Prop­erly sea­soned for cook­ing iron

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE -

FIRST, a dec­la­ra­tion. I was given a new fry­ing pan, a naked piece of bru­tally func­tional cast iron. For re­view, I guess you’d say. And I like it a lot. But be­fore this lump c con­ver­sa­tion o of (Aus­tralian) had iron be­gun ar­rived with by its wea­ried cre­ator courier, on the sub­ject an ea and o of sea­son­ing. af­ter the cook­ing You know, … salt and pep­per, be­fore, dur­ing Only kid­ding. It was all about sea­son­ing a piece of cast iron c cook­ware, a sub­ject that, in this shake-and-bake, pluga and-play world of ours, might seem anath­ema to some. o of W Why the would box, right? you buy Well, some­thing wrong. you can’t use right out

A prop­erly sea­soned piece of cook­ing iron — it m might be a skil­let, or a casse­role pot with a fancy mb French brand — is a beau­ti­ful thing to cook with, re­sis­tant to stick­ing with its hard sur­face, al­most im­per­vi­ous to d dam­age from uten­sils, con­sis­tently ra­di­ant da of heat from a solid mass, able to go straight into the oven from the hob a and easy to clean with­out deter­gent — but a drag if i it has hasn’t been sea­soned prop­erly. Which is why non­stick steel and enamel iron­ware do so well in the stores. You d don’t need to run ’em in.

So Mark Henry, the man be­hind the new Fonte bran brand of Aus­tralian-made iron skil­lets, has a vested in­ter in­ter­est, as well as some­thing of a chal­lenge, in dem de­mys­ti­fy­ing the sea­son­ing story. Sure, he says, my new pan comes “pre-sea­soned”. But if you’re pre­pared to inve in­vest a small amount of time in go­ing through a seas sea­son­ing cy­cle sev­eral times to do it prop­erly, he claim claims, you will be re­warded.

I guess his pitch fell on fer­tile ground. The more food gets fussed with, the more com­fort­able I am with trad tra­di­tion. And there is lit­tle more tra­di­tional in food tha than a cast iron fry­ing pan. Or cast iron any­thing, re­ally.

He sent a fas­ci­nat­ing piece found on­line from She Sh­eryl’s Blog. Catchy ti­tle, huh? Any­way, Sh­eryl’s an Amer­i­can, and they use a lot of naked cast iron cook­ware in the US, as op­posed to France where enam­elled iron is more pop­u­lar, I’m told. And Sh­eryl — Can­ter — has gone into the sea­son­ing process and sci­ence in al­most ob­ses­sive de­tail. And it comes down to this: oils ain’t oils.

“The oil used by artists and wood-turn­ers is lin­seed oil. The food-grade equiv­a­lent is called flaxseed oil,” writes Sh­eryl. “This oil is ideal for sea­son­ing cast iron for the same rea­son it’s an ideal base for oil paint and wood fin­ishes. It’s a ‘dry­ing oil’, which means it can trans­form into a hard, tough film … The term (dry­ing) is ac­tu­ally a mis­nomer. The trans­for­ma­tion is through a chem­i­cal process called poly­meri­sa­tion. The sea­son­ing on cast iron is formed by fat poly­meri­sa­tion … (which) is max­imised with a dry­ing oil, and flaxseed oil is the only dry­ing oil that’s ed­i­ble. From that I de­duced flaxseed oil would be the ideal oil for sea­son­ing cast iron.” It’s worth read­ing the whole thing. Her re­search is thor­ough.

Be­ing cheap, I went with lin­seed. Sev­eral web sources do. And I’m still alive. It’s 100 per cent nat­u­ral, or so it says on the bot­tle. And I ap­plied it to a gor­geous old French all-iron skil­let, a Dutch oven, a very ex­pen­sive non-stick iron skil­let that has long since shed its nasty chem­i­cal coat­ing and been stripped back as hard as I could, and Mr Henry’s new toy. Oh, and a rust­ing paella pan. What the heck?

So here’s the nut­shell ver­sion … Strip your skil­let with oven cleaner. Rinse a lot. Put it in the oven at 200C for a while. Pull it out and coat en­tirely with oil (flaxseed if you can jus­tify the ex­pense, lin­seed if you can’t) and then wipe off as much as you can. Put it back in the oven, up­side down, with the tem­per­a­ture in­creased to MAX­I­MUM. When the oven reaches max, set the timer for one hour, then turn it off and let the skil­let or what­ever cool slowly in the oven. Re­peat five times. Yes, five. It’s a lit­tle time-con­sum­ing but … Well, you’ll see what I mean. Your power bill will go up. But you’ll use less wa­ter and deter­gent in clean­ing. And what else are you go­ing to do while watch­ing SBS on a Thurs­day night? ’Tis the sea­son.

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