I know this is an odd thing to be excited about, but I am thrilled with my cast iron skillets. I tried a new method of (re)-seasoning them a couple months ago, and the new slick, stick-resistant veneer has had me cooking with them almost non-stop since. I’ve always loved cast iron. It browns food beautifully and there is something gut-level satisfying about cooking food in iron. One feels in kindred spirits with simpler times….
Romance aside, cast iron pans conduct and retain heat like no other material. They are versatile, inexpensive and durable. Most importantly, unlike other non-stick pans, seasoned cast iron is unarguably safe. The only thing that leeches into the food is iron, which is good for you. The pans are heavy, and there are times when I struggle to lift them. Still, knowing that the food I make is safe, that I am following age-old tradition, that my pans might someday be used by my kids, is enough to “give me strength.” 😉
Note that all my praise for cast iron pans, though, is prefaced on their being “well-seasoned.” This is easier said than done, at least until I tried this new method. The secret is flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is the food grade equivalent of linseed oil, which is used by artists to give their paintings a hard, polished finish. I read about the method in the January, 2011 edition of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. They attribute it to blogger Sheryl Canter. She goes into a lot more detail about the science and technique of seasoning cast iron on her blog, but I’ve listed the key steps below:
1. Warm an unseasoned pan (either new or stripped of seasoning) for 15 minutes in a 200 degree oven to open its pores. Turn off the oven.
2. Remove the pan from the oven. Pour in 1-2 T. flaxseed oil (depending on the size of your pan) and rub it into every nook and cranny with your hands.
3. Use paper towels to then wipe off as much of the oil as possible.
4. Place the pan upside down in the oven and turn the oven on to its highest baking temperature, usually 450-500 degrees. Once the oven reaches that temperature, bake the pan for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the pan cool for at least 2 hours.
5. Repeat the process 5 more times (6 total) or until the pan develops a dark, semi-matte surface.
NOTE: To strip a cast iron pan of seasoning, spray it with oven cleaner, wait for 30 minutes, and wash with soapy water. Repeat, if needed. To remove rust, the pan must be soaked in a solution 50/50 solution of vinegar and water. Sheryl Canter explains this in detail, too, in an earlier post.