I have cookware coming out of my ears (and cabinets).  I bought my first All-Clad right out of school and kept acquiring pieces for the next 20 years. And now I have All-Clad for all occasions from stock pot to fish poacher.  From oval braiser to butter warmer.  I use them all-different pots for different tasks.  I have a few non-stick skillets too which I find indispensable for crepes, French omelets and other quick cooking tasks where I don’t want to use a lot of fat and the food tends to stick.  But the workhorse of all my pans are my cast iron skillets. I have three of differing sizes and heavy as they are I find myself whipping them out daily.

Briefly, here how I use my pans:

All-Clad (fully clad in stainless with aluminum core for heat conduction): skillets for cooking where I want a “fond”-that brown film that comes when you cook a protein that seems to “stick” to the pan.  It is essential for pan sauces.  All my saucepans, stockpots and pasta pots are this kind of stainless. anything that requires boiling water goes in these pots.

Why: great heat conduction, even cooking, quick recovery to temperature changes

Non-stick coated: eggs, crepes, omelets and tasks where non-stick is essential to turning out a good product.  Sticky cooking especially.  I make a mean Tatin in my non-stick skillet.

Why: easier cleanup and clean turn-out guarantee

Cast Iron: braises, frying, casserole and one-pot meals, stove-top to oven cooking, grill cooking

Why: retains heat, gets very hot, can be non-stick if seasoned properly and maintained

 

(Bare) Cast iron is versatile, very long lasting, retains heat and is very affordable.  The down side of cast iron is it is heavy, can rust, needs to be maintained (re-seasoned occasionally and dried well with each use), heats slowly and unevenly and if scrubbed with harsh soap, will need to be re-seasoned.  Cast iron is not great for acidic foods (like tomatoes), as the acid can react with the iron and give an “off” taste to your dinner.  You are probably not going to make a stir-fry in your cast iron skillet merely due to the weight since you will have trouble jiggling and quickly moving cast-iron.

Always preheat your cast iron frying pans before frying in them.  Water droplets should sizzle, then roll and hop around the pan, when dropped onto the heated surface.  If the water disappears immediately after being dropped, the pan is too hot.  If water only rests and bubbles in the pan, it is not quite hot enough.

People often ask me about seasoning or curing cast iron cookware.  This is essential before using your cast iron.  Seasoning means filling the pores and voids in the metal with grease of some sort, which subsequently gets cooked in.  This provides a smooth, non-stick surface on the inside of the cast iron pan and is vital to the usability and longevity of your pan.  It is important to note that most new (not old cast iron cookware) cast iron pans and skillets have a protective coating on them, which must be removed.  This is used to protect the pan from rusting if water happens to get in it-at a warehouse or on the showroom floor.  American companies use a special food-safe wax; imports are covered with a water-soluble shellac. In either case, scrub the item with a stainless-steel scouring pads (steel wool), using soap and the hottest tap water you can stand.  Then season the pan as below.

How to season a cast iron pan:

  1. Rub the pan with a relatively thin coat of neutral (no taste) food-grade oil such as canola.  Rub the oil off with paper towels or a cotton cloth.  The pan will look like there is no oil left on the surface, but it’s there (the pan will look dry, not glistening with oil).
  2. Place the lightly-oiled cast iron pan, upside down, in a 450 to 500-degree F oven, with a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom to catch any drips.
  3. Heat the pan for 30 minutes.
  4. Turn off the oven and let the pan cool to room temperature in the oven.
  5. Repeat this process several times to create a stronger “seasoning” bond.  Be aware that you may have some smoke while you are seasoning the pan-this is normal.

The oil fills the cavities and becomes entrenched in them, as well as rounding off the peaks.  By seasoning a new pan, the cooking surface develops a nonstick quality because the formerly jagged and pitted surface becomes smooth.  Also, because the pores are permeated with oil, water cannot seep in and create rust that would give food an off-flavor.  Your ironware will be slightly discolored at this stage, but a couple of frying jobs will help complete the cure, and turn the iron into the rich, black color that is the sign of a well-seasoned, well-used skillet or pot.

Let your pan cool before washing it, as very cold water in a hot cast iron pan could crack it. 

To clean your cast iron pan, wash it with very hot water and a little mild soap. I know, there is a lot of controversy about the soap part, but the oil will become rancid if you don’t remove the residual cooking oil and it’s impossible to remove that oil without some kind of surfactant.  Dry well and immediately.  I leave my pan on the range, preferably on a warm burner, to make sure it is thoroughly dry before I put it away.  I also leave a paper towel in the pan to absorb any moisture that might still be there.  Cast iron needs to breathe to release any residual moisture, so if your pan has a lid, store it off of the pan.  Never put your cast iron in the dishwasher.

Remember – Every time you cook in your cast iron frying pan, you are actually seasoning it again by filling in the microscopic pores and valleys that are part of the cast iron surface.  The more you cook, the smoother the surface becomes. Now enjoy your pan! And pass it along to your kids.

 

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