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What is cast iron?
Cast iron is a metal compound comprised of melting of pig iron with iron, carbon, limestone while adding sulphur or phosphorous to it while it is being smelted together. The heat helps to burn off the sulphur or phosphorous but the chemical composition has been changed to make the pig iron into cast iron. Cast iron is often fired in an oven called a cupola or in an electric induction furnace then the iron is poured into what is called a ladle.
Cast iron was also used for other purposes as well. It was used for ploughshares, weapons, pagodas. It was so versatile and cheaper to make than bronze that it became popular for a large variety of items. Toward the beginning of the Iron Age, Henry VIII ordered his iron workers to make cannons to be placed on the Imperial Navy, this gave the English a decided advantage over their adversaries because the English cannons could handle charges that were heavier and cheaper to make than their opponents could. They were able to inflict more damage in a shorter amount of time giving them a decided edge in battle.
When Cast Iron Cookware became Popular
Cast iron cookware became popular at the beginning of the 18th century, when Abraham Darby found a method where he could cast pots thinner than any of his competitors. His pots came in a variety of sizes from the small pot that we now call a sauce pan up to a cauldron but the most popular was the tri-legged pot that could either be suspended from the hearth or could be placed directly on the fire. The pot was often left there suspended to let the meal simmer to allow the ingredients to blend together mostly into a stew. This allowed for ease of use when it was pulled from the fire to serve the meal. One item that made it very easy to pull pots and cauldrons from the fire was the use of the iron hook. There was also the shovel designed for the fireplace(hearth) and the poker used the move the logs around to keep the fire burning at a specific height or to dampen the fire for the night or when leaving the house for the day.
Advantages of Cast Iron Cookware
Some of the advantages of cast iron cookware is its ability to heat evenly throughout the entire pot, pan or oven.The American Dietic Association has done some research on the use of cast iron cookware and found that for those people who suffer from iron defiency that cast iron cookware was beneficial to them since iron was leached from the pot and cooked into the food. This lead to the introduction of the “iron fish” that were placed either in tea kettles or into cooking pots to increase the amount of iron that was absorbed into the food.They also found that those people who suffered from too much iron in their blood should avoid the use of cast iron cookware.
Seasoning Your Cast Iron Cookware
Before you begin to use your cast iron cookware, there is one step that you ABSOLUTELY do. You must season your cookware before you use it. To SEASON your cookware you must coat the inside of your cookware with vegetable oil or animal fat(lard) then cook your cookware. Let your cookware cool then, wash your cookware with HOT water and a strong detergent to clean all of the seasoning oil off the surface. Once you have done this, you must dry the inside of the cookware. Once again, apply a light coating of vegetable oil to the inside of the cookware and place in the oven with the open side up. Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 30 minutes for the seasoning to occur. This makes your cookware nonstick and helps to retard rust from occurring. Some of cast iron pots and pans come already seasoned. Always check to see what the manufacturers warranty states. DO NOT DO ANYTHING THAT VOIDS THE MANUFACTURERS WARRANTY.
Some the More Popular Cookware Pieces and Companies
These are some of the most popular cast iron cookware pieces that I have found: skillet, dutch oven, griddle, grill. These all come in a variety of sizes and colors. My personal favorites are the griddle and the medium pan with lid. I find that for 2 people these are the best sizes to use. Some companies that supply cast iron cookware are as follows: Lodge, Griswold, Vollrath, Wagner Ware, Favorite, Atlanta, Stove Works, Wapak, Le Creuset. Some of these are also made with an enamel coating.
Here are a couple of recipes that I have already used.
Pork Chops serves 4
4 center cut pork chops (bone-in)
1 small green or red sweet pepper
1 small onion cut lengthwise
6 potatoes diced
salt and pepper to taste
Old Bay Seasoning
10 inch cast iron pan with lid(10 skillet)
heat your pan for about 10 minutes on the grill (roughly 275 degrees F)
coat the pork chops with the Old Bay Seasoning
pour enough vegetable oil in your pan to coat the bottom and allow it to heat completely
sear 2 pork chops on both sides setting them aside in the lid to keep warm
sear the other 2 pork chops setting aside
place your potatoes and vegetables in the bottom of the pan
salt and pepper to taste
place your pork chops on top of the vegetables and pour chicken stock in(3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup) no more than 1/4 cup or you will have boiled potatoes not steamed. Cover pot with lid.
Place on direct heat for about 45 minutes then check doneness of potatoes
if the potatoes are not done place on indirect heat for about 15 minutes.