All You Need to Know About Cast Iron Cookware For Your Kitchen
Posted by April 4, 2012 in Cookware, Featured Articles, Homepageon
Cast iron is a marvellous type of cookware to own and use. In this article I explain a bit about what cast iron is, what makes it so great for cooking, and tell you how to keep your cast iron in good shape.
What is Cast Iron?
To begin with, a few technicalities. It’s a bit boring, but it’s better than confusing you! Firstly, cast iron doesn’t mean die-cast pure iron, in the way “cast aluminium” does. Iron by itself isn’t very usable, certainly not for cooking, so cast iron is 95% iron and 5% carbon and silicon. Interestingly, cast iron doesn’t qualify as a steel, and its use predates the production of steel by centuries. Secondly, the type of cast iron that I’m talking about here (and that Le Domaine sells) isn’t raw cast iron, which is untreated, uncoated metal that is popular with some enthusiasts. When I talk about cast iron, I’m referring to enamelled cast iron cookware, which is 95% iron and 5% carbon/silicon, sealed with an enamel glaze.
Types of Enamel
There are many different types of enamel surfacing used by cast iron cookware companies. The enamel surface is responsible for the difference between really expensive cast iron cookware and cheap cast iron cookware, with inexpensive cast iron having a thin, easily chippable enamel surface and more costly cast iron cookware sporting heavy duty, multiple layered enamel.
The biggest difference in types of enamel relate to their use. Rough, black enamel is the kind you find on grill pans, barbeques and Le Creuset Satin Black. The other type is a smooth, usually creamy white coloured enamel, which is nonporous and glossy. Each offers a different type of cooking experience, with the black enamel more suited to charring, browning and searing meat, and the smooth enamel better with stirring and roasting. Usually different cookware pieces already have the right type of enamel suited to their use, so you don’t have to decide.
So now you know what cast iron is, what is so good about it?
Cast Iron Lasts Forever
Whether it’s a general purpose cast iron pot that never leaves your stove, to a specific use loaf baker that you only get out for terrines, cast iron cookware represents a big difference to everyday consumer cookware. If you’re replacing your non-stick pans for the fifth time in so many years, or if your once shiny-and-new cookware is dishearteningly scratched and tired looking, enamelled cast iron cookware can truly be the solution you’re looking for.
Cast iron itself is very durable, and you’ll feel that the minute you pick it up. If heft has any correlation with strength and longevity, you know your cast iron pots and pans are in for the long haul! Coating the cast iron interior is a super strong enamel surface. This strong enamel exterior provides an excellent cooking surface, different to that of stainless steel, non-stick or any other material. While enamel can chip – be careful with metal objects – most everyday use won’t cause scratches and abrasion like you see in other types of cookware. This makes for a very enjoyable, lifelong relationship with your cookware – something only cast iron can provide.
Cast Iron Works with Induction
If you have read our induction blog post, you’ll know that some cookware works with induction and other cookware doesn’t. Well, even within the types of cookware that do work with induction, certain types work better than others! Cast iron heats up more efficiently from induction cooktops than any other material. Unfortunately, this only goes some way of mitigating one of the biggest problems with cast iron cookware; because it’s so thick and heavy, it takes a long time to heat up on electric and gas cooktops. To get the benefits of good quality, heavy duty cast iron cookware and quick heat conduction, cast iron cookware and induction cooktops make a fantastic pair!
Baking with Cast Iron
The unique heat performance of cast iron cookware makes it an absolute treat to use in the oven. What makes a cast iron pot take a long time to heat up on the stove makes it wonderful for cooking certain dishes in the oven. By absorbing a lot of heat, retaining heat in the thick walls, and dispersing it slowly and evenly into your food, using cast iron in the oven can give you results unlike anything else. Whether you’re baking bread in your cast iron Dutch oven, whipping up a tarte tatin or making a terrine, long, low temperature oven cooking is perfectly suited to cast iron cookware. Best of all, because it holds so much heat itself, you can open the oven door or take the dish out for a minute and all is not lost!
