seasoning oils that youâ€TMve worked hard to build up, and as cast iron retains flavor, this can often give your cooking a slightly soapy taste the next time you use the pan. Using a mild detergent and a lightly abrasive sponge wonâ€TMt hurt the pan too much, but they arenâ€TMt necessary. One of the best scrubbing techniques is to use a little bit of kosher salt and water. If there is a particularly large amount of food stuck to the pan, pour a little bit of water in it and simmer for a couple of minutes, then scrub with salt or a soft scraper. After washing, be sure to thoroughly dry the pan. You can use a good towel for this or else set it back on the stove for a minute until it is dry. Once youâ€TMve cleaned and dried the pan, itâ€TMs time to re-season it. The first step to re-seasoning is picking which oil to use. Itâ€TMs important to use oil that has a high smoke point like canola, avocado or vegetable shortening. Solioâ€TMs locally grown, non-GMO canola oil is a great option for this. Using animal fats like lard, bacon grease or duck fat can add amazing flavor to your pan but are best only on skillets that are used regularly—the fats can turn rancid if the pan is left unused for a long time. Spread the oil of your choice on the pan, covering all of the interior surfaces, and heat it on the stovetop or in the oven for 15–20 minutes. Cast iron skillets are steeped in the history of kitchens and cooking that unites us all and they will continue to be used in kitchens for decades to come. Itâ€TMs timeless cookware that everyone should own. Cast Iron Recipes
Gooey Chocolate Skillets
Author and Southern cooking instructor Rebecca Lang uses any excuse to serve dessert at her table. She loves that with these little skillets (or use one 10-inch skillet), thereâ€TMs no need to share. Serves 6
1 (9-ounce) package chocolate wafers (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers) 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao) 3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Process the wafers in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until crushed; or seal them in a zip-top plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Melt 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of the butter in a medium saucepan. Add to the wafers; pulse to combine or work into the crumbs with your fingertips. Press the wafer mixture into the bottom of six 5-inch cast iron skillets. 3. Melt the remaining 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter and chocolate chips together in the same saucepan over low heat. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, flour and vanilla. While whisking, add the eggs and beat well. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared skillets. Bake for 18 minutes (they will not look set at this point). The centers will be slightly gooey. Do not overbake. Serve each lucky guest his/her own chocolate skillet, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. -Courtesy of Lodge Manufacturing