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Cast Iron fans: when do you use it?

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So now I have to cast Iron pans: one is a grill, and the other just a plain simple 10" skillet (maybe I should've gone for the 12").

So, how do you use for CI? Do you use it, for example, to warm up last night's meal (e.g. chicken)? Do you use it for stir fry? I just want to see how versatile I can become with my new gems...

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  1. I'm so glad you posted this question! I have a cast iron Dutch oven and I never know when I should use it. We recently made a stew-like osso bucco in it, which worked out well, but I'm pretty sure you shouldn't keep the food in it or it will go bad quicker/rust. We also have a cast iron Le Creuset pan which is great for searing steak then baking it, but not as good for a long braised dish. Either way, I could use a lot more info on it.

    Meredith

    1. In the last couple of days I've used my plain one to make quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches and to cook tofu. I often use the grill pan to grill bread, fish, meat and vegetables.

      1. There really are too many uses to enumerate but I'll give you a few basics. It does take awhile to get into the cast-iron swing of things but once you do it'll be a workhorse.

        1. Roasted chicken -- Preheat your oven to 450-500 degrees. Trus your chicken. Place the cast iron pan in during the last 15 minutes of preheating. When the oven is ready, take out the pan and place the chicken right side up and cook until it's up to your preferred temp. I always chop off the wings at the secong joint and I place them in the bottom of the pan. It's like chicken wing confit. Delicious and helps build up a good seasoning for the pan.

        2 Steaks -- Heat the skillet (or the grill if you're making a few steaks) on full blast heat for about 15 minutes. Your pan will smoke and get rocket hot. Then, place the seasoned steak (preferrably about 1.5 inches thick) in one end of the pan, not the center. Cook for 3 miuntes. Turn and place the steak in a fresh part of the pan and cook for 3 minutes more. Turn a third time into as fresh a part of the pan as you can and cook for 1-2 minutes (depending on how done you like the steak). Flip for the last time and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

        3. Tortillas -- I use my cast iron grill like a Mexican comal to make corn tortillas. I usually just used dried masa but even those are far superior to store bought tortillas and they are very very easy to make.

        Hope that gets you started.

        1. OK, I dunno about that grill. As to the pan, on the stove you can use it to cook meat: fry burgers, sausage, steaks, lambchops, or bacon, or sear fish such as ahi, or cook salmon coated with sesame seeds. You can fry or scramble eggs or make an omelette, using a little fat to coat the pan. (Julia Child says you should heat some butter on a high flame, watching it carefully till it foams and then the foam subsides, and then the temperature is right to add the eggs. I bet there are a million opinions, but this works great for me, and the eggs don't stick.) You can warm up leftovers, if they're not in a tomato sauce. I would probably add a few spoonsful of water, cover the pan and let it all warm up on a low heat, then uncover & let any excess water steam off. You can stirfry vegetables, with or without meat and/or rice. You can smother greens with some olive oil and garlic. You can fry indian spices (cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, fresh ginger, garlic or onion) in some sunflower or safflower oil and make vegetables (chickpeas with cauliflower, for instance). You can fry spices and vegetables in the pan and use it to finish a pilaf with nearly-cooked rice. You can fry onions or mushrooms. You can fry raw potatoes or make hash with cooked potatoes, with or without meat. You can fry garlic, with maybe some other vegetable such as broccoli, or just the garlic, then add nearly cooked pasta and some olive oil and fry till the pasta starts to develop a golden crust. I'm getting hungry.

          In the oven, you can broil vegetables such as asparagus, green beans, zucchini or eggplant; you can bake cornbread; you can roast chicken either whole or in pieces, though a ten-inch skillet would only accommodate a petite chicken. I have been using a method for chicken I read in an article about Judy Rogers at Zuni Restaurant, using an untrussed and unstuffed bird. Wash it, remove any big pieces of fat from the cavity, dry it thoroughly inside and out, rub it thoroughly inside and out with salt (and you can also add black pepper and tarragon). Ideally, leave it to absorb the salt, refrigerated, for hours or up to 2 days, but I am usually operating about 90 minutes before dinner. Put the skillet in the cold oven, without fat, turn it on to 475, when the oven and pan are hot put in the chicken breast-side up, roast till it looks done, turn it, roast till it looks done on that side too, turn it to re-crisp the breast skin for 3-5 minutes, you're done. No basting. It doesn't stick to the pan. You can also put a few washed sweet potatoes in the pan, put it in the oven cold, turn it up to 400 and roast them for an hour. If there is burnt syrup in the pan, just boil water in it to dissolve, don't bother scrubbing.

