If you have never used cast iron because the upkeep seems complicated, you’re really missing out. There is nothing quite like steak or salmon seared to perfection in a cast iron skillet. I have two cast iron pans, one a regular skillet that I use for exclusively for steak, and the other is a grill pan (which gets the most use). See my recipe for to-die-for salmon at the end.
Caring for and using Cast iron cookware really isn’t that complicated. It just requires “seasoning” prior to the first use and occasionally over the life of the pan to create and maintain a non-stick finish and prevent rust. However, once it is seasoned properly, your cast iron cookware can last several life-times.
New cast iron cookware is generally gray in color, but it takes on a brown tint after seasoning and continues to get darker as it is used. Well used and cared for pans can be very dark, even black. This is normal and does not mean that your pans are dirty or need to be replaced.
Preparing new pans
- heat your oven to 275 degrees
- liberally coat the pan with grease. Lard or bacon grease are often used for this purpose. You want to avoid using liquid oils like vegetable or olive because they are too light and create a sticky coating after the pan comes out of the oven (which then gets coated in dust, pet hair, and whatever else is floating around your kitchen).
- place the pan in the over for 15 minutes then remove the pan and pour out the excess grease (pour it into the garbage rather than your sink – grease is bad for disposals)
- place the pan back into the oven and allow it to bake for 2 hours.
- if you have time, you can repeat this entire process before the first use for extra insurance that your pan has been properly seasoned
Caring for your pans
You will want to treat your cast iron cookware with special care to maintain the natural non-stick surface you created during the seasoning process. I actually find that caring for my cast iron pans is easier than cleaning the rest of my cookware, particularly the stainless steel pans. The main difference is that you really should clean your cast iron pans while they are still hot. This means you’ll need to take a couple of minutes before you eat to clean the pan. I have gotten into the habit of doing this with all of my cookware so I don’t really see it as a bother anymore. If you do let the pan get cold, heat it up on the stove before you clean it and let it cool enough to handle.
- rinse the hot pan with hot water
- scrape any left-over food particles out as necessary. Do not use a scouring pad or soap because both of these will destroy the seasoning. Hot water is all that is required for cleaning. The pan heats up so much during the cooking process that you don’t really need to worry about bacteria.
- throughly dry the pan before putting it away
- you can also coat the pan with olive oil after cleaning to help maintain the patina and prevent rust. This is typically not necessary.
When pans need to be re-seasoned
Sometimes a portion of the seasoning can wear off over time and cause food to stick to the surface of the pan. Cast iron is also prone to rust if it is not properly cared for (never leave your cast iron cookware to soak in water). If you experience any of these issues you should clean and re-season your pan.
- clean the pan by removing food residue with hot water and a scouring pad
- dry the pan throughly. I prefer an old dish towl. You can use paper towels but they tend to catch on the rough surface of the pan and leave fibers behind.
- follow the steps above to season the pan as if it were new
Where to find pans
I purchased my grill pan at Kmart from the Martha Stewart cookware collection ages ago. I love it because it is the perfect size and weight for me. Large enough to cook 2 steaks yet still light enough for me to carry around the kitchen without worrying about dropping it. My first cast iron skillet was a gift from a guy who took it upon himself to school me in the art of making a great steak just before he broke my heart. It was overly heavy and generally not very nice to look at, I have no clue as to where it came from and it has since found a new home by way of the local Good Will. I’m better off without both of them in my life. It is for this reason that, although I do almost all of my shopping online including groceries, I do suggest that you purchase your cast iron cookware in person. Look at the texture, touch it, and lift it to see how it feels in your hand. This will help you choose the right pan for you. Most home stores carry cast iron pans although I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that you try your local businesses, thrift stores, or your grandmother’s cupboards first before making a trip to the nearest big box store.
To-Die-For Salmon Recipe
- fresh Salmon filet, preferably with skin on one side (you’re going for medium-rare doneness so fresh fish is important if you don’t want to get sick)
- sea salt, or other large grain salt of your choice like kosher salt. Just don’t substitute table salt which produces an overly salty and quite inferior finished product
- Extra virgin olive oil (to coat the pan – not really necessary if you have taken the time to properly season your pan)
- Cast iron grill pan *(assuming you already have a stove)
- take salmon out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter for a few minutes while you prepare your workspace
- put your cast iron grill pan on medium-high heat (I dial to “6” on my gas range)
- sprinkle about a tablespoon of oil in the pan and swish it around to coat (you can wipe with a towel to spread it around if you’re having trouble ‘swishing’. This is not to prevent sticking but rather to enhance the buttery flavor of the fish
- sprinkle the fleshy side of the salmon (non-skin) with sea salt
- place the salmon skin side down into the grill pan
- you will notice that the sides of the salmon closest to the pan will begin to turn white. When the whiteness has reached about halfway up the sides of the fish it is ready to flip to the other side, typically about 5 minutes. In most cases, you’ll know the salmon is ready to flip when it releases easily from the pan. If it is sticking allow another minute.
- after flipping, allow another 5 minutes for the second side to sear
- remove from heat, place on plate, eat, and enjoy!
- serve weekly to the men in your life, along with other healthly sources of Omega 3’s like tuna & eggs, to cut down on their risk of prostate cancer by up to 40%
Salmon cooked in this manner has a seared, crispy exterior, that flakes easily with a fork. And, a soft pink (yet cooked) interior. It has a natural buttery flavor. In fact, you’d swear it was coated in a stick of butter if you didn’t know better.