By Jolene Lamb, coordinator, Culinary Institute, Lincoln Land Community College
Cast iron 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 last forever, becoming 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.
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, seasoning 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, burned 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 you 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, 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 temperature you want. 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.
LLCC Chef Kim Carter’s Skillet Shepherd’s Pie
For the mashed potato topping:
3 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
5 tablespoons butter softened
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh parsley
fresh ground black pepper to taste
For the filling:
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil divided
2 pounds 85 lean ground beef
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper or to taste, divided
1 ½ cup diced onion
1 ½ carrot peeled and diced
1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup beef broth
3 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 ½ cup frozen corn
1 ½ cup frozen peas
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Peel the potatoes and cut into quarters. Place in a good-sized pot and cover with cold water. Set over HIGH heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to LOW and allow potatoes to simmer until tender when pierced with a fork, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, get started on the filling. Add olive oil to a 12″ oven-proof skillet and place over MEDIUM heat. Add ground beef and cook, stirring to break up. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 fresh ground black pepper and continue to cook until meat is no longer pink. Drain grease and transfer cooked beef to a plate.
Add remaining olive oil to empty skillet and return to MEDIUM heat. Add onion and carrot and sauté until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for a minute or two until fragrant. Add tomato paste and stir well to combine with veggies. Add cooked ground beef back to the skillet and season with remaining salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and Worcestershire sauce. Reduce heat to MEDIUM-LOW and allow to simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.
Combine the beef broth with the cornstarch and add to the skillet. Cook and stir over MEDIUM heat for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in frozen peas and corn (no need to thaw) and allow to simmer for 2 to 3 minutes just until heated through. Remove skillet from heat.
When potatoes are fork tender, remove from heat, drain well and add the potatoes back to the warm pot. Place milk in the microwave for 30 seconds, just until warmed through. Use an electric hand mixer to mash the potatoes slightly. Add the warmed milk, sour cream, softened butter, and salt and continue to mash until smooth.
Dollop spoonfuls for mashed potatoes over the top of the filling and use the back of the spoon to spread it out evenly. Sprinkle with cheese. Transfer skillet to the preheated oven and bake for 20 to 23 minutes, until bubbling around edges. Turn oven to BROIL and watching closely to be sure it doesn’t burn, continue to cook just until golden brown.
Remove skillet from oven and garnish with minced fresh parsley and fresh ground black pepper. Allow to sit for about 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Cast Iron Baked Peach Crostata
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3-5 tablespoons ice water
8 cups peeled, sliced peaches (fresh or frozen)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon course sugar
1/3 cup water
In a large bowl, combine the flour, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cut the butter into cubes and add it to the flour mixture, along with the shortening. Use a pastry cutter or a fork to cut the butter and shortening into the flour until it forms coarse crumbs. Gradually add the ice water, adding just enough until the mixture can be pressed together with your fingers. Press into a disc and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared a day ahead.)
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
In a large bowl, combine the peaches, remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon of the remaining salt. Stir gently to combine, then let sit for 30 minutes.
Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and roll into a 13-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer the rolled pastry to a 10-inch cast iron skillet.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to the skillet. Reserve the remaining liquid.
Fold the edges of the pastry over the filling, leaving the center uncovered. Pleat the edges of the pastry as needed.
Brush the egg over the pastry, then sprinkle with the coarse sugar.
Bake the pie until the edges of the crust are golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 45-55 minutes.
Combine the reserved liquid with the 1/3 cup water and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small pan. Cook over medium-low heat until thickened, 1-2 minutes. Drizzle the sauce over the warm pie before serving.
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.
Cooking or food questions? Email email@example.com