Cooking with Cast Iron

I recently became a bit of a fan of traditional cast iron cookware. There is something satisfying about a pan that will outlast you, especially something which is better at doing its job than many more expensive items.

It started when I got a bit fed up with my non-stick pans losing their coating. The chemicals which are used to make the cleaning easy are potentially dangerous when they start flaking off into your food. (Of course this also makes it harder to clean them….) I began to think that the non-stick pan is just another manifestation of built in obsolescence - your pans will lose their coating and you will need to buy some new ones, helping the manufacturers stay in business.

When Amazon brought their “Black Friday” week to the UK, with dozens of special limited offers with an element of competition (he who clicks the button first, gets the item), and one of the items that came up several times was cast iron casseroles (Dutch Ovens/Cocottes), I became a bit obsessed. I had wanted one of those large enamelled pans for a while and the internet gave the impression that Le Creuset was the brand to get. So I ended up with a 26cm round pan, which is frankly a bit bigger than I expected. However this size is pretty good for all sorts of dishes, from fitting a whole chicken inside, to making soups, stews, a bit of roasting and potentially puddings and cakes (I haven’t tried anything sweet in it yet). I also got a little bit of eBay fever and ended up with a tiny Le Creuset cast iron saucepan, thinking it would be good for reheating things for myself.

It turns out that these are now my favourite pans. They are much easier to clean than I expected and very efficient in terms of keeping things warm. They aren’t so good for rapid temperature changes, but that’s not the point. I really like making a rice pilau in the small pan, when I can turn off the heat to let the rice steam while I get the rest of the meal ready. The large casserole gives me an excuse to make larger portions to freeze down, and gives an excuse to cook for guests (especially useful when slow cooking things - less worry about getting the timing right).

I’ve now ended up with a third item. A few months ago I came across Skeppshult, a Swedish bicycle manufacturer that also makes cast iron pans. The cast iron Le Creusets were a slight diversion from my original plan to replace the non-stick frying pan. I still haven’t done that, but I may end up with a Skeppshult (I’d like to get one in Sweden itself as they are about half the price there). But I have recently been doing a bit of grilling with my housemate’s square grill pan, so when I found a Swedish grill pan on eBay that nobody had bid on it ended up in my hands.

As the pan was used and needed a bit of a clean up, I took the chance to research cast iron seasoning. I had no idea how much internet debate this would dig up, but it turns out that people care a lot about something like this. I first looked at Nigel Slater’s advice in his book Appetite (great read, much more prose than most recipe books). It wasn’t that specific, but I eventually found a great article on the ‘chemistry of cast iron seasoning’ which is quite an involved article going into a lot of detail. But I am now halfway through seasoning the pan, and although the flaxseed oil is expensive, I’m not using that much of it for this purpose. If I can put up with the taste I might try it on salads…

At some point I will need my own kitchen in which to use these pans; they aren’t particularly small or lightweight :).