Should you use cast iron cookware?
Cast iron cookware is heavy, lasts for years and has great cooking properties. Cast iron cookware heats up evenly all over so you can be sure of food being evenly cooked. It warms slowly in the oven and is perfect of dishes that need to cook slowly for a long time. Since it also cools equally slowly, food left in the cookware will stay hot for a considerable period of time, thereby saving on the hassle of reheating. Since reheating food leads to a loss of its nutritional benefits, this also means you are eating healthier.
The other advantage of cast iron cookware is that it is versatile. It can be used for stewing, roasting, pan frying and deep frying. It can be used on a stove or in an oven and is also great for outdoor cooking. Some of the well known brands of cast iron cookware are All-Clad, Lodge, John Wright, Le Creuset and Wagner, to name a few. Among the types of cookware available are pots, pans, muffin pans, Dutch ovens, bread pans and griddles that fit over the burner of a stove.
One problem with cast iron is that it is heavy to lift and may pose problems for the physically frail or those with physical disabilities. Even though manufacturers understand this and design the cookware with handles and grips for two handed lifting, it is always better to heft a piece and see if you are comfortable with the weight before buying it. Keep in mind that the food being cooked will add to the weight.
The two types of cast iron cookware
There are two types of cast iron cookware:
1. Enameled cast iron cookware has a coating of porcelain enamel which provides a non stick surface which makes it easier to clean, resistant to rust and reduces the possibility of it reacting with food during the cooking process. If you have been advised to reduce the amount of iron in your diet, this is the best option for you. Being non stick means that it is possible to reduce the amount of oil used in cooking, which is another health benefit. Also, enameled cast iron cookware does not have to be seasoned like bare cast iron cookware, as we will see below.
2. Bare cast iron cookware does not have the enamel coating on it and so is cheaper. It also has the advantage of leaching some of the iron into the food during the cooking process. This is dietary iron and adds to the nutritional value of food. This is advantageous for those with iron deficiencies and who need to increase the iron in their diets.
However, bare cast iron cookware requires more care than the enameled version. This basically means that a new utensil will have to be seasoned before it is used. Seasoning is the process by which a coating of oil is bonded to the metal surface to prevent rusting and provide a stick resistant surface to the cookware. This is not as complicated as it sounds and can be done quickly and easily in the kitchen. The cookware must first be thoroughly washed and dried. Next a coating of vegetable oil or animal fat is applied to the cooking surface. The oils and fats normally used, mainly those which are high in saturated fats and are thus less likely to become rancid. These include palm or coconut oils, hydrogenated cooking oils like Cisco and lard. Once the oil is applied the cookware is heated to allow the oil to bond with the metal.
Bare cast iron cookware maybe pre-seasoned, in which case no further seasoning is required. A lot of non seasoned bare cast iron cookware is sold with a protective coating. This needs to be removed before any seasoning can be done. The best method of doing this is to use a scouring pad and rub the surface of the metal until the coating is removed and the bare metal exposed.
Since normal cookware cleaning techniques like washing it in a dishwasher will remove the seasoning from bare cast iron cookware, hand washing is the best way to clean these utensils. Simply wash the cookware in warm soapy water and immediately hand dry it. Then, while it is still warm, apply a light coating of oil to the surface and it is ready for the next use.