There is nothing like a well seasoned cast iron pan.
Once when I went to New Zealand to see my children John’s daughter decided my blackened, precious, well travelled cast iron pans, loaded with memories of meals, needed cleaning so for the two weeks I was away she soaked and scoured them with salt and scouring pads, right back to the shiny metal. She stripped them. She was very pleased with her efforts and showed me my shiny clean old pitted pans, already rusting, with much pride as soon as I walked through the door. I almost fainted on the spot. But had to smile and say thank you. Because that is what you do. Later when she had gone to bed, I collected them up, oiled and wrapped them gently in cotton like damaged babies and hid them for the duration of her visit. It took over two years to get them back to their shiny black non stick surface.
Like training dogs and creating a good three dimensional pasture for cows – it takes time. And well seasoned cast iron pans are the most important cooking utensils I have. I have two high sided cast iron big pans, one middle sized pan and one very small. Also one carbon steel crepe pan who has begun her seasoning and now a new wok for John for Christmas (that is coming in and out of hiding to be seasoned so when it is gifted to my husband it will be ready to cook in).
Do you remember when we played that game : If you had ten million dollars and only two suitcases and you were leaving home forever – what would you put in the suitcases? Well, my three cast iron frying pans would be going into my suitcases, they have taken years to get this perfect worn non-stick surface. And they add something to a meal. I cook everything from breads to meat pies to steaks and stir fries in the cast iron. Plus they are beautiful as serving dishes.
My crepe pan and new wok are Carbon steel – it is a cheaper alloy than cast iron. Iron is basically an element. Carbon steel is a mixture of iron and carbon ( creating an alloy) and they are not expensive to buy. Depending on how much carbon to iron in the equation this metal can be quite hard and durable but its heat stays local. An alloy will not conduct heat well. Cast iron will spread its heat more evenly, carbon steel is better for having the area above the flame very hot and the rest of the pan less hot – (perfect for a wok). When I finally find the big crepe pan I want I will choose cast iron (hopefully a big old French one – Hugo is going to look for me) whereas the little crepe pan I prefer at the moment is carbon steel and small enough for the whole surface to heat up evenly). Both carbon steel and cast iron are not too expensive to buy compared to the big shiny brand names. They are not posh. Their value comes from use. It takes days to get the first layer of seasoning right. And years to get that wonderful blackened look.
The last few days I have been working at the first seasoning of the carbon steel crepe pan, the wok and the new old Steel chapa made from a disc blade found in the barn.
With a brand new pot or pan it is important to wash thoroughly to get the manufacturers seal off the surface. This seal is to stop it rusting while awaiting sale. Once the shiny new pan is clean, dry thoroughly then put on your gas range or in the oven and heat slowly until the surface is so hot it begins to smoke. Imagine that you are opening the pores of the metal. Once it is very hot smear all over with lard. Some people use oils but I have always found lard to create a nice even base for your cooking. Smear on the lard using a paper towel or tongs. Be thorough but careful not to burn yourself. Allow it to bake on for another few minutes then remove the pan from the heat source and allow to cool upside down(so there is no pooling if oil). Wipe off the excess and repeat.
The surface will start to gold immediately before the colour deepens into aubergine black.
I repeat this four or five times before I begin to cook with the pan. Open the windows and put the music on – this is a wonderful meditative job but it will take a few hours every day for a few days until you will be ready.
Seasoning really takes months, so after every use; clean using hot water only (no soaps ever) then dry and wipe again with an oil or lard (I use olive oil for the maintenance wipe) and store. If you do have burnt on food, fill the hot pan with hot water and pop back onto the heat, it will cook off quickly with gentle scraping from a plastic spatula, then rinse, wipe and oil. Never leave it to soak. I always deal with my pans before sitting down to dinner. It only take a few seconds to wipe clean when it is still hot.
REMEMBER! With these heavy well seasoned pans make sure to heat the pan until it shimmers BEFORE beginning to cook. Putting fats and foods into a cold pan almost ensures that the food will stick.
I love metal. And I love the study and history of metals. You will remember that my father used to build metal fishing boats. Both steel and Aluminium. He even made his own tools. So the smell of hot iron is an old favourite scent for me.
I have one small copper pot too. (I found it somewhere years ago, it was filthy with a very long rusty handle – I was thrilled to find copper under there). And one day I shall invest in a larger copper pot for sauces. And a copper bowl for meringue. But copper is another story.
I hope you have a lovely day. It is a beautiful day here this morning so after we have planted the garlic and settled the blueberries I am going to continue to season the chapa.