          Having cooked meat or chicken on the stove or in the oven, you can de-glaze and make terrific pan gravy.

          Cast iron is not 100% versatile. It is really no good for pancakes -- too uneven: a griddle works better. Some people apparently prefer a non-stick pan for eggs. You dont' want to use it for food that is extremely acid, but I do throw in some tomatoes sometimes in meat and vegetable dishes, in a well-seasoned pan, and never have a problem. Have a good time!

          5 Replies
          1. re: bgermain

            Au contraire on one point: we have perfected our pancakes by using the Lodge two-burner reversible grill with a flat side and a raised side. The trick is to use a low heat setting, so the griddle never gets too hot. They come out gorgeous and even.

            Works so well that I've started to make shredded hash browns on it as well: shred the potatoes, wash off the starch, dry them severely (I put them in a kitchen towel and squeeze them), toss with a little salt, pepper and other spices and bung 'em straight onto the preheated griddle in two flat piles. Cover the piles (I use the lids to my Revereware pans) so the potatoes steam while they're browning on one side, uncover, flip, re-cover, then take off the lids to let them crisp up a bit more. Best breakfast potatoes ever, couldn't be simpler, and best of all, you'll note that they were cooked without a bit of fat. (Okay, sometimes I'll put a half-teaspoon of olive oil on top of each pile before I cover them and let it seep through.)

            When else do I use it? Well, there's two sizes of Lodge dutch oven in the cabinet and I do most of my stews and braises in them. (And the once or twice a year that I do fried chicken, I use the larger one as an excellent southern-style chicken fryer, where the chicken is only about half-submerged.) If they're well seasoned, don't be scared about using some tomatoes or other acidic ingredients -- there will be no harm and no off-flavors. I mean, I wouldn't make my creole tomato pudding or my quick pasta sauce in cast iron, but anything short of that, proceed with abandon.

            Cornbread that is not made in a cast iron skillet is not cornbread. Grilled cheese sandwiches? Take both of the flat open grill pans and heat over medium heat while preparing your bread and fillings. Build the sandwich on top of one grill pan, place the bottom of the second grill pan directly on top, and a can of Pastene ground tomatoes on top of that. Wait 90 seconds. I got yer panini press right here, pal.

            Anything that involves a sear is a no-brainer, especially if you then finish them in the oven.

            But my greatest cast iron discovery? Way way way back, before I ever knew her, Allstonian either found or bought for next to no money a cast iron skillet that's a mighty 16 inches across. I found it a few years ago when the kitchen was being renovated and cleaned and reseasoned it into perfection. It now lives on top of our refrigerator, and once every week or two, it comes down to sit on top of the power burner on high for about ten minutes and then I make stir-fries in it. Talk about your wok hay. I'd had the same wok since I was in high school -- I threw it out last month because I realized I had not used it once since I started using the cast iron.

            So basically, I don't use it for eggs, or things I want to make sure don't stick, or acidic dishes, but I'd say at least 60-70% of all my cooking is done in cast iron.

            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

              If I had a cast iron griddle, I'd definitely try that. Just can't make pancakes in my pan, that's all. You need some kind of griddle.

              I forgot that the iron skillet is great for cooking liver, if you ever do that. Trim the meat very carefully, toss the pieces with flour and salt and pepper, then fry it in some fat -- either a low or high heat seems to work fine.

              Also: frittatas. Fry up the vegetables on the stove, pour in the eggs, cook a bit, then put the pan under the broiler to finish the top.

              One more exception: don't cook spinach in iron. Even though it's not overtly acid. Picks up the metal flavor if cooked in iron or in aluminum -- stainless is OK. (Don't serve it w/ silver utensils, either.)

