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Aug 20, 2012 06:24 PM

Cast iron woes - some foods stick and burn, others do not

My cast iron was the star of the show this weekend – Saturday: seared tuna and Sunday – bison steak. Saturday, the pan lived up to its usual reputation and turned out a perfectly seared tuna steak. However, on Sunday I felt betrayed by my lovely pan. I usually do not use any oil when searing in the cast iron. For the tuna, I marinated it in a soy marinade, dried on paper towels, seasoned with pepper, and seared in a dry pan with formation of a good crust and no stickage. For the steak, I seasoned with pepper, salt, and Cavendar’s and seared in a dry pan, but there was not only stickage, but also abysmal crust formation and the bits in the pan started to burn and smoke while finishing up cooking. What is the issue here?

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    1. re: Becca Porter

      Isn't tuna a fairly lean piece of fish? I would understand the difference it were salmon vs bison, but tuna is fairly lean.

    2. just because it's a cast iron pan, doesn't mean you should omit oil. though, that's not necessarily the reason for the stickage.

      You mentioned there was a weak crust. maybe you didn't let the pan heat up enough before popping the bison on? Or maybe you did not properly dry the steak before throwing it on the pan. it could also be the oil.

      Maybe... you washed it with too much soap and the nonstick layer came off? How old is your cast iron pan? do you season it frequently?

      if i had to guess... i'd say the pan was not properly heated before you put on the steak. if that is not the case, i would guess that it's due to the fact you had omitted the oil. hard to tell, so i'm just giving wild guesses.

      2 Replies
      1. re: darrentran87

        any reason why seasonings other than pepper would burn? just another idea i thought of

        1. re: fldhkybnva

          Soy sauce can become sticky when cooked down, especially the "dark" Chinese versions which contain sugars.

      2. I would agree that the sticky was most likely due to the pan not being hot enough at the start - this would be supported by the abysmal crust formation. The best way to insure protein not sticking to any pan (SS, cast iron, etc) is making sure the pan is hot enough - so that is a likely culprit .

        I don't know what "Cavendar's" is. A quick google search brought up western boots (figured that wasn't it) and a greek seasoning blend (could be it).

        Ingredients: Salt, black pepper, corn starch, garlic, monosodium glutamate, oregano, flavor base seasoning (Hydrolyzed corn soy protein, sugar, onion powder, spice extracts), parsley and five other spices.

        Since I've never used it, I'm not sure what it is really like - but the corn starch and sugar in the mix could promote sticking and burning as well . . . . just a thought

        3 Replies
        1. re: thimes

          That's what I am thinking, too, it was the seasoning. That seems to be the difference in the two preparations. The addition of cornstarch to the mix, especially since it comes towards the beginning of the list, may be the culprit.

          1. re: thimes

            Thanks for all of the tips. Just to clarify - what is the best way to know when the pan is hot enough?

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              If I'm searing red meat, I flick a couple of drops of water into a DRY pan (no oil or you'll find out whar a oil burn feels like) and when the water dances on the pan surface, it's hot enough. At this point, with my "old" pan (more than three generations and 40 years old) holds enough heat to turn off the gas and it will cook the meat to a light medium rare as long as the pan isn't crowded and you sear the second side on a virgin spot in the pan. My newer pans arn't as heavy and need some additional heat.

              BTW - a comment was made earlier in this thread about using a little soap in cleaning cast iron. I NEVER use soap after the first time when I am cleaning off the the factory rust protection and forming coatings. Some very hot water and a stiff scrub brush (I keep a deticated wok brush so I don't risk any soap or detergent exposure which causes the carbonized oil glaze to break down) and a little coarse salt as a scrubbing agent if something gets stuck, then rinse throughly, dry completely and store open to prevent moisture from being held near the metal. to make sure my pans and wok are completely dry, I put the clean pan over the flame for a couple of minutes, take off the heat and wipe the interior with a couple of drops of peanut oil on a folded paper towel, then wipe out any excess, which also helps form the glaze and protect the pan from rust.

          2. I don't think it was the Cavendar's. I think it was the lack of fat, either on the steak in the form of a thin layer of oil or on the pan in the form of a little oil added to the pan. It could have also been the lack of fat in the form of the lack of seasoning on the cast iron.

            If the skillet's seasoning (fat) was gone and no additional fat in any form was added, burning and poor crust formation is exactly what would have happened.

            I think the solution is fat. Keep using the Cavendar's, but next time either brush the steak with oil before applying the Cavendar's or add oil to the skillet once it's up to temp. Add the steaks as soon as the oil begins to smoke.

            1 Reply
            1. re: 1POINT21GW

              Much like other game animals, Bison have a low fat:muscle ratio; about half that of beef. You need to rub a bit of oil on the meat before putting it into the pan or oil the pan (I'd opt tor using a paper towel wetted with oil and rubbing it on the pan's surface after it heats up a bit) while bringing it up the temperature. I realize that today's Bison may not be a "game animal" per se, (you can buy domesticated Bison in the supermarket) but even domesticated Bison have less fat than beef.