(Cast) Iron Chef
In my house, we live to cook and eat. So when research came out showing we should give up our non-stick cookware to avoid perfluorinated chemicals, we had a hard time contemplating a life without the easy-to-clean pans. The skies seemed to darken. Tempers flared as we envisioned hours standing in front of the sink, scrubbing away. Then we discovered cast iron, and stove-top joy was ours again.
Cast iron cookware is...fantastic. It cooks startlingly evenly, goes from stove to oven without flinching, and lasts forever. (We've got hand-me-downs that are literally 100 years old). There's nothing it can't cook better than any other pan its size, and when it's treated kindly, foods slide right out -- I can fry an egg, tip the pan, and slip breakfast right onto my plate without so much as a wink from a spatula. It's become our much beloved cookware of choice, and we'd use it even if the non-stick stuff emitted lilac fumes and $100 bills.
Cast iron cookware is easy to find, but hunt carefully. You want a pan that's got a smooth-as-glass bottom. My advice is to haunt yard sales and flea markets for the vintage stuff, which is usually cheap and finely forged. My method of curing cast iron is to bring it home, and scrub the life out of it with hot water and soapy steel wool. When it's bone dry, I coat it - from top to bottom, inside and outside - with vegetable shortening or oil. Then I put it upside down over a sheet of aluminum foil in a 500° oven for an hour (I engage my exhaust fan!), to let the oil create a natural carbonized non-stick coating. (There's more to be said on seasoning; I've used the detailed instructions here and here with good results.)
Cooking is simple. Add a light coating of oil, preheat the pan, and nothing sticks. Clean up with hot water (no soap!) and a light scrub-brushing, and rub your clean pan with a thin new layer of oil. Over time, these treatments will strengthen the coating and turn your cast iron into a 100% natural non-stick wonder you have to use to believe.
Having said all of that, I should also say that seasoning, using, and maintaining cast iron is far more art than science. Everybody's got their own tricks. I'm interested in hearing from the Nation on this one. Who among us has tips on the care and feeding of this healthier way to cook? Share 'em if you've got 'em, and let's all sing the praises of cast iron.