              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                Yep, me too. I have two cast iron skillets; one small, one large, and two cast iron dutch ovens, same. I also have two stainless saucepans and a stainless stockpot. That's it. Well, also various baking things. I do not use my cast iron for saucy things or to reheat saucy things on the stovetop. I also do not use my cast iron to make cookies or to make loaf breads. I do use my cast iron for just about anything else. I fry, saute, and reheat. I use my cast iron to make pizza, free form bread, biscuits, roast chicken, roast anything, everything. Stews, braises. I own a couple of other pans, but I just never use them.

                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                  "Talk about your wok hay. I'd had the same wok since I was in high school -- I threw it out last month because I realized I had not used it once since I started using the cast iron."

                  But I really like my Lodge cast iron wok!

                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                    For all you Wal-Mart shoppers, I figured out that they sell extra large cast iron skillets, but not in the cooking section. If you want a pan like Barmy describes, try in the fishing rod and tent section (the outdoors section). I saw one there about two weeks ago by Lodge.

                    I use my plain cast iron for chicken parts, sesame coated tenders, stir-fry, steaks and chops, bacon, hash, frying, saute, etc., or anything that I might like to do part on the stove and then finish in the oven, or just plain use it as a roasting pan. I don't use it for tomato sauces or things that I will add lots of water to and cover and simmer for awhile. I use my enameled cast iron for those; for example, beans of any sort or some kind of braise or pilaf works too. Also, I stick with my multi-clad or calphalon pan for pounding chicken cutlets, and I don't use the cast iron skillet. I don't use cast iron to toast spices because it takes too long to heat up. I use a multi-clad or stainless for pasta and stock. Oh, that no-knead bread can be done in the right size cast iron item.

                2. I have very few pans that are not cast iron. I use my enameled cast iron dutch oven(s) for a lot of stews and sauces, rice and steamed vegetables. Stainless stock pot for stocks and pasta.

                  Good ol' bare cast iron for everything else.

                  1. Well I use my grill pan for steak or chicken or burgers when it is real rainy outside. I use my CI fry pan a lot of the time when doing mushrooms and onions. Sometimes I do eggs . . . but I have a lifetime guarantee Teflon pan for that . . . as long as I hand wash it like fine china (actually says that on the guarantee certificate)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Alacrity59

                      A number of things! Meatloaf, small roasts (you can put them right on the stove for gravy), steaks, chicken (sauteed breasts or fried), pancakes, corn bread, sauteed fish (but watch the after smell when you clean them; use baking soda or lemon and salt), eggs (fried or omelettes, not scrambled), french toast, sauteing onions, mushrooms, celery and things like that, grilled cheese, browning ground beef or sausage, home fried spuds, latkes, quesadillas all in the skillet(s)

                      Soup, sauces, stews in the large pots. I don't do things that need boiling like pasta or rice, usually. I make bacon in the oven because I hate the mess it makes on top of the stove.

                      I have very very old ones that are heavy and well seasoned. Never have problems with sticking.

                    2. searing steaks, pork chops, roasts, etc.
                      frying chicken.......that's the only type of skillet where I can get it perfect!
                      fried tators and onions
                      bacon and eggs (so well seasoned there is no sticking!)
                      grilled cheese
                      hash browns

                      Except for acidic foods, I use mine for almost anything that I would cook in a skillet. My Calphalon One pan sticks a lot worse than my cast iron!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: alliedawn_98

                        Throw last night's left over pizza in a hot cast iron frying pan, turn off the heat and let sit until the cheese begins to soften. A nice crisp dough, almost as good as last night.
                        Rosti
                        As earlier stated, anything but high acid. I guess I'm just an old fart greenie, but I'm suspicious of cooking on this new fangled slick chemical coated clad fry pans.

                      2. I do blackened fish, bake and broils, and high temp. omelets, bread...
                        Bake and broil is anything that gets baked in a sauce , then finished under the broiler, such as Dover sole.

                        Omelets are really fresh, hot and delicious if done on a smoking hot CI pan: add 1t oil or ghee, throw in 3 beaten eggs, and cook while shaking the pan for 30 seconds.Fold toward one edge with a spatula and a tilted pan, then flip out upside down. Absolutely no sticking!

