Fri | Jun 18, 2021

Cooking with cast iron

Published:Thursday | May 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM
An alcapurria fries in a deep, cast-iron pot at Tropical Heat, a small restaurant at Pinones, just east of San Juan, Puerto Rico, as bacalaitos (codfish pancakes) drain on a skewer after frying. Alcapurrias also are in the foreground. The two types of fritter are favourites in Puerto Rico.
Cast-iron cookware
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Heather Little-White, Contributor

Jamaica's cuisine has evolved from the barbecue of the Tainos to the very Western-style non-stick skillets. During the evolution, many persons have abandoned cast-iron cooking pots. However, ethnic cuisine is returning to the use of cast-iron pots in cooking, because of its unique value in retaining nutrients and because of disturbing reports of the effects of more modern forms of non-stick coatings of aluminium pots and their effects on the environment and our health.

Cast-iron cookware was developed in China in the 6th century B.C. Its basic manufacturing technique has not changed over the years save for the use of more efficient technology to pour the hot iron. Cast iron is formed by pressing molten iron into a mould made with sand and which is used only once, making each pan unique.

Cast-Iron Skillet Cornbread

1 1/4 cups coarsely ground cornmeal

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1tsp salt

2tsp baking powder

1/2tsp baking soda

1/3 cup whole milk

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

8tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Method

1. Preheat oven to 425°F and place a nine-inch cast-iron skillet inside to heat while you make the batter.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

3. Whisk in the milk, buttermilk, and eggs. Whisk in almost all of the melted butter, reserving about one tablespoon for the skillet later on.

4. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.

5. Coat the bottom and sides of the hot skillet with the remaining butter. Pour the batter into the skillet and place it in the centre of the oven.

6. Bake until the centre is firm and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, 20- 25 minutes.

7. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes and serve with jam or butter.

Serves 8-10.

Recipe: Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli: Food Network.com.

The heavy weight of the material makes it excellent for high-heat cooking techniques such as searing and frying

High-heat cooking

So what is so special about cast-iron pots over other types of cookware? The heavy weight of the material makes it excellent for high-heat cooking techniques such as searing and frying. Pan-seared steaks are well done and the skillet evenly fries chips and other products.

The cast iron skillet is great for cooking on top of the stove or placed in the oven to bake. Cornbread comes out well and browns evenly. Cast-iron skillets make great eggs, be it 'sunny side up', scrambled or omelettes.

Legendary durability

The cast iron is durable and, in some families, it is handed down among generations which have become seasoned over time with regular use. Cast-iron skillets must be treated properly after use to prevent rusting and reacting to certain foods. Cast iron must be seasoned. When cast iron is well seasoned, foods will not stick. Soap and steel wool should not be used, as this could strip off the seasoning.

Non-stick surface

What exactly is the 'seasoning'? Basically, it is oil and carbon residue from cooking that polymerise when heated and bond to the cast iron, forming a smooth, non-stick surface. Seasoning builds up over time by regular use and taking proper care of cast iron. New techniques are being used to season the skillet during manufacturing so it comes out with a shiny, smooth surface without hot spots.

Caring cast iron

Cast iron pots should not be washed or left to soak. While it is still warm, traces of food should be rinsed out under hot running water. Dry thoroughly and place back in the burner over low heat to dry out thoroughly. Place a few drops of vegetable oil in the warm dry pan and wipe the interior with paper towel. Use more paper to burnish the surface and remove excess oil.

Reseasoning

Over time, you may have to use heavy-duty cooking to get rid of grime that may accumulate or rust if the pots are not stored properly.

1. Pour in oil to a 1/4 inch and place over medium heat for five minutes.

2. Remove pan from heat and add 1/2 cup coarse salt.

3. Hold the handle firmly and use a wad of paper towels to scrub pan until warm oil loosens food or rust.

4. Rinse pan under hot running water.

5. Dry well.

Weight

The down side of cast-iron pans is their weight, which may make it difficult for a small cook to efficiently handle tasks like flipping an omelette, pouring off pan sauce or swirling melted butter. However, new pots have helper handles in addition to the large main handle, making them easier to use.

Overall, the cast-iron cookware combines the best traits of both non-stick and traditional cookware if you choose the right pan and care for it well.