Living at my father's house I ate more than my fair share of food cooked in cast iron cookware.
My father and stepmother are collectors of Griswold and some Wagner cookware, which were a very different animal from the Teflon pans Mom used once we got a dishwasher.
Going to college I grabbed a couple dusty pans from a storage shed, removed the cobwebs and rust from them and did what I could to "season" them. I cooked all through college with almost exclusively those two pans, one a skillet with around 2-inch tall rims and a round griddle that has since then been my favorite for cooking eggs and burgers.
I forgot about the skillet until recently when I decided to toss some worn Teflon pans and reseason all the cast iron I have. Somehow I have eight pans. I only know where four or five came from. I could still use a dutch oven and a large, rectangular griddle though.
Some people swear by cast iron for making the best fried chicken, fried potatoes, fried fish or seared steak. Some people even like it for cornbread or white bread. The secret is cast iron's ability to hold high heat and radiate it long distances better than modern Teflon, steel or copper.
Contrary to popular belief, however, tests with thermal cameras determine cast iron does not heat evenly.
The almost glassy seasoning is also an important part of cast iron cookery, formed by heating oils to the point where they harden into a shellac, or nearly plastic finish, which, contrary to popular belief, is bulletproof even against slight applications of soap, water and metal utensils.
Just don't soak it, and don't use steel wool to remove anything but rust (which is what you get if you soak it). Clean it when it is hot and everything will come off easily; a chain mail scrubber or coarse salt can help with tough spots.
Seasoning a cast iron pan
- 1 tablespoon high smoke-point fat for each layer of seasoning desired
Clean dusty or dirty cast iron. Use hot water and soap to clean very dirty cast iron, but never soak it, then dry it thoroughly with a towel and then by heating on low heat over a stove top.
If there is rust in the pan, remove it with a fine steel wool or coarse salt. As for flaking or damaged seasoning, start new by cleaning with a grill cleaner.
Once the pan is clean and dry, rub your fat evenly all over the pan. Place this pan, upside down, inside an oven and turn the heat on to 350 degrees. Once the oven reaches this temperature, bake it for one hour before turning off heat and allowing to cool completely inside oven. This can be done several times for a thicker, stronger seasoning.
Renew and fortify seasoning after each use by wiping or scrubbing out your pan (a little hot, barely soapy water is fine, but no steel wool this time) before drying then rubbing an even coating of oil on the inside of the pan.
Then heat the pan on the top of the stove until it just barely starts to smoke, turn off the heat, wipe the pan one more time and remove it from the heat to cool.
Gluten Free Southern Cornbread
Courtesy of a southerner from https://www.gritsandpinecones.com/old-fashioned-southern-cornbread/
- 4 tablespoons fat (preferably bacon fat)
- 2 cups coarse stone-ground cornmeal (I use half store bought and half home ground)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 large beaten eggs
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the fat to a 10-inch skillet before putting skillet in the oven to melt the fat and heat the skillet.
In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients (a metal bowl is probably best) while the pan heats, approximately 5-7 minutes or until the skillet is (as one writer said) screaming hot.
Using heat protection, remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the hot fat to coat the skillet before pouring the hot oil into the dry ingredients while stirring. Working quickly so the skillet stays hot, add half the buttermilk, then the eggs. Fold the ingredients together; do not beat. Add more buttermilk to make the batter pourable.
Pour this mixture into the hot skillet and then return skillet to the oven and bake 20-25 minutes. You can try to upend the cornbread onto a plate if you think your pan is non-stick, or simply cut it like pie.
Southern Fried Chicken
- 4 cups buttermilk
- ½ cup hot sauce
- 1 3 ½-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
- 8 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup garlic powder
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- Vegetable shortening or peanut oil for frying
In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk and hot sauce. Add chicken pieces and transfer to the refrigerator to marinate at least 6 hours.
In a large, heavy-duty paper bag combine dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Remove chicken from the buttermilk, allowing the excess to drain off. Add the pieces to the bag and shake vigorously until coated. Remove from the bag and shake off excess coating. Transfer to a wire rack to rest 15 minutes.
Fill a large cast iron skillet one-third of the way with shortening or oil and then place over medium-high heat to bring oil to 325 degrees. Once hot, add the legs and thighs to the outside of the skillet and cook 2-3 minutes before adding the breasts and wings. Cover the skillet with a wire splatter screen to prevent grease from escaping. Flip the chicken once half-done and cook to an internal temperature of about 165 degrees (10-15 minutes).
Allow to rest on wire rack up to 10 minutes before serving.