I have a confession: I’ve had a decades-long love affair with my 10-inch cast
Ever since we first met in the housewares department of a North Side Venture store in
1988, it has been true love.
I bought it as part of a set of three cast iron pieces when I was moving into my first Chicago apartment. My roommate and I didn’t have much in terms of cookware, or money, so I was looking for something that would be a great value and last a long time. I think I paid $20 for all three.
I have used my cast iron pan at least a couple of times per week since then and it is still going strong. I guess you could say I got my money’s worth.
One more thing: I have never washed it.
See, the thing with cast iron is this: the more you use it, the more seasoned it gets. A tiny bit of flavor from every one of the thousands of dishes I have cooked in that pan are embedded in its dark heavy metal. After 23 years, my skillet is so smooth and sealed that it has better non-stick qualities than the most expensive and technologically advanced Teflon in the world.
It got that way because I have never allowed a drop of soap or detergent anywhere near it. I just wipe it clean out when I am through with it.
There are chefs who are so committed to their personal cookware that they travel with it. One chef I’ve seen never goes anywhere without his wok, which he carries around with him in a drum case. That may sound crazy but I totally get it.
My cast iron skillet has lasted longer than either of my marriages and is older than my college-aged daughter, who will inherit it when I am dead. It has sat in a place of honor on top of every stove I’ve ever used and has never, ever been shoved into a dark cabinet or hidden away in a cupboard.
Because of its heavy density, cast iron holds temperature much better and longer than
other metals, like aluminum or stainless steel. It’s forged out of a single piece of iron, so you can use it on the stove top or throw it in the oven if you want.
It weighs about seven pounds, so I had to build strength in order to toss sauté in
it. But now ordinary sauté pans are like cooking with feathers.
Typically, I use my skillet for cooking meats, such as steaks or chicken. I have never
cooked a piece of fish in it because I don’t want that flavor to stick around.
I avoid using tomatoes or tomato sauce in it because the acidity might break down some of the decades of carbon I’ve built up.
If you don’t already have one, or if you are just starting out, I would encourage you to pick up a brand new cast iron skillet. I doubt very much you could convince anyone to sell you their used one.
Before you use it for the first time, you need to season it. Rub it all over with olive oil and let it roast in a 350F oven for an hour. Don’t go any hotter. I once saw a guy set a restaurant kitchen on fire because he was seasoning new pans with olive oil in a 450F oven — the flash point of olive oil is 437F.
Once it’s properly seasoned, it will be very difficult to get anything to stick to it. And every time you use it a thicker, denser carbon base will build up inside it.
It will give you a lifetime of love.
Do you have a favorite piece of kitchen equipment that is like a member of your family? Let us know about it in the comments section.