Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Health Benefits of Using Cast Iron

Those of you with children will remember those first few months when you brought the first one home.  The auto-pilot daze you went into.  A survival mode of sorts.  Well, times that buy 50 and you have bringing home preemie twins with medical issues.

It is possibly one of the worst ways to be welcomed into the parenting 'club' (BTW I never did receive my membership card?)  We were tired, exhausted, stressed out zombies.

Even all dressed up for New Years, you can see how tired we are.  Babies have been home for 3 weeks at this point
Those first few months we tried, faithfully, to burn the house down but to no avail. We just ruined pot after pot, kettle after kettle. Coming to when the smoke alarm went off.  I think we ruined close to $1000 worth of cookware in about 6 months.  I had inherited a set of Le Creuset cookware from an aunt when she past away.  At the time of inheritance I had no idea of it's value and was just glad I didn't have pots and pans to buy as I was just moving out on my own for the first time.  But as my love for cooking and food grew I learned what an enormous treasure I had. Then a few years of real pleasure cooking with it and then destroyed it all within a small time period.  I will say it again....these are the most expensive children on the planet....good thing they wear hand-me-downs.

We aren't in a position financially to replace this cookware and I thank my mom for slowly building up my stash again when every Christmas I am spoiled with a great piece she probably got from Marshells in the US. But there the few great pots and pans that I don't want made out of expensive enameled cast iron but plain ol'million year old cast iron.  In fact, in some cases, I don't even want to buy it new.

I have a cast iron Dutch Oven (go ahead....laugh...I'll wait) that was my moms, that is now mine.  It is probably over 40 years old.  The glass lid was broken many many years ago but the pot lives on...making endless pasta sauces and roasted potatoes on the BBQ.  It's one of my favs.  40 years ago it probably cost less than $20 (if my mom bought it new!) and now might cost around $40-$50.

Why Cast Iron?
  1. Cast iron is naturally non-stick. Unlike Teflon pans, the longer you have it the more non-stick it gets as the cooking surface gets a patina.  Just look after it properly *see below for care instructions
  2. Highly durable. Since it does not scratch, there is no need to use plastic utensils, and there is no fear of using your silverware to stir or scoop. It lasts for so long that many people still use cast iron cookware inherited from their parents and grandparents.
  3. Retains heat (always coast on waste heat) You can use it for high-heat cooking, like searing, or for mid-range heat, like sautéing.  
  4. It's free of toxic chemicals like PFOA and PTFE that coat many non-stick frying pans.
  5. It's cheap! Cooks looking to replace non-stick cookware often consider stainless steel. However, a high-end, 12-inch stainless skillet runs well over $100, while a similar-sized cast iron one costs less than $30.
  6. There are health benefits. You can actually boost your iron intake from eating food cooked in cast iron cookware. This vital mineral is crucial for maintaining energy levels, and it helps strengthen immune systems.  If you suffer from low iron as I do and know how hard it is to get it up, every little addition to help improve your numbers helps
  7. Cast iron cookware can be used over any heat source. Take it camping, throw it on the BBQ.  Loose power? You can use it in your fireplace!!
  8. Food cooks beautifully. Using a cast iron skillet you can create restaurant-quality, homemade fish sticks, potato pancakes and French toast, complete with golden brown, crispy exteriors. Contrast this with non-stick cookware, which makes browning nearly impossible.
  9. Besides the stove, you can use a cast iron skillet in the oven, at any temperature This comes in handy for making corn bread, frittatas, and flat bread.

How to season cast iron

Season your pan with a rich fat like animal grease. Don't eat animals? That's fine—use coconut oil. Coat the inside of your pan with the fat of your choice. Bake it for about 2 hours at 120C (250F), wiping off any excess and cool. There are a few different techniques to doing this.  I don't find one to be better than another.

How to clean cast iron

Never, ever wash cash iron with soap!
This will remove all your seasoning and food will stick. Instead, simply wipe clean or, scour with hot water and coarse salt for messy jobs. Cook it dry to prevent rust.


Robert Maxwell said...

That's hilarious, we also wrecked pots with both our kids. A beautiful Le Crueset kettle - neglected on the burner till dry and then black, and then smoking - now in the garbage. A le Crueset sauce pan, boiling water for a bottle, long forgotten to tend to screaming children, blackened, smoking and with burnt enamel - now a useful plant holder. Freakin' kids!

Skeeter said...

Actually that dutch oven belonged to your great-grandmother! God knows where she got it ... maybe it came across the plains with her mother-in-law when they moved to Kansas in a covered wagon and cooked on the ground. She gave it to her daughter (my mom), who gave it to her daughter (that'd be me) ... lidless, but I got a #10 glass lid at Home Hardware, and I bet they still have them. When I so magnanimously handed it over to you, I missed it more than I thought I would. But I lucked out at an antique store and bought one, complete with original cast iron lid, for about $30. They are the best .. maybe the only way to make a great pot roast or stew, and obviously last several lifetimes.