Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My friend, the cast iron skillet

This morning I was reading this article in Saveur Magazine about 9 kitchen items that are worth their weight in truffle oil; that is, they’re an investment, but guaranteed to last.

There were a couple of obvious ones, like Global chef’s knives, or the Le Creuset Dutch Oven (which we are extremely proud to carry), or a sturdy mandoline. But the one that stuck out to me was the cast iron skillet.

“My roommate's mother bought him this cast iron skillet when he moved into this apartment 13 years ago. This is an easy, incredibly affordable piece to invest in. Seasoning takes time and care, but a good cast iron skillet can last generations. You can bake in it, you can fry in it, the heat distributes evenly, and all it requires of you is a little bit of TLC. Its weight also makes it excellent for weighting down grilled sandwiches,” reads the article.

Last for generations, indeed. I inherited a cast iron skillet from my grandmother a couple of years ago. I have no idea how old it is; one would have to use carbon dating to find out. All I know is that when I picked it up for the first time, I could feel the 20, 30 or 40 years’ worth of baking, frying and sautéing in it.

The heft of the thing appealed to me more than any newer nonstick pan. I recognized the skillet as a primitive instrument; something from before the Industrial Revolution. You could cook cornbread in it over an open fire, or use it as a hammer (I have done both). It can be dangerous: I once grabbed the handle barehanded after removing it from the oven; it burned like nothing I have ever felt before. I threw the skillet across the kitchen, and it landed on the floor, cracking the linoleum and sub-floor (it was an old apartment, with a rather shoddy floor).

I clean my cast iron skillet with Kosher salt and a damp rag. I use my cast iron skillet to regulate the temperature of my oven. I use it as a weight to drain tofu (a new experience for it, I imagine). I throw ice in it to proof bread in the oven. It tells me when it is preheated with the distinct smell of warm iron and hot oil. The black bottom still shines when it is clean.

The cast iron skillet is an indispensable kitchen tool. It can cook rice, or a birthday cake, or prop open a door. And it won’t complain. Just make sure to wear a potholder.

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