Deep in the Mississippi Delta we once saw an elderly woman who could barely walk flip cornbread — with a toss, aerially, unaided but for the Holy Spirit — in a 9-inch cast iron skillet, a feat that would humble most able-bodied men. She’d been making stovetop cornbread that way for decades, and age wasn’t going to get in the way of tradition, or the perfect brown crust. That’s what cooking with cast iron is all about: using a simple, high quality tool to create beautiful food, year after year, and getting better along the way. To do that you need to cultivate your culinary skills and keep your skillet properly seasoned, which is to say, coated in a hard layer of polymerized fat. We’ll deal with the latter today. Here’s how to do it.
THE BEST CAST IRON SKILLETS
Kickstarter-funded Borough Furnace is a Syracuse-based metal casting workshop. Their skillets are made of scrap iron in a furnace that burns waste vegetable oil. Quantities are limited, so check the site every Tuesday for new batches of skillets. boroughfurnace.com
French-made Staub products are enameled cast iron, meaning that there’s actually no exposed cast iron. The pans have all the benefits of cast iron, but they can also be used right away for acidic foods and liquids. staubusa.com
Now-defunct Griswold was a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of cast iron products. They’re collectors’ items now, so look for them on ebay and season them using the steps enumerated here. wikipedia.org
1 Preheat oven. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Chill down a few Russian imperial stouts, as this process takes a little time.
2 Bake. Bake the cast iron skillet for 25 minutes.
3 Remove. Remove the skillet from the oven. Coat it with a film of lard and return it to the oven.
4 Lard on, lard off. Reapply lard and smooth it out every half hour. Don’t let it pool.
5 Repeat. Repeat the lard applications for three to five hours. The longer the better. We told you this would take a while.
6 Avoid liquid. During the early stages of cooking with your skillet, avoid liquids when cooking: no stocks, acids, beer and wine, even vegetables. Acid will break down the seasoning and may cause your food to pick up metallic flavors.
7 Cook meat. Roast and sear meats and fish in the pan to continue building the coating.
8 Be patient. When you’re satisfied with the coating — realistically, this could take a few months — use the pan to cook anything you’d like.
9 Clean often. After each use, wipe the pan clean with a towel. If it has significant build-up, heat oil in the skillet until smoking, add salt, and scrape with a wooden spoon.
10 Impress. Try cooking and serving whole meals in a cast iron skillet. A good place to start is a ribeye for two with a potato galette and roasted vegetables.