One of the problems with cooking today is that most people think that cookware should be disposable. I DO use some disposable cookware – I know those foil pans aren’t ecologically sound, and the aluminum might leach into my food, but when they keep me from take out or going out to eat, I call it a wash. I do sometimes find myself justifying by saying things like, “the food didn’t come in packaging and now I am putting it in more packaging.” But I’ll be honest: sometimes I am just plain lazy.
The proliferation of cooking shows, touting high end cookware, sometimes make people think that they can’t cook like a pro unless they have professional style pots and pans. I used to think that way as well. I came to find that the 12” cast iron pan cooks more evenly than the 12” rather expensive sandwiched copper and stainless steel pan. And the properly seasoned and cared for cast iron doesn’t stick. Almost never. There is no reason to spend $150 on a “professional grade” pan when you can get an excellent cast iron pan for less than ½ of that. Less than ¼ of that!
What is wrong with non-stick pans? There is controversy surrounding the coating. Is it carcinogenic? I don’t know. Why are people warned about getting rid of the pan if it gets scratched up? Is that just because things will stick, or because once the coating is compromised the pan could leach chemicals? They are not supposed to be used over too high of a heat, either. How should you brown or sear meat over a medium or low heat? It just doesn’t work. And America seems to cook and bake in non-stick everything, from the cookie sheets to the loaf pan to the roaster.
What are the alternatives? Cast iron and unglazed ceramic. Both are widely available in an assortment of shapes and sizes. The “trick” to either of these as cooking vehicles is proper seasoning. With proper seasoning, the surfaces become more non-stick than any Teflon pan I have ever used. The rules are hard and fast and should not be broken.
Rule 1: Follow all of the rules, all the way through and do not skimp or short any of them.
Rule 2: Heat the oven to 450° F. Using your fat of choice, rub a thin layer into the pan. Since we are not vegetarians and have access to grass-fed lard, it is my seasoning fat of choice. Flax seed oil is my vegetarian recommendation. Olive oil does not work well as it has a low smoking point. Put the pan in the oven for 45 minutes. Turn the oven off and let it cool down. Remove the pan, wipe off any excess fat and let it cool completely. Repeat the process at least once more.
Rule 3: Use it!
Rule 4: Clean it – with nothing but water and a cloth. NEVER ever, ever use soap. If you use soap, it will dissolve the non-stick coating you created with the seasoning and you will have to start all over again. It will be like reaching the ice-cream float in Candyland and the next card you pick is the candy hearts that send you all the way back to the beginning! Trust me, with proper seasoning, you won’t need anything more than a stiff brush, and that only on rare occasion.
I have the incredible good fortune to be friends with an amazing artist, MeganFlachier, who is currently producing utilitarian pieces. I have one of her roasting pans and it does an amazing job. I roasted beets in it last night and they did not stain. Today I baked a “free form” bread on it and it slid right off, even though I forgot to sprinkle the pan with semolina. One of the best features of the pan are the “spouted” corners that let me tumble out the potatoes and have them land in a bowl, and not on the floor.
You too can cook like a seasoned professional!