Everyone seems to have a tale of the cast iron frying pan that never got washed and was passed down from mother to child. I certainly have. Whenever I did the drying up with my Ma, and that drying up involved the frying pan (not a cast iron one), she would tell me about her Ma’s frying pan which never got washed, just wiped.
This queer little detail fascinated me for ages. How could you not wash a frying pan?
Fast forward many years later. And all my well meaning friends, the one who breastfeed for years and have home births and make their own bread and are…generally just like me. Well they started going on and on about cast iron frying pans. How non stick made you die, how canaries in rooms with non stick frying pans just dropped down dead.
It was really boring, so I thought I’d buy a cast iron frying pan, if for no other reason than, when they came round, I could whack them round the head with it.
And now, here I am being just like them and going ON about cast iron. It’s true, owning a cast iron frying pan is like having another member of the family, someone you love and trust and who never lets you down.
Only kidding. It’s not. It’s a frying pan for goodness sake. But yes, there is something really nice about the weight, the solidity of a cast iron fucking frying pan. And I was actually getting fed up of non stick stuff lasting just a few years before it started to fall apart (and I’m not talking cheap pans, either, all of my non-stick pans were Berndes).
I now have three cast iron frying pans (aka skillets). They’re all from Lodge. They’re not expensive (I got mine from Amazon) and I stripped them all down (they come pre-seasoned, but I wanted to season them myself, so I stripped them down using oven cleaner) using this incredibly complicated, scientific formula from this rather fabulous website.
Even once you’ve done the seasoning in the oven, with the organic linseed oil, the prescribed six times (you need to feel the pain), it still takes a few uses for them to become really non stick, but then, you’re flying (frying…).
So, the first few times you cook with them, don’t use them for something where the non stick properties are really important.
Oh and according to Sheryl Canter (writer of the blog post on how to season your pan, above) you can wash your cast iron pans. We do. I gently wipe them with a non-scratch pad, hot water, occasionally a bit of washing up liquid. As she points out, the seasoning got there via a long process, a bit of hot water and soap ain’t gonna get it off. Then I dry them on the hob for a couple of minutes and apply a slick of olive oil to cover the whole pan. If any bits get stuck on, if you heat up the pan you can get them off with a wooden spoon or some other more gentle implement. Don’t use the pans to heat up water or anything with tomatoes in – the acid can damage the pan. You need your stainless steel pans for stuff like that. I recommend Le Pentole, superb. Mine are still going strong some 25 years after I bought them. (They’re not cheap.)
A few other advantages of cast iron:
It gets really hot and retains the heat, so great for fast cooking but also great for long, slow cooking where you can turn the heat right down.
You can cook something on the hob and then transfer it to the oven (like tarte tartin).
Works out your biceps and triceps every time you lift the damn things up (that’s actually a pain but I’m trying to make it into a positive).
I’m sure my cast iron pans will last for many years, and I’m sure my children will be delighted that instead of passing down my diamonds, I’ll be passing down my non-canary killing skillets.
ps: Don’t confuse the cast iron I’m talking about here with enameled cast iron (viz Le Creuset).