Friday, January 28, 2011

Culebra Free Range Friday - From Here to There

First, if you have forgotten, the Sisters' Flea Market is today, in town at the corner by Hotel Puerto Rico. Get there early; this is a popular event and early is better. Double the pleasure, the veggie guy is going to set up there as well this morning, so you can have a one stop shopping experience, see your friends and neighbors, benefit the community via the Sisters' charity, and benefit yourself by reusing some great stuff (while getting first use on some great fruit and veg).

Ok, that's done. Uh, hey, wait, where'd you go??? Well, that's okay, because today's Free Range Friday covers something that has been around a long time...a few hours more won't hurt a thing. Yes, that subject you've been waiting for, a hot spot center of kitchen controversy for decades, the cast iron skillet. Ohhhhhhhhhh, I hear you sighing, FINALLY! Yes, I know.

If you like cooking at all, you have an opinion about cast iron. In fact, there are only two opinions about that weighty line of products. You either love it or you hate it. There's no wishy-washy "Oh, it's ok." or "Sure, I use it...sometimes." Even if you own it and don't use it, it's because you love it. Maybe you don't use it because it has gotten too heavy for your old(er) hands and arms. Um...that would be about the only reason...unless you left yours up North and it's too expensive to ship it all down here. Those are the only two reasons I've used and heard from die-hard fans.

Controversies about cast iron, you non-cooks are thinking? When the world is falling apart, this woman thinks there is something important about cookware? Well, hell yes I do! What is more important, when the world is falling apart, than enjoying how you cook, what you cook and eating it too? Better than having an ulcer, that's what I think.

Controversy #1 - Food sticks no matter how well you 'season' (we'll get to that) cast iron. DING, wrong, not true. If your food sticks in your cast iron, you didn't season it correctly, or you're not using it correctly, which is starting with a warm to hot pan/skillet versus cold. Yes, it's worth the whole minute or so spent heating it up.

One cleaning method, from Men In Aprons
Controversy #2 - Soap or no soap? No soap. Period. Ever, until you go to re-season the pan, which you should do if you find food sticking or any sort of dull sheen on your cast iron. No soap doesn't mean no cleaning!

There is a whole section on the Lodge cast ironware website about the use and car of cast iron that includes seasoning, washing, re-seasoning. In fact, pretty much anything you want to know about cast iron is on that website. I'm a big fan of Lodge cast ironware, the only one made in the US and the only kind I've ever had...until now (I'm getting there, hang on). Sorry, Karen, it's just one of those things. I've tried other kinds, but Lodge really DOESN'T stick, ever! Taken care of properly, it's smooth as a baby's bottom cooking surface is perfect, without machine ridges or warps. Yes, maybe it's a few bucks more - even though right now there are some great sales! - but this is a lifetime investment, like good knives. It's worth it. And that's how I feel about that!

Seasoning. No big deal! You can buy pre-seasoned cast iron ware. OR. Wash it well with soap and water (yes, you can use soap here), getting off any icky stuff. Dry it well. Coat it lightly with some vegetable oil. Put it in the oven for about an hour or so, around 250 (the Lodge site says higher, but that's the temp my Daddy taught me and I'm stickin' (or not, as the case may be) to it). Store in a well ventilated spot. Done. The deal with cast iron is, the more you use it, the better it gets. Sort of like...a lot of things. Advantage to user, you get better too.

The reason this even came up (since I've managed to live in the islands 17 years or so without any cast iron to my own name) is because I was recently given a cast iron skillet. Not a Lodge, which made me hesitate, but it was a challenge, so I took it. It had been passed on to the person who gave it to me, someone who never used it but hadn't gotten around to getting rid of it. It put it mildly, pretty disgusting. Obviously someone of the no soap / don't clean mentality owned this at one time. (Hey, pssssst! All that sticky, rough stuff you feel on the bottom and handle and inside? That's NOT cast iron, that's old GREASE and food...c'mon!! that's gross)

But #1...I was homesick for cast iron! Yes, it's heavy. No, it's not Lodge. And I might not keep it forever. But brings back a thousand memories for me of being cooked for, and learning to cook with my father, who taught me about seasoning, washing and drying cast iron. Something in that ritual of washing it and then drying it on the stove, taking a paper towel with the barest scrim of oil on it to wipe down the inside of the hot pan, letting it cool before putting it away...that's worth a lot. So, the other night, wrapped in nostolgia, I baptized my newly seasoned cast iron skillet with the only thing appropriate in the whole world. Bacon. Of course.

Buying cast iron: In my humble opinion, especially if you live in a more yard/estate sale friendly place (include craigslist in there...I'd love a really active craigslist...alas, ain't happenin' here), the best place to buy cast iron is at a yard sale, from an old woman preferably, who will tell you her cooking stories.

Usually that sort of cast iron is the best (because when she bought it, there wasn't a bunch of crap substituting properly made cast ironware on the market), it's been seasoned a hundred times, and...hey, some old women are just pretty cool to talk to at yard sales. But if you can't get that going on, I really do recommend Lodge (who isn't aware I'm promoting them and I'm not getting anything from them, but they  can send a #8 skillet to me anytime they like).
Do you think they will notice this?? I hope so! 

Now. Finish your morning abalutions, get thee to the flea market/veggie guy (in your head or on your feet) and think about how cool cast iron is.

Happy Friday!

p.s. This has nothing to do with cast iron. Really. I've been meaning to put this in for a bit...this is for Jeff's friends, to let them know he really does live here in this slightly crazy place and that he hangs (never very late) out at a great bar. Thanks for reading the blog! We're glad he's here.


  1. Ok, I always loved my cast iron pan. That is until pregnancy. The smell of my CLEAN pan made me sick to my stomach. Now I don't have to tell you that pregnancy was a long time ago but to this day I can't get beyond it. But, speaking of smell - I can smell that bacon! Yum.

  2. Lynn...that's weird. But I get it. I can almost smell that sort of i(r)onized smell.

    Luckily, bacon can be cooked in any kind of pan and smell great!