Classic Cast Iron

IMG_5117 (1)I’m a huge fan of having the appropriate tools to prepare food. This past weekend I came across an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal about the resurgence of cast iron and copper pots. Non-stick cookware was all the rage during my teenage years, and while a quality non-stick skillet comes in handy when preparing morning eggs, it’s uses are really limited. Check out this link to see my preferred non-stick skillet, and check out this link to see my blog post about copper pots.Ozeri skillet

I recently heard a respected TV chef answer the question “If you were stranded on an island with only one pot or pan, what would it be?” His answer kinda surprised me .. his pot of choice was a dutch oven. After giving it some thought, I totally agree!

Dutch ovenThese super versatile pots are the bees knees when it comes to kitchen tools. The heavy cast iron holds heat like none other, and the enamel makes them easier to clean than a non-stick skillet. The problem with non-stick? The finish cannot tolerate high heat, and at some point it deteriorates and starts peeling off (definitely not something I want to ingest!)

There are so many advantages to cooking with a good quality dutch oven .. here’s just a few:

Fond
You know those browned bits that are left in a skillet after searing meat or vegetables? They are full of flavor and an important element to a good gravy or sauce.

Braise
Molly Stevens taught me so much about techniques of braising. The heavy lid and overall design of a dutch oven make it the ideal choice for slowly cooking meat in liquid, guaranteed to tenderize those cheaper cuts of meat.

Stews
Sautéing aromatics in a dutch oven also creates a flavorful fond, adding significant flavor to any stew. Many recipes suggest “deglazing” your pan, which is simply adding liquid (wine or stock is my preference) to loosen those tasty bits and incorporate them into a sauce.

They’re heavy pots!
Today while browsing in the Le Creuset store, I saw a pot with a glass lid. The saleswoman explained that some shoppers complained that their dutch ovens were too heavy so the company started offering glass lids to make them more manageable. OK people, seriously .. they’re not that heavy! The best way to determine if you should be carrying a full-sized dutch oven is to grab the fat on the back of your arm. If it’s more than you’re happy with, stick to cooking with cast iron dutch ovens. And if you’re happy with what you see, still stick with cast iron to keep it that way!

Cast iron skilletsMy second tool of choice, if I were to be stranded? Without question, it would definitely be a cast iron skillet. I have three, and many times I wish I had more. My 12” iron skillet is my most used kitchen tool, hands down. A seasoned skillet is able to tolerate high heat, and its versatility and uses are endless. It works well on a cooktop, can easily be moved into an oven (frittata! yum!) in the smoker, or even my Santa Maria barbecue. Also, if you’re taking food to a friend’s house, transporting in a cast iron pot or dutch oven really helps hold in the heat.

So seriously, in the past few weeks, I’ve used this skillet for the following:

→ Searing beef chuck for a stew (check out this link for my favorite beef stew recipe, courtesy of Ina Garten)
→ Searing salmon on the cooktop, then transferring to oven to complete (check out this link to my favorite hoisin glazed salmon recipe)
→ Warming tortillas for pulled pork tacos
→ Sautéing aromatics (onion, celery, garlic) on the cooktop then moving to my Santa Maria wood-fired barbecue for a smoky barbecue sauce
→ Searing filet mignon steaks
→ Browning breakfast sausages
→ French toast
→ Stir-fried broccoli with prosciutto
→ Cooking mushrooms on the barbecue
→ Warming our homemade sausage

So, if you haven’t already invested in a heavy cast iron skillet and quality dutch oven, drop everything and go shopping!

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