Tuesday, January 10, 2012

seasoning cast iron & making corn bread

On Sunday, I took a few hours to season some vintage cast iron cookware I received for Christmas from my brother, his wife, and kids.  While there's absolutely nothing wrong with new (I recently gave one of my closest friends a new cast iron skillet), in my opinion, cast iron is one of those things that just gets better with age. Shown here are a Wagner Ware 8" skillet and a cornbread pan. 
Cast iron is a comfort for me, because my mom has used it all my life.  I grew up eating corn-shaped cornbread, and one of these pans hung on the kitchen wall.  

Usually one wants to avoid using soap on cast iron.  Contrary to popular belief, one can use mild dish soap when it's truly necessary, but in general soap will remove the very grease that adds flavor to your food and a non-stick surface to your cookware (which is reinforced each time you cook).  The best way to remove stubborn stuck-on food: coarse salt and a non-scratch sponge/brush.  If the cookware develops a sticky coating or rust, one can use a steel wool and reseason it.  Always thoroughly dry after cleansing.

To season:
  • Scrub away the stickiness or rust, as the case may be.
  • Coat the cookware - top, bottom, inside, outside - with about 2 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil. I tend to prefer olive oil or butter in my cooking, but neither is great for this purpose.  
  • Place in a 200-degree preheated oven.  On the lower rack, you'll want a baking sheet to catch any oil that drips (and it will).  
  • Allow to slowly cook for 5 hours.  
  • Let cool and carefully drain the excess oil.  It's good to collect it in a cup rather than pour it down your drain.  Too much grease isn't so great for septic systems.
A few more tips for cooking with cast iron:
  • The cookware remains hot for a longer period of time than other cookware you may be used to using.  
  • Likewise, it takes longer to heat but will distribute that heat more evenly and more uniformly than other cookware.
  • You shouldn't boil water in cast iron.  That's the only thing you really shouldn't cook in it.  The water will cause the surface to rust.  
  • Don't let it soak.  
  • Do not shock the cookware by filling with cold water.
  • Don't place the cookware in a dishwasher.
  • Cooking with cast iron will increase your iron: food absorbs some iron while in contact with the cookware, and will in turn help those who experience anemia.  Fun fact: According to UC Berkeley, "Eggs scrambled in an iron skillet or spaghetti sauce simmered in an iron pot can double or triple the iron content of a meal."
  • Accidentally dropping cast iron usually won't break the cookware, but it will more than likely damage whatever catches its fall - the floor, toes, etc.
  • It's great for high-heat cooking and was developed to cook over an open flame.
  • It may scratch a flat-surface stovetop.  Gas is very best with cast iron.
  • Cast iron is free from the chemicals found in nonstick cookware.
  • A tip I came across and found curious: "Deep fry in Dutch ovens at least six times prior to cooking beans of any kind."
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Once my cornbread pan was happy (and any baked-in glutenous bread crumbs thoroughly removed), I took the opportunity to make my very first gluten-free cornbread.  To do so, I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Cornbread Mix.  (Look familiar?  Yep, I gave away a package of this with the December to Remember giveaway.)

In addition to the mix, the recipe calls for:
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup oil or melted butter  I used butter
  • 2 eggs  I used my parents' farm-fresh Pekin duck eggs*
The ingredients should all be room temperature, and the oven needs to preheat to 375 degrees.  The directions suggest greasing a 9x9 inch dark nonstick pan, but I greased my cornbread pan.  (It ended up making 3 trays full.)  The mix, butter, eggs, and milk should be blended with an electric mixer on low speed.
My poor little mixer didn't want to, but the mix should be beat for another 30 seconds on high.  Bake 25 minutes in a pan -or- closer to 15 if using the corn-shaped pan.

Doesn't this look like an ear of corn?!

It was delicious.  Although I've got plenty to freeze & munch on for quite some time, I'll definitely buy the mix again in the future.
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*A note on fresh eggs: the fresher the egg, the more difficult the inner membrane is to break. You'll need to crack it like you mean it.  See?  I cracked the shell but didn't break the leathery sack that really holds the egg.

Happy cooking!  :)

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