Whether you’re winter camping or in the comfort of your own home, there’s no reason not to bust out the cast iron cookware. Cooking with cast iron has become such a time-honored tradition due to its ease of use, durability and versatility. What exactly is cast iron? It’s an alloy (metallic mixture) of iron, carbon, and silicon that when made molten hot, is poured into molds to create the durable cookware we’ve come to love.
Cast Iron Through the Ages
Entire stoves were once made of cast iron! These stoves were wood-burning. [Image: usualdays.blogspot.com]
Here in the States, we tend to associate cast iron with early settlers, but cast iron has even older roots in ancient China. The Chinese were using cast iron as early as 6th
century B.C.! It wasn’t until the 14th
century that cast iron made an appearance in Europe, and then in the late 19th
century, became a staple as cast iron stoves in American kitchens. Vintage cast iron cookware has a smoother surface, where as a newly-made cast iron pan will have a rougher texture. This is because vintage cast iron cookware was subjected to an additional, but more costly polishing process. If you’re looking for a quality nonstick surface that isn’t Teflon, find yourself some vintage cast iron. Oftentimes, even old, rusted pieces can be easily restored for everyday use.
The Importance of Seasoning
To be at its best, cast iron cookware needs to be used frequently to retain its “seasoning.” Seasoning seals the porous surface of cast iron by building a thin, hard layer of petrified oil or grease. A seasoned pan retains a nonstick surface and extends the longevity of the pan.
Both a brand new cast iron pan and a used, poorly kept cast iron pan will need to be seasoned before cooking. To season, scrub pan with warm water and nonmetallic brush. Dry and coat the pan with vegetable oil or shortening, inside and out. Place your cast iron upside down on a foil-lined baking sheet (to catch drips) and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes to an hour. Turn on your oven fan because the pan will probably smoke! After baking, turn off the heat and let the pan cool completely in the oven. Once cooled, remove from the oven and wipe away excess oil.
Easy Cleaning Tips
Unlike other dirty dishes, cast iron should not be washed with soap, cleaned in the dishwasher, or left to soak in water. Soap and prolonged exposure to water destroy cast iron’s seasoning and creates rust. After light cooking, clean your cast iron by simply wiping with a paper towel. If your cast iron needs a deeper clean, scrub the pan with salt or just some hot water and a nonmetallic brush or scraper. Dry completely with a towel, then rub a teaspoon or two of olive oil or vegetable oil around the surface of the pan. This will keep the cast iron from drying out and rusting.
Cooking & Baking Inspiration
Since cast iron can go in the oven, on the stovetop, or over a campfire, there are a plethora of cooking and baking recipes to choose from. In addition to its superior cooking abilities, cast iron may also improve your health. Cast iron imparts trace amounts of the mineral iron into the food you cook. Iron is an essential mineral in your diet that helps build hemoglobin and myoglobin, two important proteins found within the body.
Down Cellar’s No-Knead Bread
Courtesy of Ashley Benson at Down Cellar Catering
After an overnight rise and an hour or so in the oven, this recipe consistently wows by producing a versatile white bread that looks and tastes like it came from a professional bakery. We especially like that Down Cellar Catering
has adapted this much-loved Jim Lahey recipe, so we can bake a stunning loaf in either our cast iron pans or Dutch ovens. Cast iron is great for baking
, since it evenly distributes heat.
- 1 ½ cups bread flour
- 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour, plus extra for dusting
- ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 5/8 cups water
- Mix together bread flour, whole wheat flour, yeast and salt in a medium-sized bowl. (Make sure not to sprinkle the salt directly over the yeast, since salt inhibits the yeast from making the bread rise.) Pour in water and stir until all ingredients are well incorporated.
- Cover and let the dough rest at room temperature overnight or for at least 12 hours. After rising for so long, the dough’s surface will be bubbly and smell of yeast.
- Generously dust a cotton tea towel with flour, cornmeal or wheat bran. (Do not use a terry cloth kitchen towel! The dough will stick to it, and terry cloth fibers will get into your bread.) Gently transfer the dough from the bowl to the towel, and loosely fold the towel over the dough. Let the dough rest in the towel for another two hours, or until the dough has almost doubled in size.
- Thirty minutes before the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the cast iron pan or Dutch oven in the oven as it heats up. When the dough is ready, remove the cast iron from the stove and carefully slide the dough into the hot pan.
- Bake covered for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 15 – 30 more minutes until the crust is brown. Ashley Benson observes that most people tend to take out baked goods a little too early. For better crust and flavor, she recommends letting the loaf cook a little longer than you think.
- Allow to cool 20 – 30 minutes before slicing, so the bread has time to rest.
Pan-Roasted Chicken with Harissa Chickpeas
Courtesy of Dawn Perry at Bon Appetit
Who says cast iron is relegated to just cooking up franks & beans? This mouth-watering, seared chicken recipe gets a tasty kick from harissa, a spicy North African red chile paste. This recipe serves four, and would be delicious served with bread or over rice, quinoa or lentils.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 lbs.)
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed
- ¼ cup harissa paste (or less, if you’d like it less spicy)
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper.
- Heat olive oil in large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, cook chicken thighs until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate.
- Pour all but 1 tablespoon of drippings from the pan. Add onion and garlic to the pan. Cook for about three minutes, stirring often until onion is softened.
- Add tomato paste to pan. Cook for one minute until the paste begins to darken, making sure to stir so it doesn’t burn. Add chickpeas, harissa and broth. Bring to a simmer.
- Place chicken back in skillet, skin side up so it remains crispy. Transfer skillet to the preheated oven, and roast until chicken is cooked through (about 20 – 25 minutes). Top with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
Bacon & Scallion Griddle Cakes with Maple Crème Fraîche
Courtesy of Beth Kirby at Local Milk
Finally, a way to dress up our Sunday morning flapjacks! This recipe makes 28 mini cakes or 14 regular-sized cakes.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup fine yellow cornmeal
- 3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ tablespoon sugar
- 2/3 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup water
- scant ¼ cup bacon fat
- 1/3 cup crème fraîche or sour cream (plus ½ cup for serving)
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup scallions, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup crisp bacon, finely chopped
- canola oil, combined with bacon fat (for frying)
- 1- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar in medium-sized bowl.
- In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, water, bacon fat, and crème fraîche. Blend well. Add eggs and mix until just combined.
- Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Mix until a thick batter forms. Stir in scallions and bacon until just combined.
- Heat oil and bacon fat in a cast iron skillet over medium to medium-high heat. For smaller cakes, use a large tablespoon to spoon the batter onto the skillet. For larger cakes, use a quarter cup measuring cup. Allow the batter to cook on one side (about three minutes) before flipping and cooking the other side. The crust of the cakes should be crisp and golden brown. As you make them, you may need to add more oil to the pan to keep them from sticking.
- In a small bowl, stir together maple syrup and additional ½ cup of crème fraîche. After plating the griddle cakes, top with maple crème fraîche and serve hot.