by Nikki Jardin
Once you cook with cast iron, you'll understand why people are so attached to this sturdy, efficient cookware. When well-seasoned and cared for properly, cast-iron cookware can last generations and will provide an excellent natural, nonstick surface. Cooking with cast-iron pots and pans isn't much different than using other types of pots and pans, but there are a few important techniques you should be aware of in order to get the most out of your cast-iron cookware.
Preheat the pan. Unlike stainless steel, aluminum and copper cookware, cast iron is dense and takes time to warm up. For timing purposes, let the pan heat up for a few minutes before adding your first ingredient. This is particularly necessary when frying eggs or making pancakes. The only time preheating isn't necessary is when you are using the pan for oven quick breads.
Watch the temperature. Because cast-iron pots and pans are thick, it will take somewhat longer to cool down than most other types of pans. If you are cooking something delicate, such as fish, keep the flame down fairly low. If you want high heat at first for searing, go ahead and sear one side of your food; then turn the flame down and sear the other side. By the time the pan cools down, your food should be evenly seared and ready for lower heat.
Season the cast iron. Keep your pan seasoned in between uses and re-season it as necessary. If food begins to stick to the surface of the pan, it may be time to re-season your pan. Apply a liberal coating of cooking oil to the inside of the pan, rubbing it into the sides, and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
Clean your cast iron properly. Don't use dish soap, put your pan in the dishwasher or use a scouring pad to clean seasoned cast iron. Washing your cast-iron pan with soap will break down the seasoning. Because of the natural nonstick properties of well-seasoned cast iron, a soft sponge and warm water is all you need to clean your pan in most cases. Use a little salt with the water if you need an abrasive.
Dry and store your cookware. Dry your pan thoroughly and add a light layer of cooking oil to the surface before putting your pan away. This will keep the pan rust-free and ready to go for your next meal.