Cast Iron Cooking: Black magic in the kitchen

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Sift magazine’s fall issue features a love story (with recipes) from us to the glories of cast iron cooking. It’s our pleasure to share it with you here.

Paired with the right recipe, there’s no more salt-of-the-earth cookware than cast iron. From bacon and eggs to the perfect pie crust, it’s the right tool for kitchen tasks that call for even, steady heat.

Cast iron cooking gives a perfect sear on a steak or chicken breast. It’s simple to bake a no-knead bread in your oven, or preheat a cornbread pan for the ultimate crispy crust.

We know cooks who treasure skillets from their grandparents, and beginning bakers who scour yard sales and flea markets to get their collections started. When it comes to cast iron, there’s no better friend in your kitchen or at your campsite.

cast iron cooking via@kingarthurflour.comSourdough Popovers are ideally suited to cast iron. Perfect, steady heat for the pop, and an ideal way to use some of the discard that sourdough bakers are continually generating. Shower them with powdered sugar for breakfast, or add some herbs and spices to the mix for supper.

cast iron cooking via@kingarthurflourThis tasty Pepperoni and Cheese Beer Bread is the essence of simplicity. It mixes up in minutes, and while baked in our cast iron loaf pan for this shot, the batter is just as happy to be a savory muffin (even quicker), or baked in the 9″ x 5″ loaf pan you already have in the cupboard.

To every pan, there should be season

Cast iron is porous, and to reach its full cooking and baking potential, it needs to be sealed, or seasoned, with oil. No matter how ratty a pan may look at the bottom of that pile in a barn, cast iron can almost always be brought back to life.

Wash the pan well, scrubbing away rust with fine steel wool. Dry thoroughly, either over low heat on the stove, or in a 300°F oven.

To season your pan, rub it all over with peanut oil or vegetable shortening, until it’s completely coated. Bake for 90 minutes in a low oven (300°F), then wipe off any excess oil with absorbent paper. Or, if you happen to have access to a restaurant fryer, just drop it right in and leave it in the 350°F oil for half an hour.

A well-seasoned pan is very non-stick, and can be moved with ease from stove to oven to campfire. After each use, wash with water and a scrubbing pad only (some purists scrub only with a mixture of kosher salt and oil). Be sure to dry the pan thoroughly, wiping it lightly with oil afterward to keep it from rusting.

cast iron cooking via@kingarthurflour.comCrisp at the edges, moist and just-so crumbly inside, Maple Cornbread is the perfect motivator for baking beautiful wedges in your trusty cornbread skillet. For ultimate crunch, preheat the skillet as you preheat the oven, butter the wells, and enjoy the sizzle when you drop in your batter.

What to look for on a cast iron hunt

The best cast iron buys are often found in barns, attics, and garages; the rattier it happens to look, often the better the price. Avoid pans that are:

  • deeply pitted
  • cracked
  • chipped

Don’t be afraid of:

  • rust
  • spider eggs
  • cobwebs
  • leaves

No other cookware marries highfalutin’ and haute cuisine results like cast iron. For a perfect example, we give you…

cast iron cooking via@kingarthurflour.com…this pie. We love it so much, it’s on the fall cover of Sift.

Gingered Plum Streusel Pie is as tasty as it is gorgeous, and like most pies, lends itself beautifully to being baked in your trusty skillet.

We hope you’ll try these amazing recipes, and keep an eye out for cast iron cooking treasures on your next flea market or antique shop adventures. At our new magazime Sift, we want to share the magnificent, myriad ways to live, breathe, and most especially, bake.

Susan Reid
About

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

comments

  1. Sally Manchester

    looking for a cast iron oval roasting pan or something that will cook a long loaf of bread at high temperature. Is there a pizza stone kind of pan to cook a long baguette in?

    Reply
  2. Candace Edwards

    I have a large skillet that belonged to my mother. It must be almost 60 years old! And it’s still going strong. The trick to keeping cast iron for ages is to season it. And season it well and often. Love all my cast iron pans!

    Reply
  3. ssmith

    For baked on food on the interior of unseasoned cookware, fill the piece with water and a few drops of dish soap. This works beautifully on Le Creuset and Staub enameled cast iron. Bring to the filled cocotte to a simmer—— as soon as it comes to a boil, turn the burner off. Do not leave unattended as it will foam. Cool.Then the cast iron will clean very easily with soap and water with no scrubbing needed. If the piece is black with no emamel, wipe all moisture and lightly season with a little oil, wiping away all residual. Use parchment paper as a liner for cast iron cooking in the oven for seasoned ribs, pork loin,roast, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, lemon seasoned chicken with NO WATER and the LID ON in the oven. Remove the lid in the last 15-20 minutes to brown if desired. The steam, vitamins, color, and flavor remains in the food, as no other cooking method can achieve.Chef John Folse has many recipes for cast iron cooking, as does Michael Ruhlman. Love cast iron and have an Enclume Cast Iron Tower of pans used on a daily basis. Love, Love, Love the King Arthur Flour Bread recipe!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      You have to be prepared for the fragrance, but one of the easiest ways to do this is put the skillet in your oven and run its self-cleaning cycle. You’ll need to reseason the inside after, but you’ll get pretty much a spanking-new pan. Susan

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