So often, a younger generation will suddenly discover an ingredient, technique or method, only to learn that this was the way of their grandparents all along. Cast iron pans (or skillets as they called in the US), were once thrown aside in favour of lighter, cleaner non-stick pans, but now chefs are lauding the wonders of the heavy pans once again!
What is cast iron?
Cast iron is one of the earliest kinds of steel. It is known to be more brittle than other steels and therefore, cast iron was not the best for bridges, train tracks and other industrial applications. Meanwhile, its even heat conductivity makes it ideal for home cookware such as frying pans, casserole dishes and potjie pots.
What makes it great for cooking?
The heaviness of the pan will be the first thing you may notice when you reach for cast iron. This heaviness and denseness of the metal is what gives the pan its most celebrated characteristic – even distribution of heat. This makes cast iron ideal for cooking anything with a crispy outer layer and a soft inner layer – think pizzas, waffles, frittatas and even roast chicken! The durability of cast iron means that it can move effortlessly from stove top into the oven, and even onto the braai!
What can I cook in it?
The uses for cast iron is almost endless (see below for some important exceptions!)
What should I NOT cook in it?
Some things are better in a stainless steel pan or non-stick:
Tomatoes – or anything strongly acidic will react with the metal and give the dish a metallic taste. Yuck!
Fish – the surface is slightly porous, and the fishy taste will be passed on to your future meals. If you love cooking fish, best to keep one cast iron pan just for seafood. Paella is the most famous of cast iron seafood dishes.
Scrambled eggs – best to use a non stick pan for this one, unless you want to spend ages doing the washing up!
Where can I get one?
Have a look in your granny’s kitchen cupboard, and we’re almost sure you’ll find a cast iron pan in there somewhere. Many languish unloved in garages and storerooms, but if that yields no results, head to your local car boot sale or flea market. Don’t be put off by its ustic appearance, as cast iron can be reconditioned in your own kitchen – called ‘seasoning’. New cast iron cookware is also available online. Read on for more:
How do I care for it?
The bare surface of cast iron is dull, and will almost certainly cause some serious sticking! The first step when you bring your pan home is to ‘season’ it – that is to apply a few layers of oil, and then bond them with the steel, using high heat in your oven. This will create an even, glossy layer that will help meat to release, and give your baked goods a golden, crispy skin.
Listen to this great podcast all about Cast Iron by Bon Appetit.
Everything you need to know about seasoning by Serious Eats.