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May 6, 2008 10:16 AM

Cast Iron fans: when do you use it?

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.


    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.