You've probably noticed my recent love affair of cooking with my cast iron skillet. (Skillet cookie recipe here, skillet cinnamon roll recipe here.) I love cooking/baking in my cast iron. And for those who don't know, Dutch ovens (at least the colorful ones up there) are the flashy version of the ol' cast iron skillets of yesteryear (like mine pictured below). The newer ones have an enamel coating on them, making them easier to use and clean up.
Okay, it's been a while so the history teacher in me is gonna give ya a lesson. So carry on if this is your thing, if not, I get it...not everyone loves history...or their history teacher:/ But here are some things I learned while researching cast iron.
What is cast iron?
Without getting into all the scientific properties of the stuff (I was a history teacher, not science, people), it's, according to dictionary.com, basically an alloy of iron, carbon, and other elements, cast as a soft and strong, or as a hard and brittle, iron depending on the mixture and methods of molding.
Why use cast iron for cooking?
In recent years, the use of chemically-treated non-stick cookware has been in question. I'm not going to get into all that, but I do think the less chemicals we use (especially in what we eat), the better off we are. Cast iron has been around for hundreds of years. It's the kind of cookware our forefathers have used around an open fire (think cowboys and baked beans), as well as in refined kitchens (think French cooking). From what I've learned, cast iron is a poor conductor of heat, but once heated, it retains that heat for a long period of time, making it a good choice for braising meats, making soups, etc (old fashioned crock pot, if you will). Plus it's good to use if you're anemic--gets more iron in your diet.
How do you season cast iron?
I was just asked this question from a blog reader and I'm not going to pretend to be an expert here. I told her what I did to mine but I only have one cast iron skillet that I bought at Home Goods a little while ago, so I'm not super experienced cooking with the stuff. But in my spare time, I'm a Pampered Chef consultant so I know about seasoning from selling/using stoneware. Seasoning is basically when fat is built up on the surface of cookware. Over time, this build-up naturally creates a nonstick surface. Here's what I read about seasoning your cast iron skillet (from here):
- Put on a thin coat of oil/grease all over the cast iron skillet. Inside and outside.
- Put foil under the skillet to catch any dripping oil.
- Turn your fan on, because this is gonna smoke!
- Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
- Wipe out as much grease as you can with a paper towel.
- Bake for another 45 minutes, then turn the oven off, leaving the door closed.
- After an hour or more, remove from oven.
I'm hoping to learn more about cooking with cast iron by asking people who use it a lot. It definitely can be tricky to use. But once learned, I've heard it's the best cookware out there! (Someday mine will be seasoned enough so I can painlessly fry an egg in that puppy.)
Okay, now back to the Dutch oven. Just to clarify how a Dutch oven is related to cast iron: a Dutchy IS cast iron. Some (like the ones pictured in this post and the kind I want) are coated with enamel. I'd love to make soups, braise meat, even bake desserts in a Dutch oven. One of my favorite cooks, Ina Garten, uses a Dutch oven in many of her recipes. And while I've learned that having good cookware/kitchen utensils is an investment, adding a Dutch oven to my kitchen is out of the budget for now. But you can be sure one day I will have a Dutch oven!
How about you? Do you own a Dutch oven? What's your favorite thing to make in it? Or are you like me and are drooling over one? What's the first thing you'd make? Me--I'd make a big ol' pot of beef stew and have some of my crusty bread to dip in:)