July 22, 2002
Cast Iron Chef

So yesterday I got to try out my spiffy new Lodge 12" cast-iron skillet. For me, cooking has always been something you pulled out of a box and followed the directions to get. Hamburger helper was my original bachelor chow. After I discovered I was rooming with a person who was writing down everything I took out of the fridge, down to the last dollar, I would make a pot of this stuff and then hit the microwave with it for the rest of the week. I think I saw a look of severe concentration as this person tried to figure out a way to charge me for the electricity.

I'm a picky damned eater. Not as bad as my brother mind you (Mr. Biscuits and Gravy is a Food Group), but picky nonetheless. I'm especially not fond of seafood, bell peppers of any sort, mushrooms, or olives. Yeah, I'm a freak, but that's the way it is. Most of the cook books I pulled out always had recipes that seemed to include one or more of these items, and tended to start out with "remove your French curly double-bronzed copper broil pan from its protective leather case..." And they were boring.

But then I got I'm Just Here for the Food, by Alton Brown of Good Eats fame. Unlike other cookbooks, this one gives you entertaining examples of why foods turn out the way they do. In it, he introduces the most common forms of cooking: searing, boiling, baking, grilling, and others I can't remember right now. There are recipes, not many, but they all sounded interesting in a tasty way.

Like auto maintenance, having the right tools seems to be half the battle when it comes to cooking. In the back of the book is a helpful appendix called "necessary tools" (or something like that). #1 on the list of pots & pans was a 12" cast-iron skillet, according to Brown one of the most versatile things in anyone's kitchen. It took a long time to find, but eventually we acquired ourselves a 12" cast-iron skillet. And wouldn'cha know, it's even a Lodge, the same brand recommended in the book (oh god, I'm becoming a cook groupie).

Ellen did a Bad Thing the next day by going to work and leaving me at home by myself with my new cooking widget. I'd "seasoned" the thing the night before, and it was fairly speaking to me, "Scott... Scott... pay attention dammit, stop playing on the computer Scott... cook with me... it will be tasty... "

So I pawed through the book to find something to cook with my new pan. There's a whole chapter that involves meats and cast iron, called "searing". Sounds sizzley, but I got no steak or duck or tofu, and am pretty much without most of the spices and things in the recipes. But what I do got is hamburger. I got lots of that. So I read forward a bit about "grilling", which has a whole sidebar about burgers. The whole point is to improvise, so why not?

Now, it may have been that I was cleaning the oven at the time I was ginning up this plan, but it sure as hell seemed like a brilliant idea to me. So, here's what happened:

