Cast iron cookware is not only attractive, it's also healthy.

From one generation to another The love affair with cast iron cookwareJaya Shravan
Features Cooking Thursday, February 09, 2017 - 17:53

The rage is all about cast iron in the cookware scene right now. It's become trendy to stack up on these beauties and claim your place as a “serious” chef. And while these pans certainly look attractive and are excellent for kitchen use, our ancestors have pretty much nailed the game from centuries ago.

Nearly every household has grandma’s pots and pans which are bound to include the (t)rusty kadai and an age-old seasoned dosa tava which are passed on from generation to generation. Well, cast iron pans are just the western cousins to the Indian kadai counterparts.

Why cook in iron cookware?

People are slowly awakening to the ill-effects of non-stick cookware which has even been associated with cancer. Because of these risks, aluminium, steel and iron cookware have seen a surge in popularity in recent times. Cast iron has started becoming a popular choice, thanks in part to the role of cookery reality shows like Masterchef or Top Chef, that expose the public to the availability and goodness of such cookware. 
 
Image courtesy: Jaya Shravan

However, cast iron is hardly much different from the simpler and infinitely more affordable everyday iron kadais you can pick up at the local vessel store. Iron cookware is also considered a “healthy” option, mainly because it leeches iron into your food and helps improve your blood iron content (haemoglobin) This helps fight anaemia (the author herself has verified this to be true after checking blood iron levels before and 3 months after cooking in iron cookware). This is a considerable advantage, especially for vegetarians who don’t find as many iron-rich natural food sources as non-vegetarians. 

Other than this, iron cookware is great because it lasts many lifetimes, if and when maintained well. It has excellent heat retention and is perfect for searing foods, braising meat, for caramelising foods and for frying – all of which happens quite a bit in the Indian kitchen.

How to season and maintain iron cookware?

There are 2 super-easy tried and tested methods that can help season your iron cookware to make them almost non-stick. The “almost” is important mainly because iron retains heat much longer and can burn your food if you don’t remove it as soon as it’s done.

The oven/gas top method

Image courtesy: Jaya Shravan

This is fairly simple. Wash your pan as you would with/without soap. Dry immediately with a towel thoroughly. Brush an even thin layer of oil all over the pan, even the bottom. Heat the oven to 230°C and place the pan upside down (with a sheet beneath to catch spills) and let it sit for 30 minutes at least (up to 4 hours is great). Turn off the oven and let it cool inside the oven.

Alternatively, you can heat it on stove top for 30 minutes. Bear in mind it’ll fume. So do this in a well ventilated kitchen. Turn off the gas and let it cool on the stove top.

The rice water method

Image courtesy: Jaya Shravan

This is for the lazy folks. Reserve the water from washing rice (the starchy part). Submerge your cleaned iron pan in this water overnight. Repeat two times.

Once seasoned, make something fool-proof like toast or thick dosas (not your crispy wafer thin ones) for the first 2-3 times before moving on to the ultimate non-stick cook test – omelettes. 

Maintenance

Each time you’ve cooked in your iron pans, wash them well in warm water preferably. Use a spoon to flick away sticky bits of food. Dry immediately. Coat with a thin layer of oil and store. Every time you cook with it, you are reinforcing the polymerized coating from the fat/oil you use to cook with and hence making its seasoning stronger. And yes, you can use steel ladles or spoons on it. It’s not that fragile.

 

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