Types of Cast Iron Cookware
Because cast iron cookware works in the oven and the stove, there are a huge variety of designs to choose from. Some designs are stovetop specific, like a traditional frypan or saucepan; some are oven specific, like an oven dish or terrine; but most are designed to work with both, the venerable Dutch oven (or French Oven) the most notable.
If you’re only going to buy one piece of cast iron cookware, it’s one of these mixed used designs that is most recommended. The Le Creuset French Oven would almost do as your only piece of cookware – there’s very little you can’t do with it. A regular stovetop pot, you can boil water for pasta or rice, create a soup, stew or casserole, or make a white sauce. In the oven, you can bake bread, roast chicken, and create a whole array of yummy braised meat, vegetable and rice dishes.
The Le Creuset Buffet Casserole is a lot like a French Oven, except that where a French Oven is more of a stockpot or casserole on the stove, the Buffet Casserole is more like a frypan or saute pan. The low sides make the Buffet Casserole more suitable for frying fish, stir frying meat and veges, and even everyday things like frying a steak or making bacon and eggs! In the oven, you can still create delicious braised dishes, with its high and heavy lid keeping in all the moisture, flavours and aroma.
If you already have the cast iron cookware essentials, or if you’re happy with your existing cookware, one place where cast iron can really shine is in specialty pieces. A Le Creuset Tarte Tatin dish is unlike anything else you can buy easily on the consumer market, and the Le Creuset Terrine is highly sought after because the heavy cast iron lid presses terrines and meat loaves so well. For more everyday cooking than terrines and tarte tatin, Le Creuset’s cast iron grills create incomparable results for cooking steaks on the cooktop, and there are so many different designs to try!
Cleaning Cast Iron Cookware
The high quality enamel surface of modern cast iron cookware means that it is fairly resilient, accommodating and flexible. Raw cast iron cookware requires a lot of maintenance, with regular seasoning, rust prevention and frequent use, but enamel can be put in the dishwasher, left wet for long periods, even store food in the fridge. If you want to get the most from your cast iron cookware, there are a few good tips and tricks.
Using Metal Tools: All cookware is better off without metal utensils. It doesn’t matter if it’s stainless steel, non-stick, hard anodised, glass or ceramic. Metal utensils used with force can chip enamel cast iron cookware, so if you are going to use them be gentle. Regular use with metal utensils may cause lots of little scratches or abrasion in the cooking surface, which will reduce its overall performance over time. If you want the most out of your cast iron cookware – out of any type of cookware – stick to silicone, wooden and nylon coated utensils.
Seasoning: Most of the time when people talk about seasoning cast iron they’re talking about raw cast iron. Seasoning is very important with raw cast iron, because it does not have the enamel protective layer, and does not cook very well without lots of built up oils and fats.
What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that enamelled cast iron benefits from seasoning too! Rough, black enamel benefits the most from seasoning, and that will come naturally through repeated use. Smooth, white/coloured enamel will benefit from occasional seasoning, by heating the pan up and rubbing down with a small amount of oil. In both types of enamel, over time oils and fats will permeate the glassy surface, resulting in a lovely patina for better tasting food, easier food release and a bond with your cookware only time can create.
Cleaning: Enamelled cast iron can stand up to most types of cleaning, as long as it isn’t abrasive. This means dishwashers and harsh detergents are usually fine, and steel wool, gumption and Ajax are out. However, to assist in the development of patina, especially for rough black enamel, cleaning should be kept to an absolute minimum.
To protect the development of a patina, wash your cast iron cookware with warm water and a cloth. For stubborn baked on stains, use hot water and detergent. Dishwashers will strip the patina down to the base, so avoid them as much as possible. If the inside of your pan starts to develop a waxy discolouration, leave it! That’s what you’re after.
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