gastronaut 3, also 9/2004

Pan-demonium 2

Last week, I, the Gastronaut, berated the qualities of Teflon pans. I didn’t receive any angry e-mail, so either no one read it or no one objected. Either way, I realized shortly after deadline that I had left you, dear readers, hanging. So, now the cast iron tirade:
My cast iron pan is more than 80 years old. It belonged to my great grandmother, and so on down the line to me. It is one tough pan, but it needs a little tenderness. All cast iron needs a little tenderness. One must remember that cast iron is iron in a fairly unadulterated form, and thus is liable to oxidize. Some newer cast iron pans come with a rust preventing coating of some sort, but that tends to wear off. There are three ways to season a pan: The long way, the complicated way or the expensive way. So, in that order:

The long way: use it. The oils in your food will bind to the porous surface of the pan and over time you will develop a nice patina. This will take time, but that is why it is the long way.

The complicated way: this is the get-it-right-the-first-time method. Get some oil with a high ‘smoke-point’ (the point at which the oil begins to consume itself) so the following oils are absolutely out of the question: Olive oil of any type, butter and fish oil. I also do not recommend any solid state ‘hydrogenated’ vegetable oils (think Crisco) because they are liable to become solid state after the process is over, leaving this gooey disgusting fat deposit on the pan that is really hard to get off. I also discourage lard or any animal fat because it has a tendency to become rancid. So a good normal, blended vegetable oil will do fine. If it’s a new pan, scrub off the wax coating, if it’s an old pan, get some steel wool or a brillo pad and scrub the shit out of it. Dry it thoroughly. Spread an even coat of oil over the cooking surface with a paper towel. Turn the pan upside down on top of a sheet pan, or anything that will catch any excess oil that may drip and put it into your oven at 500 degrees for about 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let it sit for many hours until completely cool. Wipe the inside with a paper towel and you’re done.

The expensive way: Lodge, a cast iron manufacturer, now sells a line of ‘pre-seasoned pans.’ They cost about 20% more than a normal cast iron, but they save you most of the extra effort. I’ve used them, and they are nice. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully, lest ye screw up the patina and have to redo it yourself.

There are a few caveats. Post-seasoning, one must never use dish soap. Dish soap is a product designed to break down fat molecules from your plates, pots and pans. Since you just spent a lot of time adding a fat coating to your pan, taking it off chemically is one dumb fucking idea. Learn to clean the pan while it is still warm. Things will still stick once and a while, especially things like egg protein. The best abrasive to use, whilst maintaining your seasoning, is salt. If you let you patina deteriorate, or you find rust, just scrub it down and re-season. It’s as easy as that.

gastronaut 2- the first good column. originally published 9/2004

Gastronaut 2

Pan-demonium

There are two kinds of Reedie cooks: those who feed themselves, and those who cook. I am not writing to the cooks this week. This column is dedicated to those who care the least about their kitchens, who scrounge every meal, who own pans that couldn’t stop a robber. The cooks out there have thought twice about the equipment they use. I’d bet even money that there are some who are beginning their off-campus careers, and, two weeks into the semester, don’t have any pans yet. This is the official, no-holds-barred, anti-teflon tirade. I want to save ye non-cooks from a terrible mistake.

Allow me to craft a useful analogy. If Teflon were a rock-star it would be… Prince. Prince is talented, no one will deny that, but Prince is not perfect. He’s moody, egotistical, fragile, and only useful in certain situations: if you do not treat Prince correctly, he’s liable to flake (ask Sony). Without constant vigilance Prince is likely to lull you into a false sense of security, to convince you he’s just as good without The Revolution, to get you to trust him, that, because Purple Rain was good, Under the Cherry Moon will be fabulous.

Teflon is a wondrous product, but it is not for everything. If it were, you’d find it in commercial kitchens. Ostensibly, Teflon creates a non-stick surface that allows the cook to reduce the amount of oil, and therefore fat, used in the dish. The catch is that Teflon does not make a good pan on its own. Good pans need to be heavy and well built in order to correctly and efficiently distribute heat. Teflon is also a coating that can be easily scratched, weakened or destroyed. A thin pan is likely to have a thin coating, which is likely to flake off and end up in your food. Dupont insists that Teflon is safe, but… well, believe them if you wish. Teflon must be cleaned instantaneously after use, without soap or anything that may scratch the coating. Cooks might do that, but not everyone else. If you still want a Teflon pan, and you want a good one, expect to pay more than $50

The moral of the story is that Teflon is not the cure-all that many think. I recommend cast iron. Cast iron has its problems, but it is perfect for those who don’t take their culinary endeavors very seriously. You can clean the thing with steel wool if you want. Cast iron is intrinsically heavy (automatic heat distribution) tough, and it will never, ever, wear out. If cast iron were a rock star, it would be BB king. A good cast iron pan will be less than $20. Or, ask your grandmother. She has some she would be happy to give you. Besides, you need to call her anyway.

Since 2005, I must be confused.