I use quite a wide range of cookware – in this way, I couldn’t be farther removed from the minimalist, small-kitchen cooks. Did you see my pantry? Think that, only in stainless and cast iron. That said, I am not a collector – unless something is a gift, I don’t like to accumulate items I won’t be using fairly frequently, and I feel like most of the cookware I own gets to see the light of day on a regular basis. Bit by bit, I hope to share my kitchen arsenal with you. Note that I make no claim for this to be a practical guide to cookware, especially where small spaces are concerned, but I hope you will find a few useful pointers/product reviews here.
Anyhow, the heart and soul of my kitchen is cast iron cookware by Lodge. Cast iron is extremely durable (if you drop it, the only thing you need to worry about is your floor), and the heavy pans conduct heat marvelously, providing perfect, steady browning without burning. Now, if you are a one-income household, don’t believe in money, or can’t bear parting with it for any other reason, forget Le Creuset and go Lodge. Aside from the obvious price advantage, Lodge also offers the performance superior to that of Le Creuset, if you ask me. I compared!
The most fundamental tool in my kitchen is the 12″ cast-iron skillet. It’s rather large – but not too big for my stove, and the size is perfect for making a family-size batch of fried potatoes, pan-seared hamburgers, eggs, eggs-in-basket, the Russian yogurt pancakes, you name it. It is also superb for caramelizing onions, and caramelized onions are superb for just about anything. Lodge makes even larger skillets, but unless you are cooking for Paul Bunion’s lumberjack crew, you might not want to go bigger than that, especially since I don’t imagine fitting larger pieces on my stove without having to use two burners.
I also own two 10 1/4″ skillets, which I use for cooking smaller portions of any of the above, or when I am cooking hamburgers in one pan, potatoes in the other, and caramelized onions in the third.
I also own two 6 1/2″ skillets, one of which I use for individual portions of sunny-side up eggs (which I like eating directly out of the skillet) and crepes, while the second one, dubbed “the goy pan,” is used for cooking bacon for the gentiles in my family. Note that these days they all come pre-seasoned, so you can just go ahead and start cooking right away.
Finally, I just acquired this great grill pan, which, if you know how to deglaze, is not a pain to clean at all, since the process of deglazing does all the work, pretty much. Note the deep sides that make this possible. Speaking of which:
How to care for cast iron skillets: Don’t wash them with soap, except if you are dealing with a particularly gross situation. Wash them in hot water using a hard-bristled brush, dry immediately with a towel, and coat them with a thin layer of vegetable oil if you see any kind of rust after you dry them (or just for good measure). To do so, just pour a tablespoon of any oil into the pan and rub it in with a paper towel, removing most of the oil and leaving back but a thinnest oily film. Don’t make a puddle now.
You don’t need to wash it every time, though – if nothing’s stuck to it, and if you are not appalled at the idea of a bit of the cooking grease be to carried over to the next cooking session (like, for instance, if you were using it for fish or something very smelly), just wipe it clean with a paper towel, skipping the washing altogether.
However, if you made burgers or browned some ground beef and are now faced with burned-on pieces of meat stuck to the pan, just use the magic trick called “deglazing” – pour some water into the pan to submerge the nasties completely and bring everything to a boil over high heat. Boil, uncovered, for a few minutes, or until all the nasties detach from the bottom and begin to float freely in the water. While this is going on, you may choose to give your pan a little scrub with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon/spatula just to help it along, but, most of the time, it is unnecessary. I like to let the pan cool a bit at this point and then use a hot pad to dump out the water (or save it to make soup for your enemies). Now stick your skillet under the tap and give it a quick rub with your brush or a sponge, making sure that the surface is smooth and free of any chunks. Hold it with a hot pad as you wash it, but he pan will usually cool enough under tap water for you to be able to dry it right after. This is one situation where you almost certainly will need to coat it with oil after drying.
What happens if you don’t season your skillet: The sucker rusts.
What to do if the sucker rusts: No problem! Rub off the rust with a sponge under the hot running water, dry thoroughly, and coat with oil as above.
If you thus care for your skillet, you’ll be rewarded with a close to non-stick surface. Note that I don’t use the actual non-stick skillets – I don’t believe in their ability to brown adequately, and people keep telling me they are not safe over a certain temperature. Because I am all about safe and natural, doncha know.
What cast iron is not good for: The bare cast iron, despite all of its amazing qualities, is, unfortunately, not non-reactive, which means that whenever you add an acidic liquid (or cream) to whatever you’ve been browning, the iron will react with the acid, imparting a metallic flavor to your dish. You wouldn’t for instance use it for my Bolognese sauce, which was the original reason why I finally decided to purchase what is now the power and the glory of my kitchen – the Lodge’s fabulous 6-quart enamel dutch oven. It is a relatively new product for them – they just began selling them last summer, I believe, which is when I bought mine. It’s a bargain man! Not only is it 1/4 of the price of a comparable Le Creuset piece – quite frankly, it kicks Le Creuset’s butt. For one, these are thicker than Le Creuset, they have a slicker enamel coating, making for easier clean-up (I also own a proper 2-qt Le Creuset oven and it’s thinner and doesn’t clean up as well. And it’s shaped like a heart.) I also love that this oven has a rounded, rather than flat, bottom, facilitating stirring, and it is also a plus when it comes to clean-up since there’s no straight angle between the sides and the bottom. I even made this tamale pie in it once that really likes to burn onto the vessel it is cooked in, and it cleaned-up just fine afterwards. All you need is a little bit of soaking time for tougher cases.
Note also that the Amazon reviews say that the handle on this particular pot is only safe up to a certain low temperature (like somewhere in 300s), but I did not find that to be true – I baked bread in mine at 450, and the handle was perfectly fine. I did it more than once, too. I am all about living dangerously.
A small word of caution: The first dutch oven I picked off the shelf at the local Walmart, the only store in my town that carried it, had a defect – the lid was not tight-fitting, and I didn’t really discover it till I got home. But once I did, I exchanged it the next day. Even though they only had 2 in stock, the lid on the second one fit perfectly. So check how the lid fits before you buy it! Also, some enamel did chip on one of the handles, but I don’t see it as a problem. The coating in the pan itself is still absolutely perfect.
And this completes my love song for cast iron. Next up: Stainless/clad!