October 23, 2014
The Incredible Hulk of Kitchen Equipment
When outfitting my kitchen, I’m a big proponent of picking tools and equipment that combine two ever-important qualities: cheapness and usefulness. Don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty awesome things you can buy that do a damn good job of helping you cook like a man. HOWEVER, especially when just starting out as a new chef, there’s absolutely no need to get the flashy stuff. In my opinion, there’s nothing out there cheaper and more useful than a cast iron skillet.
If you haven’t already, you should watch my video on how to sear (shameless plug!). That’ll explain in greater detail, but a critical step to achieve the best taste and texture is to sear the outside of meats and proteins. To do this, you need to get your cooking surface hot. Really hot. Many pots and pans, particularly the non-stick kind cannot handle the really high heats. Cast iron is the complete opposite. You can throw everything you can at cast iron – from high heat on your big burner to directly on your charcoal grill. No matter what, your cast iron will just stare you back in the face and say “That all you got?!”
Ever wonder why high end steak restaurants serve your meal on a plate that’s hotter than molten lava? The reason is that it’s finishing the sear, helping the beef develop that crunchy outer texture. More than likely, back in the kitchen, celebrity chef and dreamboat Tom Colicchio had that steak on a cast iron skillet. I use mine all the time, from steaks to pork tenderloin to braising short ribs. If you don’t own one, then you need to drop your computer right now and go pick one up.
One thing you should know is it takes a while for cast iron to get hot. You’ll know why once you hold one in your hand. It’s big, dense, and heavy. Say, for instance, you’re looking to develop a nice brown crust on a ribeye. To accomplish that textural wonderment, set your cast iron skillet on your stovetop burner cranked to high. Let it sit for a good five minutes. Then and only then, get ready for some smoke and add your steak to the pan.
If and when you purchase cast iron cookware, you need to learn how to care for it. Here’s a couple things to keep in mind.
- Never clean cast iron with soap – Cast iron cookware is treated in a process called “seasoning” in which the surface is coated in oil and then heated to a very high temperature. By doing so, it helps ensure that the cast iron remains non-stick. If you clean the cast iron with soap, it breaks down that seasoning and can ruin the pan. It seems really weird and contradictory, but only clean the cast iron with hot water.
- Always dry it with a towel after cleaning – One problem with cast iron is that it can rust. I’m super lazy about letting my cookware pile up in the drying rack next to the sink. There’s nothing wrong with that unless that drying rack is filled with cast iron. When water sits on cast iron for an extended period of time, the pan will rust, which is bad.
- Reinforce the seasoning with light coating of olive oil – As I mentioned earlier, that process of seasoning helps keep the cooking surface nice and slick. One way to ensure that it stays that way is after cleaning, take a dab of cheap olive oil in a paper towel and wipe it across the inside of the pan. That thin layer of fat does the trick to keep your cast iron in great condition.