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Jan 1, 2012 03:27 PM

Making dosais on a cast iron pan

I've been making dosais for over 8 years now. It is a South Indian favorite made from a thin-ish dough made from rice and lentils. I'm not South Indian and didn't grow up eating these thin pancakes. I saw my in-laws making them on flat non-stick pans and so that how I have made them for all these years. I've looked into the dangers of non-stick pans properly just recently and went cold turkey on those. That forced me to find an alternative cookware to make dosais. I picked up a Lodge cast iron flat pan for that purpose. Turns out dosais are supposed to be made on a cast iron pan - in fact, South Indian restaurants make them cast iron surface. They call this iron surface a 'stone' though - not sure why.

There has been a learning curve for me to get used to making dosais a cast iron pan. I've learned that the pan has to be perfectly seasoned at all time, makes sense no? The surface has to have a beautiful layer of 'non-stick' for you to be able to lift the dosai off the pan. Otherwise, the dosai will get stuck on the pan and burn and burn. I've also learned that washing/rinsing your cast iron pan isn't a good idea, especially for dosai making. If you must, wash it perhaps once a month, maybe once every two months. Even then, don't use any harsh detergent, soap, or scrubber. Use only a little bit of mild soap and a cloth to clean the pan. If you see that you have washed off some of the non-stick layer, season the pan all over again. There is nothing worse than starting to make your dosais and realizing that your pan isn't behaving. Your audience will be upset and you will disappointed.

One thing is clear, I've made dosais on a cast iron pan and am a permanent convert. I will NEVER make dosais on a non-stick pan. Cast iron gives them such a beautiful texture and color - makes them so nice and crunchy. I can't believe I didn't look into cast iron pans sooner.

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  1. fharzana,

    Thanks. These are beautiful photos. I have a few cast iron cookware and use them rather often. I have also eaten many dosa, but I have never made one on my own. The ones I have eaten are more yellowish and more moist looking, probably look more like this:

    There is a "Home Cooking" section in CHOWHOUND for sharing and discuss recipe. So feel free to share your recipe and experience there if you wish.

    Aside from cast iron cookware, you may also want to look at the carbon steel cookware. They are similar to cast iron cookware in many aspect. Both need seasoning and both acquire a very nonstick like coating. Carbon steel cookware, however, are usually made thinning and therefore lighter.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      I hope that you do share your recipe. I have a cast iron flat pan that would be perfect, just never thought about using it before! Wonder how it would do for naan?

      1. re: Clarkafella

        I am guessing that it won't work for naan (except for reheating). Afterall, naan is bread and requires an oven environment, and really should be done in a tandoori.

        1. re: Clarkafella

          I'll definitely share the recipe soon. Your flat cast iron pan will be fine for dosai making, so as long as it is seasoned well.

          A naan needs to be in an oven, because it cooks on a very high temperature from all sides - it cooks inside a tandoor (clay oven) at around 700 degrees. You can achieve as high as 525 degrees in a convection oven and make naan in it. Of course it won't have a smokey taste to it, but this is all you can do at home. Baking a naan on the stove top probably won't yield great result.

          1. re: Clarkafella

            Years ago I picked up a tip to put the cast iron in the very hot oven and let it heat for quite a while, then slap the naan dough on to bake. Works great!

            1. re: Terrie H.

              Apparently, a person made a video of making naan on a carbon steel pan., and said it is better than in an oven.


          2. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Dear Chemicalkinetics,

            This is my first post on CHOWHOUND, I found out about the 'Home Cooking' section right after I posted this, I'll post more about cast iron pans there. I'll be glad to share the recipe as well!

            I haven't really looked into carbon steel cookware yet, perhaps in the near future. Honestly, I really love that cast iron cookware can maintain a nearly constant heat distribution. That is why my dosais come out really really awesome. The pan never overheats and never goes too cold either. Dosais are always beautifully golden-brown and crispy like potato chips.

            I'll link you once I share the recipe in the 'Home Cooking' section or find some other way of communicating with you. New to CHOWHOUND, still learning my ways around here.

            1. re: fharzana

              "I'll post more about cast iron pans there. I'll be glad to share the recipe as well!"

              No, no. You post more cast iron here in the Cookware section and more recipe on the Home Cooking section. :)

              By the way, you don't really need carbon steel cookware for now. It is just something for the distance future to consider -- if you want something similar to cast iron, but lighter.

              Welcome, and wish to learn more about your cooking experience, especially dosa. Don't worry I will able to follow you around with a option called "follow". Thanks for sharing your cast iron cookware experience.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Ahh of course, I'll continue to share my experiences with cookware in this 'Cookware' section. I'll post recipes and such in the 'Home Cooking' section. Thanks for telling me about the carbon steel cookware.

                I've just seen the 'Follow' button and am following you.

          3. Those dosai look great and very thin. I still need to work on my technique to get it that thin. I use a carbon steel de Buyer crepe pan to make my dosa. A stainless steel bowl that you can get the cookware section of Indian grocery stores serves as my batter "spreader". How do you spread your batter?

            Like yourself, I am careful when I rinse the pan in order to preserve the seasoning. I quickly swirl the pan under the hot water and a wipe it with paper towel. I sometimes wipe it with paper towel soaked with a bit of oil prior to putting it away.

