Tips for Cooking with Cast Iron

Not only is cast iron healthier, indestructible, inexpensive, and improves with age, it also gives you flexibility in cooking that other pans don't provide. The recipes in this book provide you with many opportunities to make your cookware work for you.

Dense Metal Assists in Even Heating

Using cast iron makes it easier to cook a variety of dishes because the thick, dense metal absorbs and conducts heat slowly and evenly. Although a cast-iron pan takes longer to get hot after placing it on a burner, it's more likely to stay hot when you add cold foods. The even heating also makes it great for cooking sauces or things that may burn easily. If the pan is made properly, it will keep almost the same temperature on the edges as it does in the center. And since cast iron retains heat so well, you'll find that it makes a great serving vessel.

Alert

When cooking with cast iron and using other cookbooks, always preheat your pan if you're going to be cooking on the stove or want a crispy crust on something you're baking in the oven. This preheating step takes a few more minutes, but gives much better results.

All-Metal Construction Provides Flexibility

Most cast-iron pans are manufactured from a single, solid piece of metal. Some enameled pans come with a tempered plastic handle, and some Dutch ovens have metal handles. But as long as your pan doesn't use wood or non-tempered plastic, you can begin the cooking process on the stovetop and finish in the oven or under a broiler.

Cast Iron Promotes Crisping

Not everything that comes out of a cast-iron pan is going to be crispy, but if you're cooking something that should have a crispy or even crunchy exterior and a soft interior, cast iron is the best choice. The surface of the pan encourages food to brown and crisp better than even the most expensive non-stick skillet on the market. Even a brand-new, freshly seasoned skillet can give food a crispy texture.

A Seasoned Skillet Leads to Healthier Cooking

Cook dishes with a high fat or oil content the first eight to ten times you use a new cast-iron skillet. As your skillet gets more seasoned, you'll need less fat and oil. And because the surface and metal used in your skillet will help you create a crust on foods, you won't miss that fat. With cast iron, your boneless, skinless chicken breasts will look like browned comfort food.

Precautions for Cast-Iron Pans

Even though you may find yourself wanting to use your cast-iron pans for everything, this type of cookware does have a few drawbacks. Cast iron is heavy and you'll most likely need two hands to pour from a skillet or to lift a full pan out of the oven.

Aside from the weight there are a few other things you should be careful about when using cast iron. Highly acidic foods can often end up tasting metallic if cooked in a less-than-seasoned pan. And the acid can cause a pan's seasoning to dissolve. Make sure to use an enameled or a well-seasoned pan when you're cooking with tomatoes or tomato sauce, wine, beer, citrus juices, or vinegars.

Essential

The recipes in this book provide cooking times for cast-iron pans. Because of the even-heating properties of cast-iron pans, when you're using other recipes for different types of cookware, you may find that you need to reduce cooking times by 5–10 percent.

Serving food in cast iron makes a great presentation and keeps the food warmer longer than if you transfer it to a bowl. But never store food in your skillet in the refrigerator or on a table for more than a few hours. The acids and liquids in the foods will start to break down the seasoning. Once the seasoning starts to break down, your food will begin to taste metallic. There is nothing carcinogenic or poisonous about this taste, but many people find it off-putting.

Hot liquids can also remove the seasoning from pans if you're not careful. If you've only used your Dutch oven a few times, boiling liquids may cause the seasoning to start to dissolve along the edges. If you notice that your seasoning is worse after cooking, wash the skillet normally, then dry it by placing it over a medium heat on your stovetop and rubbing some oil into the surface of the pan while it is hot. As the pan cools it will absorb the oil and will be ready for your next use.

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