HEAVY ME­TAL IN THE KITCHEN

Cast iron pots and pans pop­u­lar again be­cause they re­tain heat and dis­trib­ute it evenly

Ottawa Citizen - - HOME LIFE - KIM COOK

Cast iron, once a com­mon ma­te­rial for pots and pans, has tended in re­cent years to be used most vis­i­bly by ei­ther pro­fes­sional chefs or campers. Now it’s trend­ing again in this fall’s kitchen­ware prod­uct pre­views.

Op­tions range from ba­sic skil­lets to grill pans to pots both diminu­tive (for sauces) and ex­pan­sive (for stews and soups).

Chef Kevin Kor­man is about to open his new restau­rant, White­bird, in the Ed­win Ho­tel in Chat­tanooga, Tenn. On his menu: fon­due, baked eggs and a sa­vory Dutch pan­cake, all pre­pared us­ing cast iron pans.

“Our cui­sine is de­fined as Pro­gres­sive Ap­palachian,” Kor­man says, “and cast-iron cook­ing played a large role in the his­tory of Ap­palachia.”

The Ten­nessee Val­ley is rich in iron ore, so com­pa­nies like Lodge Cast Iron set up there. Kor­man will be us­ing Lodge prod­ucts in his kitchens, but aside from sup­port­ing a lo­cal maker, the ma­te­rial’s per­for­mance is what he cares about.

“Not only does cast iron re­tain heat bet­ter than any­thing else, the dis­tri­bu­tion of heat is re­ally what makes it a win­ner,” Kor­man says. “Ev­ery part of the pan gives off an equal amount, so you don’t end up with cer­tain ar­eas that burn while oth­ers are still wait­ing to get some colour. This was a big con­sid­er­a­tion when we were de­vel­op­ing dishes for the menu.”

Kor­man re­calls meals pre­pared on cast iron at his grand­mother’s house, and he’s car­ried on the tra­di­tion with his own fam­ily.

“I have sev­eral sizes that I use daily at home for just about ev­ery­thing,” he says. “Both of my daugh­ters love to help me cook, so I hope to hand the pans down to them as they get older.”

Be­yond dura­bil­ity, cast iron’s big sell­ing point is the heat re­ten­tion that Kor­man men­tioned. But bear in mind that it doesn’t heat evenly ini­tially, so al­ways let the pan come to the needed tem­per­a­ture on the burner be­fore adding in­gre­di­ents. That way, you’ll get a nice crisp sear and a con­sis­tent cook with your cast iron.

New fin­ish­ing meth­ods are im­prov­ing the wear­a­bil­ity and per­for­mance of cast iron.

To­day, mak­ers like Finex smooth and pol­ish the pans’ in­te­ri­ors so that eggs and sauces don’t stick. An er­gonom­i­cally de­signed, coiled­spring, wrapped-steel han­dle stays cooler than tra­di­tional han­dles, and the skil­lets are oc­tag­o­nal, mak­ing pour­ing and stir­ring eas­ier. Cast-iron lids pro­vide a flavour seal for steam­ing, sim­mer­ing and brais­ing.

The Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art’s gift shop has a cast-iron item this sea­son: the Rail­way Dutch Oven, made in Hol­land out of re­cy­cled iron rail­way ties. A built-in ther­mome­ter helps mon­i­tor cook­ing progress, and the tool can be used on the stove­top or in the oven.

Wil­liams-Sonoma stocks the French brand Staub: There’s a red or blue-enam­elled two-han­dled skillet that goes nicely from stove­top or oven to ta­ble, and a glass-lid­ded braiser in black, grena­dine or sap­phire. Also at the re­tailer: a lit­tle iron sauce­pot with a plat­form base, de­signed to use on grills. It comes with a sil­i­cone-han­dled, mop headed bast­ing brush for glaz­ing bar­be­cued foods.

Sea­son­ing is key to op­ti­miz­ing cast iron’s per­for­mance; it helps “cure” the iron so food doesn’t stick, and over time helps im­part lay­ers of flavour.

To sea­son a new pan your­self, lightly wash it as di­rected, then add a ta­ble­spoon of oil and mas­sage it thor­oughly into the iron, wip­ing any ex­cess with a pa­per towel. Place the pan in an oven at 350 F (177 C) and let it “bake” for about an hour. Re­move and wipe off any ex­cess oil be­fore us­ing or stor­ing.

You can buy pre-sea­soned pans, which just need a lit­tle re­fresh once in a while.

Wil­liams- Sonoma, Sur La Ta­ble and Crate & Bar­rel all carry sev­eral of Lodge’s pre-sea­soned cast-iron pieces.

But it’s still a good idea to re­fresh the sea­son­ing if you use your pans of­ten. It can even be done stove­top: Heat the pan un­til it’s hot, swab some oil into it, then let it cool.

While some peo­ple pre­fer not to use soap and wa­ter to clean cast iron, think­ing it re­moves the oil coat­ing, Se­ri­ous Eats’ chief culi­nary con­sul­tant Kenji Lopez-Alt says it’s fine to do so.

“The one thing you shouldn’t do? Let it soak in the sink,” he says. “Try to min­i­mize the time it takes from when you start clean­ing to when you dry and re-sea­son your pan.”

Be­fore you use your cast iron pan, mas­sage a ta­ble­spoon of oil into the iron and place it in the oven at 350 F to let it “bake” for about an hour. That pre­vents food — like piz­zas — from stick­ing.

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