12 July 2007

Cast-Iron: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Ever want to run a campfire kitchen like the cowboys in those old Spaghetti Westerns?

Well you are gonna need a cast-iron frying pan. My friend Carmen lent me a copy of the world-famous Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. If you do not have a copy, please stop reading this go straight to a bookstore and purchase or order one. I've got the ninth edition here in front of me.

Why own this book?

Name another tome that will give you detailed instructions on everything from the proper procedure for pruning fruit trees to the best practices in preparing your dead for burial.

And right there on page 34 of the ninth edition: everything you could need to know about cast-iron cookware and campfire cooking.

Here are some of the important points. I'll trust you to pick up a copy of the book for acquisition of the more salient features.

1. Never overheat cast-iron. Although it is true that if you can wield a cast-iron pan, you own death, you should be aware that your pan can crack if heated to temperatures above 300 degrees.

2. Keep cleaning to a minimum and don't use any sort of abrasive to get the job done. Cast-iron will last forever if maintained properly; get used to cleaning with a little oil and a towel.

3. If you plan to cook baked beans or roasts that are gonna take some time, you are going to have to season your pan first. This means that you'll create a seasoned coating between the food and the metal. Otherwise your pot roast may have a tangy metallic taste. Here's what you do: wash and thoroughly dry your new pan, grease the inside with a good coat of vegetable shortening (rub a bit on the outside as well), then bake the pan overnight in an oven set on low heat. Voila! In my experience, this also works for seasoning a stainless-steel wok, but you dry it on the range rather than in the oven.

My wife had a doctor who wanted her to increase her iron intake. He told her to pour tomato juice in a cast-iron pot and leave it in the fridge for a few days. The idea was that the acids in the juice somehow help the juice 'soak-up' a bit of iron from the pot. Don't know if it's true, but I wouldn't bet against it. I'm sure Spaghetti Cowboys weren't short on iron.

For more about the book, check out the 'Country Living website'.

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