The mother of all pans, cast iron
Cast iron, I couldn’t live without you. Not in Buenos Aires at least!! The quality of most kitchen things (all things, really) here in BA are somewhat on the bottom of the scale even though their high prices might make you think otherwise. I’ve found that Calle Jujuy (the restaurant supply district in San Cristobal) is the place to go to find all my Argie kitchen needs, like cast iron. I brought one of my own from NYC when I first arrived in January and have luckily added two more to my kitchen- a giant frying pan aka sarten and a dutch oven (which I screamed like a little girl when given to me on my birthday).
So, why do I love these guys so much? Because you can do ANYTHING with them!! They can handle the highest of heats, will last a lifetime (if properly taken care of, see TO CURE below), can go straight from the stove to the oven, and they you use A LOT LESS fat when cooking due to their natural superpowers. What can you cook/bake/blacken/stew/braise/fry in cast iron? Everything! My favorites- quiche, blackened pork chops, ALL veggies, shakshuka, steak, cornbread, red beans, chili, fried fish, pozole, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Mmm, getting hungry.
The thing I love most about cooking with cast iron is how they handle high temperatures. Not only does it result in great crispy crusts but the fact that I can toss it in the oven without having to transfer to an oven friendly pan makes it more simple and easy for clean up. On top of that, veggies benefit nutritionally when cooked in cast iron due to the high heat. As soon as you cut into a vegetable it starts to lose its nutritional value and break down aka rot. If you cut the veggie right before cooking and saute or blacken them at a HIGH (smoking point, practically) temperature they react in a way that they are shocked and tend to hold in their vitamins and minerals. This is also why roasting is a healthy/smart way to cook your veggies- same concept mas o menos.
Now, the most important thing is the upkeep. Many people feel they’re high maintenance, I disagree. If you have a cast iron that is enameled (coated with a glaze of enamel) you have no upkeep whatsoever. If yours are “raw” like mine, you’ll need to give it a good cure (3-4 times is ideal) and know how to clean it WITHOUT WATER & SOAP. Everyone has different theories on how to take care of them, here’s mine.
TO CURE ::
When you first get the cast iron take a SMALL amount of neutral oil (veg, canola) and lightly rub it all over the pan- handle, sides, bottom, everywhere. Don’t use a lot of oil! This is very important. I prefer to rub the oil with my hand or a plastic bag. I find that napkins leave small pieces of residue and that makes me a bit coo coo.
Crank the oven as high as it can go and place the pan upside down (Thanks for the tip, Chef J!) and leave it in there as long as you possibly can. After a while it might start to smell a bit, that’s fine, open a window and let it do its thing. I try to cure it for a minimum of 4-5 hours. So make sure you do this when you know you’ll be home for a while. Kill the heat and leave it the oven to cool. Do this a few times within the first week or two and you’ll be set for a few months.
TO CLEAN ::
After you have finished cooking leave the pan to cool. Take a scoop of coarse kosher salt and put it in the pan. Grab a plastic bag and start to rub the salt around the pan until you get all the gunk off. Toss the bag and salt in the trash and it should be good as new. Some people use napkins or old kitchen towels instead of plastic bags, do whichever you prefer. We have ridiculous amounts of plastic bags in our kitchen and like I said, the napkins leave shavings y no me gusta eso. Depending on what you have cooked, the pan might need a little more love. If so, do a second round of salt scrubbing. Also, some people find it easier to “clean” if it’s slightly warm.
If you notice that your cast iron is starting to rust make a simple solution of equal parts warm water and vinegar and give it a good scrub with a plastic sponge. If you use a regular sponge it will turn black and you’ll have to replace it. Lightly rinse it with warm water and give it another hard cure.
The thing is, you don’t want to wash it with water and/or soap because it takes the “curing” away. And it must be cured properly!! Many times when I’m using the oven I’ll grab one of the cast irons, give it a quick lite oil rubdown and toss it in the oven with whatever else. You can’t cure too much, but you can absolutely under cure and then everything (whatever you’re cooking) will stick or burn and it’ll be a disaster. So treat her good and she’ll last you a lifetime.