Friday, 24 July 2009

Pandemonium - A Cast Iron Excuse

Unfortunately, I'm not able to bring you pictures of scrummy foods today. I've been cooking, but mostly following recipes, and I don't like to blog if I can't bring you something interesting or new.

What I can bring you, however, is pictures of my new (to me) cast iron pans. Looking at the makers seal on the bottom (Victor) I don't think they are anything special, but I still love them already.

These came from a charity shop, and cost the princely sum of £7 for all three. The two smallest are currently in the oven, being reseasoned.

How do you season a cast iron pan I here you cry? Well, it's most easy.
  1. Should your pan require cleaning, you can rub it with a iron pan scrubber with a little salt and oil. Wash this very thoroughly as salt causes rust. If you have an oven with a self cleaning option, you can place your pan into the oven and run the self clean cycle. Personally, I've never tried this before, so I can't recommend this.
  2. Cover you pan inside and out in some kind of lipid. Some people claim vegetable oil makes the pans sticky. This isn't my experience. Personally, as a vegan I don't make shed loads of options here, so a I've tried coconut oil, rapeseed (canola) oil and olive oil. Rapeseed was best.
  3. Preheat your oven to 180°C.
  4. Place turn your pan upside down and place on a baking sheet. If you can, open some windows as there will be smoke.
  5. Place pan in oven and heat for about 1 hour. This bonds the oil to the pan, and makes it almost non stick once cool.
  6. Leave pan in oven until cold.
Some people recommend doing this once a month, but if you use your pan fairly regularly, I don't think it's required. Never put your cast iron away wet, and you'll probably be fine.

Why do I cook in cast iron I here you cry with some excitement. Well, let me tell you.
  • Cast iron is almost non-stick. I don't use non stick pans because. I have concerns about the toxicity/carcinogenic properties of the non-stick coating of pans. Considering it's well known that the fumes from non-stick pans can kill pet birds, I find myself ill at ease eating foods cooked in them.
  • Clean up is very easy. Many people advocate just wiping out your pan with kitchen towel or a clean rag. Unless I'm cooking something that leaves behind a lot of residue, this is what I do. Much quicker then washing up in the sink. If it requires a proper clean, I use use plain water and then heat gently on the stove afterwards to dry it.
  • Lifespan - Stainless steel and aluminium pans require replacing every few years, yes, even expensive ones warp. A good cast iron pan will literally last you a lifetime. This is why you see perfectly usable pans with a makers mark from the turn of the last century regularly appearing on ebay
  • Cast iron increases the amount of dietary iron. As a vegan, this is a very fortunate thing. Acidic foods such as tomatoes will increase the leaching into your food. Its up to you if you think you need this though. Sometimes tomato based foods are a little darker when cooked in cast iron.
  • Cast iron can go from hob top to oven. Mind the hot handle though!
  • Cast iron has very few hot spots, especially better quality pans.
  • Cast iron is very good for browning food. This is wonderful for things like caramelised onions or pan fried seitan.
  • Cast iron works very well on induction hobs. Induction is a very efficient method of cooking, which is about 90% in terms of heat transfer. However, this requires pans to be ferrous to work, and many cheap pans aren't. Cast iron always is.
  • Cast iron is blurry heavy, and give your wrists a darn good work out ;)
The main concerns when using cast iron are
  • It requires a little bit of maintenance. This is normally nothing more then cleaning with a damp rag and then heating until dry. If it gets very gunky you might need to scrub and reseason, but this has only happened to me once in six months.
  • They are very, very heavy. If you have weak wrists this can be a problem. My wrists have become noticeably stronger since I started using cast iron.
  • Some ceramic/halogen glass topped hobs advise against the use of cast iron incase you scratch the surface or the weight shatters it. I find a strong policy of 'not dropping the pan' seems to have worked wonders here.
  • It is possible to get too much iron. Personally I'm not in the least worried by this due to my vegan ways.
I now have, including today's pan. 1 small skillet, 1 medium skillet, 2 large skillets and 1 cast iron griddle.

If you have a hob top suitable, you really should think about getting at least one cast iron pan. Check out your local charity or thrift store, or keep an eye out if you have a TJ/TKMaxx near you, which often has these in store.

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