by Jolene Adams, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
I can’t even begin to contain my excitement as the resurgence of cast iron pans sweeps the nation! These beloved pans are extremely versatile and can last a lifetime. Everything from frying eggs, cooking a stew and baking a pie can be done in a cast iron pan. With a little care, these pans can become a hand-me-down family heirloom.
Owning one can open up a whole new world of cooking, and the flavor that a cast iron pan can add to food is amazing. Did your grandmother have the best fried chicken recipe? I know mine did, and she always said her secret was frying in her cast iron pan.
In order to be successful when using cast iron, you have to know how to care for it, basically what to do and what not to do to your pans. If you treat them right, they will be so easy to cook with and will quickly become your go-to pan.
First, season your pan. Seasoning is basically oiling the pan to give it a nonstick surface and prevent rusting. Even though most pans are sold “pre-seasoned,” you’ll still want to season it before its first use. Give your new pan a good rinse with plain old water and then heat it on the stove over medium heat. Once the pan is warm, add a small amount of oil, I like to use a neutral oil such as canola. Using a cloth, work the oil all around the inside bottom and sides of the pan. Give it a good coat, about a teaspoon for a 10-12 inch skillet, but not so much that there is standing oil in the pan. Then let it cool to room temp. You’ll want to repeat this process a few more times until the surface is glossy, but not sticky.
Once the pan is seasoned, it can be used for cooking. You won’t necessarily have to season it after every use if you’re cleaning it properly. I find that I only need to re-season every third use or so. When cleaning the pan, it is absolutely fine to wash it with soap and water. But never, ever wash it in the dishwasher. Use a mild dish soap and if needed, scrub lightly. A properly seasoned pan is naturally nonstick, however if there is gunk stuck to the pan, you can scrape it and scrub with a hard bristle brush. After washing or scrubbing if necessary, make sure to fully towel dry your pan to prevent rusting. For really tough burnt on debris left behind, you can remove it by heating the pan, adding a little water and scrubbing, or even using a coarse salt as an abrasive to scour the pan. After a tough scrubbing, you will probably need to re-season.
Watch out for flaking when cooking. If notice the cast iron appears to flake off while cooking food, then it has been improperly oiled. The heating of oil, or seasoning forms a layer that becomes impenetrable to water, however adding excess fat or oil can cause the protective layer to flake off. This appears as little black flecks which most people mistake for bits of metal from the pan. Don’t worry, just wash the pan well and season with less oil in the future.
Always start food in a hot or warm pan. Never put food into a cold pan, and this is especially true when using cast iron. Food will always stick in a cold pan, no matter how well it’s seasoned. Cast iron heats unevenly, but once it gets hot, it stays hot. It’s best to preheat the pan on low heat, then gradually increase to the cooking temp you want. I find it easier to control the heat this way. It is much easier than heating on high and trying to wait for your scalding smoking pan to cool down, as cast iron can hold heat for quite a long time.
If you’d like to learn more about cast iron care and cooking, we have a Cast Iron Cooking class on Saturday, Oct. 14 from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Chef Kimberly Carter will show you how to care for and cook with cast iron. You can even bring your own pan if you have one, and we will help you season it in class. Otherwise we have plenty of pans for you to use and many recipes will be featured in this class. Kim has shared one for this article. I hope you enjoy cooking with cast iron as much as I do!
LLCC Chef Kim Carter’s Easter Fried Chicken
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ¼ teaspoons garlic powder
1 ¼ teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 ½ pounds bone-in chicken pieces, (split breasts cut in half, drumsticks, and/or thighs), trimmed
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups peanut or vegetable oil
Any combination of chicken pieces will work well here; just be sure the total amount equals 2 1/2 pounds. You will need a 12-inch cast iron skillet with at least 2-inch sides for this recipe. Don’t let the chicken soak in the buttermilk brine for longer than 1 hour or it will be too salty. Covering the skillet with a splatter screen will reduce the mess that frying inevitably makes.
Whisk 1 cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne together in large bowl. Add chicken, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, 2 teaspoons pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, remaining 1 teaspoon garlic powder, remaining 1 teaspoon paprika and remaining 1/4 teaspoon cayenne together in large bowl. Add remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk and rub into flour mixture using your hands until evenly incorporated and small clumps form. Working with 1 piece of chicken at a time, dredge in flour mixture, pressing gently to adhere, then transfer to large plate.
Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet. Add oil to 12-inch cast iron skillet until it measures about 3/4 inch deep and heat over medium-high heat to 375 degrees.
Carefully place half of chicken skin side down in oil. Fry until deep golden brown, about 6 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through frying. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 350 and 375 degrees. Transfer chicken to prepared rack. Return oil to 375 degrees and repeat with remaining chicken; transfer to prepared rack.
Bake chicken until breasts register 160 degrees and drumsticks/thighs register 175 degrees, 12 to 18 minutes. Serve.
Skillet Apple Pie with Cinnamon Whipped Cream
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
2 refrigerated rolled pie crusts, such as Pillsbury
One 21-ounce can apple pie filling
2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar
Cinnamon Whipped Cream
2 cups whipping cream, chilled
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a 9-inch cast iron skillet; set aside 1 tablespoon of the melted butter for the top crust. To the melted butter, add the brown sugar and melt them together on medium heat, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and line the skillet with one of the pie crusts. Pour the apple pie filling over the crust and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon sugar. Use the second pie crust to cover the filling. Brush the top with the reserved melted butter, then evenly sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar on top. Cut vents in the middle of the pie. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot, topped with a generous dollop of cinnamon whipped cream.
For the cinnamon whipped cream: chill a large metal mixing bowl and a wire beater attachment in the freezer for about 20 minutes. Pour the cream, cinnamon and sugar into the cold mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes; the mixture should hold its shape when dropped from a spoon. Don’t overbeat or you’ll have sweetened butter!
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.