On the care and feeding of Cast Iron Mogwai

I made a rather silly error with one of my cast iron skillets the other day, so I had to spend some time repairing it.  While I was doing this, I reflected on the process, and I thought I’d share it with The Internet.  I have a set of Lodge cast iron cookware I got on overstock.com, and I’m completely in love with it.  I get better heat distribution than I have with any other pan, and the durability and quality are superb.  Additionally, I hate plastic and rubber cooking utensils, so the ability to use quality metal stuff is another big plus for me.  Cast iron by itself is a very absorbent and sticky cooking surface, so cast iron is “seasoned” or “cured,” meaning it has a layer of oil baked onto its surface.  This layer prevents foods from sticking to the pan, and also imparts a bit of flavor.  This layer is easy to restore if you make a mistake, as I did, and damage it, making cast iron superior to all the non-stick cookware out there.  You can’t put the Teflon back on your pan. 

Here are some things to know about cast iron:

-Don’t get it wet.  In this way, cast iron pans are like Mogwai (though in no other way.  Feeding them after midnight and bright lights are OK).  Water is denser than oil, so it will sink down into the pan, lifting out the layer of seasoning.  This isn’t to say that you can’t cook with a little water, but don’t make rice or pasta in a cast iron pan.  You can also use small amounts (and I mean SMALL) when cleaning it if  something’s stubbornly stuck to the pan, but don’t allow water to rest on your cast iron, and NEVER soak it.

-Never, ever (ever), use soap on a cast iron pan.  It dissolves the layer of oil faster than anything, leaving you with a cooking surface stickier than a Congressman’s fingers.

-Scrape, don’t scrub!  This is the best way to clean your cast iron.  Take your metal spatula (or a soup spoon if you don’t have one) and scrape up the remains of whatever you last cooked on the pan.  Then use a paper towel or dry washcloth to wipe up the leftover oil.  This method will leave your cast iron as good as new.  If you’re worried about bacteria, once you scrape and wipe off the pan, put it on a hot burner for a minute or two.  The heat will kill anything left on the pan.

-Use it often!  Not only is it superior to anything else out there, the more you use your cast iron, the better it will be!  Cooking with your cast iron adds to the layer of oil, just more slowly than the seasoning method I’ll detail below.  After a couple years of proper use, you can have a surface so well cured, you don’t even need oil!

In the event that you make a mistake (like I did on Saturday,) repairing your cast iron’s seasoning is easy, and is the work of no more than a couple of hour.  Here’s what to do:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F/ 200 degrees C
  2. Scrape the surface of your cast iron, just like you would after using it.  Make sure there’s nothing stuck to the pan.  If you’ve gotten it wet, it’ll likely be rusty.  Use a damp scouring pad (not one with soap) and scrub at the rust spots until they’re mostly gone.  You might not be able to eradicate it completely, but that’s ok.
  3. With a paper towel, rub a small amount of shortening, lard, or cooking oil onto the surface of the pan.  What you want is a shiny surface.  You don’t want to be able to see any pools of oil, or any white streaks of lard or shortening.  If you do, these will drip onto the floor of your oven, definitely making unpleasant smelling smoke, and just possibly causing a fire.
  4. Place your cast iron cooking-surface down into the oven.  Leave it there for an hour.
  5. Turn off your oven, and allow the cast iron to cool still inside.  This will probably take another hour.
  6. Once the cast iron is cool enough to touch, use another paper towel and wipe off any excess oil that remains on the cooking surface.  If you skip this step, the cast iron can become sticky to the touch from the tacky oil.  No Bueno.
  7. Repeat, if you want/need to.  You can do this all day, if you want, and it’ll only help your cast iron.  Unless you did some serious damage to the pan, though, once should be enough.

I hope this has been helpful!  Comment with any questions, or just to rave about your cookware.  Enjoy!

Chili Verde con Orgasmos!

When I was a kid, I said I didn’t much care for Mexican food.  To be sure, I was a fussy eater (which Carlin tells us is a euphemism for “Big pain in the ass”), but it turns out what I didn’t like was fake Mexican food.  I don’t like chimichangas, gorditas, nachos, or really anything they serve at Taco Bell.  I am a HUGE fan of actual Mexican food, though, and my favoritest thing is Chili Verde.  I’m not sure if I’m supposed to capitalize that, but I always do.  Chili Verde is a sauce of tomatillos, peppers, onions and garlic, made as hot as you like, which is usually served with pork, but you can have it with chicken, beef, or even beans, if you’re making it vegetarian.  When you order it at a restaurant, they’ll usually send it along with tortillas, rice and refried beans, but it’s delicious just by itself.  It’s not the easiest recipe, or the quickest, but it’s definitely rewarding when it comes out of the pot.  Here’s my recipe, along with some tips to help adapt the dish to your palate, and your kitchen.  Enjoy, and comment with your experiences!

Chili Verde Con Orgasmos! Prep time: 1-1.5 hours Cook time: 2 hours (At least.  The longer you cook it, the better it will be.  The kind of protein you’re serving it with also affects cook time.  More time if you’re having it with beef, less for chicken or beans) Pans & Tools needed: -Baking sheet -Aluminum foil -Chef’s knife -Blender -Large cooking pot -Frying pan Ingredients: -1 ½ pounds tomatillos (usually works out to be five or six, depending on their size) -5 cloves garlic, unpeeled -3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped -2 jalapeno peppers, with the seeds and ribs removed, then chopped -at least 2 other peppers (Here’s one place you can adapt the recipe.  If you like mild food, add Anaheim or poblano peppers, or even regular bell peppers.  For a little more heat, throw some extra jalapenos on top.  If you’re really serious, add some serranos or habaneros, leaving in the seeds.) -1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, cleaned and chopped (this should be available at most larger grocery stores.  I’m from Michigan, so I found it easily at Meijer.  If fresh is unavailable, substitute 2 tbsp of dried cilantro) -4 lbs pork shoulder, trimmed and cubed (Another place you can adapt.  I like to use pork, but you can just as easily use chicken, beef or beans.  Even tofu, but if you do that, I’d suggest throwing it in at the very last minute) -2 yellow onions, chopped -2 tbsp fresh oregano (or 1 tbsp dried) -2.5 cups chicken stock (or vegetable, or just water.  If you use water, make sure the final sauce is salty enough for you.) -Pinch ground cloves -Cooking oil (Olive is what I like, but you can use whatever.  For stronger oils, like sesame, be sure to balance the flavors appropriately.) -Salt & pepper Procedure: Husk, rinse and halve the tomatillos. -Place the tomatillos and unpeeled garlic on a foil-lined baking sheet, then put under the broiler until lightly blackened (between 3 and 5 minutes, depending on your oven).  Set aside to cool. -Roast your other peppers, then put in plastic zipper bag to cool. (A bit of explanation here.  You want your peppers to be blackened on all sides.  The easiest way to do this is to simply hold them over the flame of a gas burner, turning them so they are blackened evenly.  If you don’t have a gas stove, put them under the broiler, turning them until they are even.  Putting them in the zipper bag steams the peppers, which makes them WAY easier to peel.) -Peel and stem the other peppers, removing seeds if desired -Put the tomatillos, peppers, roasted garlic & cilantro in blender and pulse until thoroughly mixed -Season the pork with salt & pepper -Brown the pork -Pour off the excess fat from browning the pork until you have 1 tbsp left.  Saute the onions and chopped garlic in the fat. (If you’re going vegetarian, just skip to this step and sauté the veggies in 1 tbsp of cooking oil) -Put all the ingredients in a large cooking pot, and simmer for as many hours as you have. I hope you like the recipe!  Please comment with your questions and tips!