Cooking with Cast Iron
Written by Gail & Martin Aller-Stead on April 24, 2018
If we could list two key lessons we’ve learned about cooking in an RV, they’d be to:
- Incorporate basic cooking techniques every time
- Use multi-tasking kitchen tools
In other words, we’ve learned that we don’t need lots of fancy equipment to prepare healthy, economical, and delicious meals aboard our RV. Our most-frequently used kitchen tools are a portable induction burner, a Magic Pot- type of cooker (ours is a Breville Fast-Slow-Pro-pressure-cooker) and a NutriBullet Rx. And not to be left out, our good old cast-iron pan which can be used on the induction cooktop, on a gas-fired propane stovetop, in a convection oven, or over an open campfire.
There’s no denying that cast iron is heavy. To us, it’s worth its weight even when we worry about the load factor of our RV. Cast iron comes covered by colourful enamel coatings, like Staub or Le Creuset. It may be beautiful American cast iron from Lodge. Or it may be a lower-priced knockoff of these better-known brands.
Seasoning Your Cast Iron
If your new cast iron has no enamel coating, it will need to be seasoned before use. This is best done in an oven on medium-high heat for about an hour, with the new iron first being covered in a light film of oil. Use an oil with a high smoke point such as grape seed, canola, or vegetable oil. Do not use low smoke point oils such as butter or olive oil.
Put the pan into the oven upside-down, with a baking sheet on the bottom of the oven to accept drips. Let it heat up, then cool down naturally. When cooled, wipe out the oil; give the pan a quick rinse in warm water; and then dry and re-coat with another thin film of oil. For best results, repeat two or three times. The payoff of your work seasoning the pan is that the layers of polymerized oil that attach to the inside of the cast iron will last for many years. Seasoning does not guarantee that your new cast iron will be perfectly non-stick, but with a good coating and careful cleaning very little will stick.
Festina Lente: Make Haste Slowly
Cast iron holds heat like nothing else. You need to give your cast iron pot the time it needs to heat up, BUT don’t add too much heat too quickly or your gentle sauté will turn into a smoking sear in a few short seconds. SLOW DOWN the heating process so you can manage it carefully. More heat does not equal faster or better cooking. Give the pans time to do your bidding: Although cast iron heats up quickly if pushed, it also cools down slowly. That is why we prefer to use an induction cooktop with our cast iron cookware - the heat can be better managed.
Too Hot To Handle
Most cast iron comes with cast-in handles which look lovely and are sometimes slightly ergonomic. Because they are cast as an integrated part of the pot, the handles get hot too! We always have a dry towel handy to swiftly fold into a hot pad to wrap around the handle - and to also use as a trivet to protect the countertop or table surface. Many experienced cooks keep two towels tucked into each side of their waistbands or aprons. The towel on the left is for ‘wet use’ (drying hands or wiping off a knife blade) and the one on the right is used as a dry towel for lifting hot things or to protect surfaces.
Cleaning Your Cast Iron
Cast iron needs to be cleaned right after use. Wipe out the cast iron as minimally as necessary to remove food residue. We usually use a combination of a wet cloth followed by some salt. We almost never use soap, but if needed, rinse and dry thoroughly afterwards. The final step of cleaning is to apply a thin layer of cooking oil to all the inside surfaces that food touches (the inside bottom, sides and rim). This will reduce the risk of any rusting and ensure that your cast iron is in tip-top shape and ready for its next use. Store open to the air. If you are nesting your cast iron pots, separate them with strips of parchment paper (not paper towelling or a tea towel).
Wood Is Good
Our RV kitchen is built around tools that will not damage the surfaces they work towards or our health. To the extent possible, we avoid plastic and metal tools (knives excepted of course!) Although upscale wooden tools can be bought at Williams-Sonoma, good selections can be found in hardware stores or at HomeSense. We buy most of our wooden tools at annual church rummage sales. Five minutes of cleaning makes them like new again!
Enjoy the adventures of being your own (cast) Iron Chef! Take it carefully, start slowly, and enjoy the healthy, economical, and delicious results of cooking with cast iron.