No Texas kitchen is complete without at least one cast-iron skillet. I have two. One is a 10-incher that I bought new in Marshall, Texas at Marshall Pottery when I first set up my own kitchen. The other is a 13-inch monster that I inherited from my Aunt Mary Lee. It is hard for me to lift with one-hand, and I'm a strong girl. Here in my rental kitchen, I've enjoyed another large skillet and a really nice Dutch oven. It makes me want to cook like a cowboy.
I use cast-iron for all kinds of things and I'm not sure how I would make some of our favorite dishes without those skillets. I've realized that not everyone shares my preference for cast iron, though. I suspect it has much to do with the seasoning process. See, cast-iron is a porous surface, and it needs to be seasoned to fill in and smooth that surface. Otherwise everything you try and cook will burn and/or stick to the pan.
Here's how to season cast-iron cookware:
Wash, rinse, and dry the piece. Some folks say never use soap on cast-iron. It is okay to use soap as long as you are re-seasoning after. Make sure it is rinsed thoroughly and dried completely. If you have a piece that is rusty and it doesn't come off with soap and water, you can scour it off with steel wool or a scrubby sponge.
Use a solid vegetable shortening (I use Crisco) to grease the inside surface. Use the same amount as you would to grease a baking dish for a cake.
Place the greased pan in your oven and turn the heat up to 350 degrees F. Let it bake in the oven for about an hour. Then, turn off the oven and you can let the cast-iron cookware cool in the oven.
If you've bought or inherited cookware that is in really bad shape, you may need to repeat this process before you use it. Also, until your cookware is well seasoned, you should avoid cooking highly acidic foods, like tomatoes, because they can be corrosive to the cast iron.
Tips for cleaning cast-iron cookware:
After cooking something with little to no residue, like tortillas, I just wipe my skillet clear with a damp towel or sponge, and dry it promptly with another towel. For messier dishes, I rinse the pan in very hot water and use a sponge or sometimes a nylon brush to clear it of food bits. If things are really stuck, I boil some water in it on the stove top until it loosens. Finally, I do sometimes use soap, never a harsh cleanser, because I'm concerned the spices used in a dish were absorbed my the skillet and could flavor the next item I cook. I only do this when I am prepared to re-season the skillet. Never wash your cast-iron in a dishwasher.
It is important to dry cast-iron cookware very well after each use, or it could rust. Do not let it air dry. After rinsing my skillet, I usually just put it back on the stovetop and turn the heat on low or medium low for a few minutes until it is dry.
With use the cast-iron cookware will darken from a steel grey color to dark grey or black.
I recommend everyone give cast-iron a try in their kitchen. You can buy them new or pick them up for pretty cheap at a thrift store or yard sale from someone who doesn't know the treasure they have. Even if you buy a piece pre-seasoned, these tips can help you keep your cookware in top shape.
Search Amazon.com for lodge cast iron
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