                        A fairly small dutch oven is fine for a loaf of bread. It needs a spray of Pam for easy removal. The lid is left in place for 20 to30 minutes to help spring the loaf (like steam in a professional oven). The top crust forms in the final 20-25 minutes, without the lid.

                        1. Basically, use it like any other cookware (excluding non-stick).. One advantage is that you can safely heat it to a high temp for searing, making it great for stir fry. It's popular for just about any type of frying, though unscrambled eggs may be a challenge.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mpalmer6c

                            I use my skillets for scrambled eggs/omellettes, cuts of meat/fish, bacon, searing chicken sausage, buffalo burgers

                            I do not yet have a grill pan but I would definately use that for turkey/beef/chicken/buffalo burgers

                            When I eventually have a dutch oven, that will be soups/stews for sure!

                          2. hooray for you!!! i use cast iron for many many many things...i will try to list them all...

                            cast iron skillet
                            corn bread (i use a dutch oven, but can use a high-edged skillet)
                            frying meatballs (italian approach) - some people hear this and are squeamish, but my family (and many still in italy) fry meatballs in lard before adding them to the sauce. or not, if you want to be venetian, just fry them and serve them alongside of a delicious salad. you can't get a better meal than that!
                            pancakes (good on a square skillet, can probably make one big one at a time on a 10" round one)
                            frying chicken (better with dutch over, higher sides. though chicken cutlets work in a skillet)
                            sausage and peppers
                            another italian things - peasant food! if you have leftover cabbage and beans, escarole soup, i fry it in a pan with a little olive oil, garlic and leftover bread. heaven on earth.
                            i know i am forgettign a million things....

                            cast iron grill pan
                            i grill all sorts of stuff on this, chicken, beef, lamb, bok choy, veggies.

                            wait - do you mean a griddle pan? if so, pancakes!!!!

                            sorry, i'm at work and i know that i sound very disjointed right now. :)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mazza3

                              I really use mine a lot. Being from the south, I cook a lot of cornbread in mine. I also fry and bake in my fry pans. For the dutch oven, I use it for soups, stews, chicken and rice and cook larger cuts of meat in it like roasts. I find my meals are always great in my cast iron.

                            2. Something to consider when choosing cast iron is hemachromotosis, a disease characterized by an abundance of iron in the blood and a leading cause of chronic fatigue. A million people suffer from it in the US and it's particularly troublesome for people with hepatitis c. 10 times as many men have it as women.

                              Food cooked quickly and not stirred (burgers, tortillas, liver and onions) absorb less than slow cooked food.

                              Here's a link for more information http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/23....

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Cameraman

                                I'd keep an eye on yourself if you have a lot of iron in your diet or daily vitamins or a problem with this to begin with... BUT, seriously, I eat out of cast iron EVERY day (it's the only skillet I use) and I am anemic. So, I wouldn't worry THAT much about it.

                                1. re: shadowdream

                                  Cooking with cast iron pan was recommended by my Doc after I was diagnosed with low iron levels/anemia. Have been using it since and love it. Great for frittatas, cornbread and even deep dish pizza.

                              2. I use my cast iron skillet and griddle for everything that goes in a frying pan. I do not own another skillet/frying pan. I cook meats, veggies, veggie meats (ie that weird but yummy vegetarian stuff), pancakes, eggs, tortillas, cornbread, sauces (makes a great pan for meat sauce for spaghetti), etc. There isn't much you can't do with it.

                                And if you keep it seasoned, you don't have problems with sticking. Or at least, I don't. I make pancakes in it all the time and there is nothing better in my opinion. Eggs don't stick (you need to use oil, but not a ton).

                                It's my favorite piece of cookware! :) Actually, tonight I'm roasting my turkey in it!

                                1. I have quite a bit of cast iron. I have a grill for eggs etc, a pizza 14" pan, a dutch oven and fry pans. Tonight I made my meatballs and fried them in my 15" fry pan like Grandma use to. I keep them seasoned so no sticking. I prefer my cast iron wok to carbon steel also.

                                  Rob