We deviate slightly from this blog’s travel mission to deliver an essential message for home:
Cast-iron pans are cheap, sturdy, non-stick, and incredibly easy to care for.
I have to say it, because people seem to have the wrong idea about cast iron–that it’s somehow a finicky, fragile thing that needs special care. And this idea was broadcast nationwide last night in an episode of “Selected Shorts,” when someone read Marc Maron’s essay about his cast-iron pan.
In the essay, which was first published in Lucky Peach, Maron talks about buying a cast-iron pan at a yard sale and becoming obsessed with preserving the seasoning. He barely cooks in it (there’s your problem right there, bub), and instead spends all his time coating it with lard and so on. He eventually has a bit of a breakdown, strips the seasoning with oven cleaner, and starts fresh, and has more of a breakdown, and then I couldn’t really hear because I was shouting too much.
I know–the cast-iron pan is a metaphor for Maron’s psyche. It’s not really about how to care for a skillet; it’s about how to care for yourself. And it didn’t even bother me much when I first read it in Lucky Peach, because I figured LP readers knew the practicalities of cast-iron pan care already.
But now, here’s Marc Maron on a nationally syndicated radio show, essentially giving the whole country a quickie lesson in how to care for your cast-iron skillet.
Or HOW NOT TO. With all his fretting, he set back the cause of cast iron 20 years!
Dude, first: the whole thing about no soap? It’s no big deal. Cast iron that’s well seasoned–like the pan you bought from the hipster at the yard sale–can handle a little soap. The seasoning is not going to evaporate when touched with soap. (That’s why you needed to resort to oven cleaner–insanely toxic oven cleaner, on a thing you’ll eat out of?!–to strip it off.) When I’m doing the dishes, I usually wash our skillets last, with the regular kitchen sponge–sometimes it still has some soap in it, sometimes it doesn’t.
Actually, it’s water that’s not great for the skillet. Sometimes I let the skillet soak a little, if there is something crusty on it, but this, in the long run, will do in the seasoning and dull the pan. But once, for an hour, to loosen up some scrambled eggs, will not hurt the pan noticeably.
Post-washing: dry the pan immediately. Shake the excess water off, and then set the pan on a low burner to dry. (You could of course dry it with a towel, but then your towel would get a bit greasy.)
Next up, Marc Maron: the thing about coating the pan with oil and letting the oil bake on. Yes, that’s lovely, but you only have to season the pan when it’s messed up–like, when you get one from a yard sale, and it’s all dull and maybe a little rusty. Do the oil-coating treatment once or twice, cook a couple things, and then you’re good to go.
The best thing to do for your cast-iron skillet is to cook bacon in it. When you’re done cooking the bacon, wipe out the grease with a paper towel, with a little extra friction on the stuck-on bits, and your pan will look great. Next time you pre-heat it, the last bit of bacon fat will cook in to even more seasoning. If you don’t do bacon, do something else fatty. Eventually, the seasoning will naturally build up.
Peter and I own four cast-iron skillets and one Dutch oven. We have so many because they’re like puppies–you see a cute one at a store, and you just want to give it a loving home. Plus, hey, they’re useful–you can fry things, you can deep-fry things, and you can bake pies and biscuits in them. You can fry eggs in them. Truly they’re wondrous.
And I do love cast iron for the same reason Marc Maron says he does: this object has lasted potentially a hundred or more years. It’s a connection to tradition, the past, etc. The beauty of that is that these mothers are tough.
And, just as important, they can change. Sometimes your skillet looks beautiful and shiny, and your eggs practically flip themselves. Sometimes you cooked with too much wine (acid eats away at the seasoning), and your skillet gets dull. Sometimes you forget to turn the burner off after it’s dry, and your skillet gets smoking mad. But–and listen here, Marc Maron–the skillet is resilient. It can handle bad stuff, and eventually be fine again–even better. It doesn’t need babying–it just needs to keep going, to be cooked in, to be loved.