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Thursday, 15 December 2016 11:26

Cast iron pans will last a lifetime and make a good steak

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A reader recently asked for information about iron skillets. How do I season it? How do I ensure it’s safe? Do I need to re-season it after each use?

We generally are not nice to our cookware. We burn things, boil all the liquid out and then scour it to death with copper and steel pads. If all that isn’t bad enough, we let it sit with water in it overnight just to get the burnt crud off of it. None of this is good for pots or pans no matter what they are made of.

Iron is one of the oldest materials designed for cooking. It is durable and long-lasting, heats evenly and you can use it at high temperatures, so making seared or blackened foods is no problem. The reason iron pans, and iron skillets in particular, remain popular is because, if seasoned properly, they are the original nonstick pan.

Nevertheless, iron is iron and that means it will rust if not cared for properly, which means it must be seasoned. Wash the pot in soap and water, removing all rust.

To do the initial cleaning takes some elbow grease on your part, or you can try soaking the entire pan in Coca-Cola — as in the beverage. Make a scrubbable paste of Coke and coarse table salt. Rub the pan with this concoction until the rust is gone.

Seasoning the pan

“Seasoning” the pan is what will give it that shiny, black finish that is so desirable. To do this, start with a clean, dry pan. Paper towel it dry. Then cover it on all sides, inside and out, with a layer of oil — do not use butter or margarine. Canola or peanut oil will work just fine. Next, place your pan (and the lid, if you have one) upside down in your oven. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the rack underneath the pan to catch any drips of oil. Bake the pan in the oven at your lowest temperature (some gas ovens only go down to 170?F) for one to two hours. Remove the pan and let it cool.

Then hang the pan up to store it. This is important because the pan needs to have air circulating to prevent rust and to protect its finish.

This seasoning bakes the oil into the rather porous surface of the iron pan, creating, if you will, a natural seal to the pan. In order to maintain this seasoned surface, you should wash the pan with hot water only after each use, then lightly oil the pan again, bake it in the oven or put it on a low burner for about 15 minutes and then hang it up to store. If this seems like too much work, it probably is, and then save your efforts for other things. But for those who have fallen in love with the idea that one pan will last their entire lifetime, this is a small price to pay. When well seasoned, the pan is nonstick.

Always use hotpads — remember iron is a good heat conductor and you don’t want to get burned. Never pour cold water into the hot pan — that change in temperature can cause cracks because iron is rather brittle.

Beef tenderloin

2-3 lb. tenderloin (allow 1/2 pound per person)

2 Tbsps. fresh ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. kosher or sea salt

1 tsp. each garlic and onion powder

1 Tbsp. each oregano and parsley

Coat the tenderloin in a mixture of the remaining ingredients. Let it sit at room temperature for an hour if possible. Place the tenderloin in a preheated cast iron pan — it should sizzle right away. Cover with a tent of aluminum foil to reduce splattering.

Cook four to five minutes on each side. Meat will stick to the pan in the initial stages of cooking. As it cooks, the natural sugars in the meat will caramelize and the fibers will contract, releasing the steak from the pan. Don’t force it or scrape the pan in an effort to turn it before it’s ready. Turn the steaks over and finish cooking on the other side. Do not turn too many times — just let it cook.

When meat has reached desired temperature, turn off heat — it will continue to cook. Keep covered and let it rest for 15 minutes before slicing into thin slices and serve.

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