I remember my great-grandmother, Big Granny, had a huge cast iron skillet. She would make (oh, dear, my mouth is already watering) bacon and eggs in the morning and then a nice thick, savory cream gravy to pour on top of her homemade buttermilk biscuit. Never was nor never has there been a better breakfast. I don't know where that skillet is now, but I sure wish I had it after recently learning the value of a deeply seasoned, well loved cooking vessel.
Cast-iron vessels have been used for hundreds of years. In about 513 B.C. in China and about 1100 A.D in England, industry could finally work iron by heating their furnaces to a high enough temperature and then pour it into a mold, usually made out of sand. Up until then, cooking pots were made out of brass. It gained popularity and value in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is said that George Washington's mother valued her pot so much, she included in her will.
Cast iron's ability to withstand and maintain very high temperatures makes it a popular choice for frying, searing, braising and soup making. Because cast iron skillets can develop an extremely "non-stick" surface, they are also a good choice for scrambled eggs and cornbread (not to mention bacon and buttermilk biscuits!) In addition to all this greatness, cast iron cooking also leaches small amounts of iron into the food and this is especially true when making homemade soups, stews or marinara sauce.Well, I got my pot that night. I chose Emerilware Cast Iron Chicken Fryer with Splatter Screen (available on-line at http://www.us-appliance.com/) mainly for its versatility. The deep sides made it perfect for cooking small amounts of soups or sauces, yet I could still seer meat or even fry some kitchen if the Southern Girl in me called for it. I raved, I ranted, I couldn't get enough of my pot!
So, for Christmas, Jonas surprised me with a Bobby Flay™ 10 1/2-in. Cast-Iron Grill Pan. (Buy one at Khol's or at http://www.kohls.com/). He knows I have a not-so-secret crush on Bobby Flay and that I would love a new grill pan as my non-stick aluminum one was not up to par. Oh, so now we're cooking! Now I grill chicken and steak, veggies and even sandwiches. It is fabulous because it has a pouring spout on either corner, so if you have too much liquid in your pan from cooking, you can easily pour it off.
There are some things to remember when using cast-iron cookware. Before you first use it, you must "season" it properly even if the label says that it is "pre-seasoned." Simply scrub down your pan with hot, soapy water...enjoy this because this will be the last time you do it. Dry it well and rub it down with a light (and I mean LIGHT) coating of a non-flavored oil. I use Canola oil. Put the pan in the oven at 300 degrees (F) for about 30 minutes. Turn off oven and let it cool. Once it is cool, if there is a lot of excess oil on the pan remove it with a paper towel. Now your cast iron pot or pan is seasoned and ready for use! Cast iron is a natural non-stick surface. If your food sticks to it, it isn't seasoned right. Scrub it up and do it again!
To maintain your season, some people suggest you never wash it again and you clean it by simply scrapping off the gunk and wiping it down. I tend to think this is kind of gross, but I guess it depends on what you cook in it. I am afraid of rancid grease---there is nothing worse in a dish than rancid grease. Ewww! If there is a lot of residue from cooking, I wash the pan immediately with water and use a light scrub if I need to. Then I dry it completely and rub it down with a bit of oil. To insure it is completely dry, I might put it on the stove top on low for a few minutes.
Some Neva Evas (I AM on the East Coast) for cast iron cooking are: 1) Never wash it in the dishwasher, 2) Never put a hot pan in cold water or it could crack, 3) Never leave it to soak for more than 30 minutes or it could not only rust but your hard-earned seasoning could be washed away! 4) Never throw away old, rusted cookware. You can scrub it down and re-season it.
I hope you pick up a cast-iron pan for yourself and give it a try. Hey, the pans are so heavy it is a great way to work on your bi-ceps as well as cooking healthy! My great-grandmother swore by it, my ancestors lived by it and now, I am creating my own culinary heirloom to pass down to the next generation of cast-iron cooks.