PREP TIME 1 hour | COOK TIME 17 mins | TOTAL TIME 1 hour 17 mins | SERVES 2
This article recipe was originally developed for and published in The Toronto Star, photo by Rene Johnston.
My mother’s cast-iron frying pan is the item I covet most in her house. Years ago, after realizing I wouldn’t get my hands on it for decades (the longer the better, I’d rather have Mom around!) I resigned myself to buying my own pan and getting it seasoned and lovely on my own.
Cast-iron pans have an unfair reputation for being fussy. In reality, as anyone already on Team Cast Iron knows, they are durable, strong, inexpensive and practical. Mine gets used so often that we never put it away, it just lives on the stove (and after 20 years of use it’s almost as lovely as my mom’s). And yes, I wash it with soap!
Here’s how to fall in love with cast-iron frying pans.
Step 1: Buy
Look for a frying pan that’s about 11 inches (30 cm) in diameter and 2 inches (5 cm) deep. This size is particularly useful.
It’s not uncommon to find rusted, beaten-up cast-iron pans at thrift shops. Don’t be alarmed — almost all cast-iron pans can be brought back to life with a little elbow grease — and real grease. Just make sure it’s not actually cracked and that there isn’t too much pitting of the iron, then proceed to Step 2.
Companies like Lodge now sell pre-seasoned pans, which are fine, but they must be scrubbed vigorously with very hot water before use. Otherwise they will smoke and set off the smoke detector (I speak from experience!) You definitely want to add your own layers of seasoning as well, so move on to Step 3.
Step 2: Restore
Whether it’s your pan that hasn’t seen much action recently or one you pick up at a yard sale, you’ll want to scrub off all traces of rust on the inside, outside and handle with steel wool. Wash the pan with ordinary white vinegar, then wash it well with hot, soapy water. Proceed to Step 3 and season the pan several times before its first use.
Step 3: Season
Seasoning refers to the protective layer on the pan that is formed by repeatedly heating grease and oil on the surface of the pan. The seasoning prevents the pan from rusting and it creates a non-stick coating on the inside of the pan. Grandma’s gleaming cast-iron pan got that way from years and years of use.
Wash the pan well with hot soapy water. Contrary to popular myth, soap does not strip away the seasoning of a cast-iron pan. Once heated, the oils bond inseparably with the cast iron, so soap, hot water and a great scrubbing brush will only clean the pan (which is good).
Dry the pan well then place it over medium heat for a minute or two to dry completely. Add a small amount of neutral oil (such as canola) and rub it around the pan’s inside surfaces with a paper towel. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool, then rub it with a fresh piece of paper towel. It’s now ready to use.
Step 4: Use
The best way to strengthen a cast-iron pan is to use it — a lot. Every time you cook greasy foods like bacon, skin-on chicken and sausages in the pan you add another valuable layer of seasoning.
These days I use my pan for everything from pancakes to stir-fries, burgers to roast potatoes. I put it on the barbecue to cook steaks and in the oven to roast chickens. Recently I’ve started making this delicious deep-dish pizza, too.
Step 5: Maintain
After using the pan wash it well with hot soapy water and a scrubbing brush, then heat it to dry and wipe it with oil as in Step 3. Once it becomes deeply blackened and gleaming you can give up the oiling step.
Whatever you do, never soak the pan overnight (it will rust), and don’t neglect it — it wants to be used! Above all, never drop it on your tile floor or big toe. That’s the only surefire way to fall out of love with a cast-iron pan.
Easy Cast-Iron Pan Pizza
I often make my own pizza dough, but store-bought is totally fine too. It will be much easier to roll out when it’s at room temperature (if you have the time). On the same subject, I make so much pizza for my son that I started using store-bought pizza sauce, too. He loves it and it eliminates a big step. I often make this for him when I’m going out for dinner and a babysitter is en route.
1 tbsp canola oil
Half a 750-g ball refrigerated pizza dough
½ cup pizza sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Choice of toppings
Pour oil into a 11-inch wide, 2-inch deep cast-iron frying pan. Add dough and turn well to coat it completely in oil. Cover pan with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature at least 1 hour and as much as 8 hours.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Remove plastic wrap and use fingers to press dough so that it fills the pan in an even layer. Spread sauce over dough, then sprinkle with cheese. Add toppings as desired. Bake 12 to 15 min or until bottom of dough is deeply golden and cheese is bubbly. Let stand 5 min before serving.
TIP: Wax as poetic as you like with sauce and toppings here -- you're the Pizza Boss.
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