            9 Replies
            1. re: fmed

              Your dosais look amazing, beautifully brown. I'm curious about this carbon steel pan now. Does it retain heat fairly well? Thats one of the main reason I adore the cast iron pan.

              I spread my batter using a round Indian ladle, I've attached a photo of it. How long do you ferment your batter for? I do it for at least 2 days before making my dosais. The older the batter is, the thinner and crispier the dosais are. Batter consistency also matters, mine is a bit thinner than a pancake batter.

              1. re: fharzana

                The specific heat of carbon steel is very similar to that of cast iron. If they are of the same weight, then their heat capacity is the same. However, one of carbon steel's advantages is that it can be made thinner. When thinner, the heat retention is less.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Thats exactly what I was thinking, you're right. Having a light-weight cookware would be nice, but then heat retention wouldn't be the same.

                  1. re: fharzana

                    You can get one (carbon steel) pretty close though if you desire. My cast iron skillet looks to be about 3.5-3.7 mm thick, and several of the Debuyer pans are 3 mm thick, so the difference is very small.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I am very curious about the carbon steel pans now, I'll have to try those very soon :)

                2. re: fharzana

                  Thanks fharzana. The de Buyer pans retain heat well, but not as well as a thick cast iron pan since it is thinner (as Chemicalkinetics mentioned). They are however more responsive to my stove dial adjustments . I usually start the pan cooler when I pour that batter, then increase the heat to medium to crisp.

                  This particular batch uses a store bought batter that is made from scratch and ground using an electric Indian wet stone grinder. The maker pre-ferments the batter and then sells it to various South Indian/Sri Lankan grocers around my city. He does small batches twice a month from his own little restaurant. I find that it is best at around one week old. I think I need to dilute it with a little water to make it as thin as yours.

                  I used to make my own from packaged dosa podi or from scratch using a blender- but this product is much better than I can make. One day I will own a wet stone grinder.

                  1. re: fmed

                    "store bought batter "

                    Wow, I better look for it.

                    1. re: fmed

                      I was getting ready to post the recipe to my dosai batter, I even have it typed up. However, I've decided to hold off on that, because I'm teaching a class on how to make dosai batter and make dosais on a cast iron pan over the next month. I'll tell you this much though, I strongly believe a dosai batter is the best when you make it yourself, you have all the control over it. I don't know... I need full control over anything I cook. I completely understand that most people who live abroad don't have a wet grinder and it is rather hard to make a dosai batter without one of those. I've made dosai batter using a Kitchenaid blender and it works fairly well, the motor is strong enough. You just have to make sure not to add too much water when blending the rice and lentils, otherwise there'll be too much liquid and the blade won't catch the grains as easily to grind them... I hope that makes sense to you. A Kitchenaid food processor also does a pretty good job in grinding dosai batter.

                      Packaged dosai flour is most awful, I'm glad you've found someone who makes the batter from scratch.

                      1. re: fharzana

                        I agree it is best to make your own. I have made my own from scratch with a wet grinder too (not mine, unfortunately. See attached pics.) and the results are always much better than with a blender/mixie/processor. I have had some cooking instruction from an Indian chef who also warned about not adding too much water - and this is where most blenders have a problem. I find that I am constantly stopping the processing to push the mash back into the blade's cutting zone. It definitely can be done, but it takes much more work and time to make a batter with a blender.

                        On the store-bought batter-- I have personally watched the batter maker make/grind his batter from scratch from start to finish so I am satisfied with the quality of the end product. He is pretty experience and I learned a few things. I do feel fortunate to have a source....but I still long to have a wet grinder :-)

                        Looking forward to your post on your dosai batter recipe.

                3. Dosa! I'm living overseas right now and I've got an Indian cook from Chennai. One of my friends back home recommended that I ask her to make these (I had no idea what they were). Turns out it really surprised her when I asked for it "No white man knows dosa!?!" She uses just a simple little iron pan, looks like a crepe pan. Using cast iron makes a ton of sense when I get back to the states and have to make them myself. Thanks for the tip!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: epsi1on

                    There are these Indian iron pans that are really thin, kinda concaved in the middle. They work just fine for making dosais. Your cook might have been using one of these. However, I still like a cast iron pan more, heat retention is just awesome with it and it makes a world of difference as far as the texture and color of the end product.

                  2. Well, you can wash your cast iron cookware every time after using it however, don't use a scouring pad or metal wire mesh or detergents or soaps. You need to dry the cookware thoroughly then coat the cookware with cooking oil to make sure it does not rust. Also before using rinse it with cold water, preheat it, ensure it is hot enough by sprinkling some water on the cooking surface of the cookware (water need to evaporate immediately or the droplet should bounce well and the sound of water evaporation should be well enough). Then coat the cooking surface with LITTLE oil, leave it for 10 seconds then start preparing dosa. You won't fail if you follow the process. It is always better to add more oil on the dosa (while preparing) itself rather than the cookware. That is add more oil on the dosai and less on the cooking surface. Try not to use the same cookware for preparing rotti or chappathi or omletter else it will be challenging to prepare dosa as the seasoning will get slightly spoiled because of rotti or chappathi preparation.

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