Thursday, 12 July 2012

Seasoning for Your Staples

Today we are going to talk about seasoning-not your food, but your cookware. Specifically we are going to talk about a cast iron pan and a mortar and pestle. Neither of these items get “washed”, you want to keep the flavour in them, so no soap EVER! After the time it took to season this pan today, I pity the poor bastard who tries to help out by pouring some Dawn into it.

            Seasoning your cast iron cookware is not for the faint of heart, so we’ll get to that second. First, we’ll deal with the mortar and pestle. (What the hell is that, you ask? Here’s the answer: These are used for grinding whole spices, mixing pastes, and all sorts of culinary wizardry that makes you look like an Iron Chef. I promise, whip one of these out when you’re making someone’s dinner and an engagement is only a month or two away. They do enhance the flavour of food because freshly ground spices always taste “bigger”, but mostly it just looks very cool to be grinding things up. As my very wise mother says, “It’s all smoke and mirrors, baby.” She’s right about that!

I learned how to season my mortar and pestle from Jamie Oliver (who is just a delight of a human, don’t you think?). When you take it out of the box, or the bag, or whatever, DO wash it with soap and water. God only knows who has manhandled it previously. Once it’s clean and very dry, pour in a little olive oil, a bit of rice, a few whole peppercorns and some coarse salt into the mortar part (that’s the bowl one). Using the pestle (that would be your stick part) grind all of that into a nice paste. Be sure to get every bit of the mortar covered. Take a paper towel and scoop all that out. Now cut a clove of garlic in half and rub it all into the bowl and end of the pestle. Wipe again with paper towel. Give it a quick rise under running water and then dry. That’s it! Now you can grind to your heart’s delight.

Let’s move on to the cast iron cookware. I’ve been excited to have a cast iron pan my whole life. It’s heavy, high-maintenance and so very retro. The implementation of Teflon, ceramic and stainless steel pushed the cast iron pan into the back of the cupboard, but nothing beats the flavour of food that’s cooked in it.

As I said, this is not for the faint of heart, since I nearly burned the house down in my attempt. Maybe I struggled particularly because earlier today I washed my car and that, frankly, was a much bigger pain in the ass.  But the effort did exhaust me and clearly I wasn’t totally on my game.

I’m sure you will not have nearly as much trouble as I did, because I have faith that you will have the sense not to open the oven door whilst cooking bacon lard into the pan at high heat. If you, in fact, do not have the sense not to do that, as I did not, then I am going to tell you right now- do not open the oven door. Turn on the exhaust fan. I have never given better advice in my life.

I’ll get to the point now. There are several steps involved in this task, and it will take at least an hour to do. Set an afternoon aside for this and you might as well drink ales while you’re at it. First things first, wash the pan. Mine came pre-seasoned, so hypothetically I didn’t have to season it. But I am a control freak, not to mention how much I enjoy an experiment, so I wanted to do it myself anyway. 

After you wash the pan, you want to make sure it’s very dry. Pop it in your hot oven for a few minutes, or leave it for a good bit of time to ensure its dryness. The reason for this is that next step is to coat it in oil, and if you do this with moisture it won’t have the same effect. Use olive oil, Crisco, lard or bacon fat (this is what I used because I always have some in my freezer) to coat the entire pan, front and back. Place this upside down in your oven (but first put some tinfoil underneath to protect the oven) at high heat. I set mine to 450°. Let it cook in for an hour. This is that part where you want to avoid opening the oven door. I opened mine and a huge waft of smoke came out. This set off the fire alarm, which then upset the dog. I turned on the fan and opened the back door, but that wasn’t enough and I had to get a towel to fan the smoke alarm. The whole scenario was highly annoying and also let 52 flies in the house. Had I not opened the oven door, I wouldn’t be swatting at flies this very moment.

After the hour, there may be smoke if you open the door right away. It is my suggestion to turn the oven off and let it cool down for a few minutes before you go in for the pan. Once your pan is seasoned, you definitely do not want to wash it, unless you like heating up your house for hours. Instead of soap, wipe your pan as clean as you can. To disinfect it, fill it up with water and bring it to a boil for ten minutes. That is all you need to do! To maintain the seasoning, after each “wash”, coat it with a little more oil or lard, put it on the stovetop and heat it until it starts to smoke. Then turn the heat off. (Turn the heat off right away or you'll be in the same smoke predicament) After this, you can see why people are so fanatical about their cast iron cookware. I certainly will be- and I will definitely share the recipe of the first thing I make in this pan!

Author’s note: There are no pretty pictures of this process today because it was far too much to try to get Instagram up and running while the dog panicked and I swatted flies. If you want illustrations, go here:

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