Cast Iron Cookware

by Amanda Formaro


It has been said, over and over in fact, there is nothing better than food prepared in a cast iron pan. Several dishes, including Mexican fajitas, Cajun seafood, sausage & eggs, and of course, cornbread, are hailed as delicious when prepared in these pans. Cast iron is also the cookware of choice amongst serious campers and hikers, but be sure to bring the pack mule because this stuff is heavy!

Why Cast Iron?

There are several reasons that people rave about this type of cookware and many won't use anything else. Besides being an ideal heat conductor, cast iron heats evenly and consistently, is inexpensive, and will last a lifetime with the proper care. When seasoned, a cast iron pan will be stick resistent and provide delectable meals every time.

Seasoning

When you season cast iron, you are embedding grease in to the pores of the cookware. Without proper seasoning, cast iron will rust after coming in contact with water. To season your cookware, first warm your pot or skillet, then rub a thin layer of shortening (or corn oil as some cooks suggest) all over the the surface of the pan, inside and out. Lay the pan upside down inside a 350 degree oven. Most cookware manufacturers suggest heating the pan for one hour, while some cooks suggest up to 4-5 hours for just the right amount of seasoning. The shortening will turn in to a non-sticky, hard coating. Allow the pan to cool overnight as it will be quite hot. Remember, cast iron retains heat very well, so allow for ample cooling time. Some cooks recommend repeating this process one, or even two times, before using your cookware. Seasoning should also be repeated after each use of the cookware.

Note: Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, can deteriorate the seasoned coating of your pots and pans.

Using Your Cast Iron

Preheat your cookware before preparing your meal. Water droplets should sizzle, then roll and hop around the pan, when dropped on to the heated surface. If water disappears immediately after being dropped, the pan is too hot and will surely burn your food. If water only rests and bubbles, the pan is not quite hot enough.

Caution: Do not pour significant amounts of cold liquid in to a hot skillet or pot, this can cause the cast iron to break.

Blackened Catfish & Shrimp

1/2 C paprika
6 T kosher salt
1/4 C coarsely ground black pepper
3 T basil
3 T filé powder
2 T garlic powder
2 T dry mustard
2 T onion powder
2 T dried oregano
2 T cayenne (reduce by 1/2 if you want it mild)
2 T white pepper
2 T dried thyme

Mix all ingredients together to make the Cajun Dynamite Dust that you will use in the Blackened Catfish. To store, place in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

To use, place the Cajun Dynamite Dust seasoning on a flat plate. Coat each catfish fillet and shrimp with seasoning. Using your hands, rub the seasoning into the fish and shrimp. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat until very hot, add butter and heat until sizzling. Add catfish and shrimp and pan fry until blackened on both sides, turning once. Serve on a bed of Red Beans and Rice.

Famous Dave's Corn Bread with Honey Jalapeño Glaze

1 C yellow cornmeal
1 C stone ground cornmeal
1 (9 oz.) package yellow cake mix
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 C milk
1/2 C buttermilk
1/4 C vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 T light brown sugar
2 T honey
1 T mayonnaise

Jalapeño Honey Glaze

1/2 C butter
1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded, finely diced
3 T red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 C honey
1/8 tsp. cayenne

Serves 9

Combine cornmeals, cake mix, baking powder, salt and cayenne in a bowl, set aside. Combine milk, buttermilk, oil, eggs, brown sugar and honey in a bowl and mix well. Add to the cornmeal mixture and mix gently - there should be no lumps, but do not overmix. Fold in the mayonnaise. Let rest, covered, in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or up to overnight. Preheat oven to 400° F. Spoon the cold batter into a greased muffin tin or a cast iron skillet. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the top is golden brown. In the meantime, make the glaze by heating butter in a saucepan until melted. Stir in jalapeño and bell pepper. Bring to a simmer. Stir in honey and cayenne. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Drizzle over Famous Dave's Corn Bread.

Note: You can make the glaze ahead of time and store it, covered, in the refrigerator. Re-heat before serving.

Famous Dave's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

2/3 C packed light brown sugar
1/3 + 1/4 C butter, softened, divided
2 tsp. vanilla extract, divided
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
9 canned pineapple slices
9 maraschino cherry halves
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1/2 C sugar
1 1/2 C flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 C shortening
1/4 C pineapple juice
1/4 C half and half
1/4 C buttermilk

Serves 6-9

Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix brown sugar and 1/3 cup butter in a bowl. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and cinnamon. Spread evenly over the bottom of an ungreased 9" cast iron skillet or a 9" x 9" baking pan. Heat until the brown sugar melts. Arrange pineapple slices over the brown sugar mixture. Place a cherry half in the middle of each slice. Beat egg yolks in a mixer bowl until thickened. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar, beating constantly until blended. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Add shortening, 1/4 cup butter, pineapple juice, half and half, buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until blended, scraping the bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk mixture. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Spoon the batter into the prepared skillet. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Invert the skillet onto a serving platter, allowing the skillet to rest on the cake for several minutes before removing.

Caring For Your Cookware

The conventional method, and most often recommended, is to wash your cast iron pots in boiling water, no soap, and to use a high quality scrub brush. Some cooks say there is nothing wrong with using soap when cleaning your cookware, you can even use synthetic scouring pads, just use extra care when scrubbing. Regardless of the method you choose to wash your cookware, be sure to dry it thoroughly with a lint free towel directly after washing, as cast iron is prone to rust. Seasoning your cookware after each use is also a must to retain the quality and life of the pan.

Advantages

  • Durable and improves with age
  • Claims have been made repeatedly that food is more flavorful
  • Good heat conductor, heats evenly and quickly
  • Can place pots and pans directly on glowing coals (camping) Inexpensive
  • Last a lifetime with minimal or no damage

Disadvantages

  • Weigth - cast iron is quite heavy
  • Having to maintain the seasoning
  • Not dishwasher safe

Recommendation - Extremely high. For the value that cast iron provides, the delicious meals that it develops, and the durability that it maintains, the time it takes to care for this cookware is well worth it.

Special thanks goes to Fabulous Foods for allowing the reprint of the fabulous cast iron recipes used in this article.


Amanda Formaro is the mother of four children. She and her husband live in southern Nevada. She is also the owner of familycorner.com magazine at FamilyCorner.com or by email to WebMom@familycorner.com

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