Singing the Praises

I just have to take a moment to sing the praises of a time honored, but oft neglected kitchen implement: the cast iron skillet. Here is where I would normally insert a picture of our cast iron beauty, but it's still showing the crusty remnants of last night's dinner, which is not something I think anyone really wants to see. But, picture in your mind a smoky black number. Warm and slick to the touch and heavy in the hand. Like an even-tempered friend, she heats up slowly and evenly, cradling and nurturing the food within her. Steve brought our skillet home; buying it at the beginning of our relationship. He wanted to cook dinner for me to celebrate our anniversary and a friend told him that the only way to cook was in cast iron. He used it that one night and then it sat, neglected, for at least three years before either of us picked it up again. I didn't realize what I was missing out on. Now, we use it all the time. I'd use it even more often if it were larger.

It's easy to feel that there is no "perfect" pan; that all of them compromise something. Our large Teflon-coated skillet is so easy to use and clean, which is why it's been our go-to pan for pretty much all of our stove-top cooking. But, it releases toxic fumes when we use it, so I've been trying to wean us off of it. Aluminum is cheap, but there are some studies linking exposure to it with Alzheimer's. These findings are controversial, but I generally like to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach. Stainless steel is safe and durable, but can be hard to clean. But, cast iron...cast iron is all of the good with none of the bad. From a culinary point of view, it's perfect for frying and searing because it can withstand high heats.  Its ability to provide even heating makes it perfect for braising. It easily goes from stove-top to oven. The seasoning process gives it a non-stick surface and, unlike aluminum, our bodies actually need iron. So the minute quantities of iron that are transferred to food cooked in cast iron can actually be beneficial for us.

Cast iron skillets turn up frequently at Goodwill, with large ones going for as little as $12. I've never bought them because I've been intimidated by the whole seasoning and care process. But, as I become adept at using the pan we already own, I yearn for more.

1 comment:

  1. 3 cheers for cast iron! There was a time when my then-boyfriend, now husband, and I only owned cast iron. We'd pick up pieces at thrift stores, clean them and then do the seasoning (soooo smelly but worth it!). We still have all of our pieces, but sadly don't use them as much as we used to now that we're so adult-like with our fancy pans ;) I'm inspired to pull one out tonight - thanks!