  • Retrieve rock-hard-frozen burger meat from fridge. Ponder "when holding hammer, everything looks like nail" saying while tapping it TOCKTOCKTOCKTOCK on countertop to frighten away feline vultures.
  • Book advises defrosting in fridge. At that rate burger will be ready some time tomorrow.
  • Stick burger in microwave, set on DEFROST, 7 minutes. Double-check DEFROST, because cooking frozen hamburger results in freakish Frankenstein-like meat cookie (black on the outside, frozen on the inside).
  • Wait 5 minutes, check burger. Transitioned from rock-like cat threatening tool to slightly softball-like stiffness. Replace burger, turning 1/4 turn because microwave is model God gave to Noah after ark came to rest on Ararat.
  • Remove half-thawed burger. Break off 1/4's worth by bending back and forth like old cardboard. Foil wrap large portion and replace in freezer along with other half dozen mysterious silver packages (label? What's the fun in that?)
  • Replace new 1/4 portion on plate being careful to watch for cross-contamination. Wash hands after linebacker-tackling long-haired feline vulture. Wash hands again after tackling second feline vulture for which the first was actually running interference for in classic feline double-pump-fake tactic. Place in microwave (burger, not cat) to finish thawing
  • Remove burger. Pick out bits that cooked anyway because we want to do this right for once.
  • Set stovetop burner on HIGH and place pan on burner. Set timer for 3 minutes, then re-set timer for 4 minutes because was once told by friend electric stoves suck and cannot heat cast iron.
  • Prepare hamburger patty by first sprinkling kosher salt, then drizzling with tiny bit of vegetable oil. Read instructions and note was supposed to drizzle (actually spritz, but wife had not returned with new spritz bottles yet) with oil and then put on salt. Realize that dabbling involved double-dipping into oil container from finger just touching raw meat. Imagine tiny e.coli colonies now doing hot salsa rumba inside oil container. Discard oil container (was nearly empty anyway).
  • Observe that friend was completely full of sh*t, electric stove quite merrily heating up cast iron pan. Note alarming discoloration in center of pan but remember that pan is 15, 20 lbs (nearly 8 kg) of same stuff they make redneck-brother engine blocks out of.
  • Turn on vent hood because book says "searing may make smoke".
  • Place patty on pan surface, set timer for 3 minutes. Note that "may make smoke" must be Alton-Brownspeak for "imitates Canadian forest fire". Patty quickly resembles outgassing comet on nearest pass to sun. Open windows to 95 degree heat before living room disappears in blue haze.
  • Frantically wave pillow at smoke alarm so as to prevent detonation of said item. Calm down after remembering enraged wife violently disemboweling said alarm with towel tip several months ago after it implied she may be wrong about broiling steak. Wife had replaced decapitated smoke alarm remains as head-on-pike-over-London-bridge-like warning to all other smoke alarms that We Do Not Tolerate Such Impudence.
  • Flip burger over at timer alarm sound. Watch as other side shoots smoke like trailer park firework stand after well aimed cigarette butt flick. Reset timer.
  • Look for burger buns. Note that buns, which reside at all times in back of refrigerator, have as with all suddenly needed items vanished into same space-time pocket that contains half of contents of sock drawer. Have really stupid idea. Pull out last four pieces of sandwich bread.
  • Remove admittedly tasty-looking burger patty from pan. Place on "resting rack" as advised in book. Attempt to implement Really Stupid Idea of toasting bread on iron pan.
  • Find out that while food + heat may = cooking, cast iron + dry bread = fire. Quickly remove torched remains and dump into kitchen sink.
  • Pat self on back for NASA-like ability to have backup plan and place patty on other non-carbonized bread slices. Add ketchup and slice of American "cheese food", grab beer & Pringles and sit down for late lunch.

And you know what, it was darned tasty! Next up, seared chicken...

Posted by scott at July 22, 2002 05:04 PM

eMail this entry!

My son the chef. I still hate iron skillets. Of course I also hate to cook, what a shame I don't hate to eat. LOL

Posted by: Pat Johnson on July 23, 2002 11:32 AM

Ok, I laughed out loud at "cast iron + dry bread = fire".

I find my cast iron DOES take a long time to heat up on my electric stove -- maybe you just have a non-ancient, super-fast stove. :)

Posted by: jessajune on August 1, 2002 12:01 PM

Don't know, the rest of our stove seems to have come over on the ark. After 3 minutes it's smoking a bit, and after 4 minutes the center of the pan changes color.

I also cleaned the oven that day. Before, preheat to 350 took ~ 15 minutes easy. Now it does it in 5.

What we're noticing about all our new cookware (we got an all-clad 3 qt saucier last weekend) is that it heats everything up much faster.

Next up: cast-iron dutch oven. DEEP FRY TIME!!!

Posted by: scott on August 1, 2002 12:16 PM

Go buy the T-Fal deep fryer or even the Fry Baby. The Fry Baby is just the right size for the two of you. I comes with a cover and you can leave the oil inside and reuse. No big mess. Of course it isn't as Yuppified, or is that term used any more. LOL

Posted by: Pat on August 1, 2002 01:08 PM

We can cook more different stuff in a dutch oven. We'll get a "real" fryer one of these days, but for now we need things to reduce our pot count. The saucier replaced 3 pots, the D.O. will probably replace 2 more.

Plus cast iron is cheap. Small D.O. is ~$25.

Posted by: scott on August 1, 2002 01:13 PM

Do you get the message I HATE the new format!

Posted by: Pat on August 24, 2002 03:50 AM

okay - searing is one way to cook the stuff. another is to cook it using lower heat. much juicier that way, if done right. basically, get yourself a 1.5 lb porterhouse (certified black angus), nice, thick, and well-marbled. warm it up to room temperature (never ever ever freeze it). once it is that warm, place it in the pan, crush some fresh black pepper on it, and then turn it on. medium low should do. then let it cook slowly. it won't dry out and should cook in roughly 5-7 minutes (for rare to medium rare). done correctly, you can cut the filet with a fork. and as amber can attest, they are incredible

Posted by: ron on June 3, 2003 07:34 PM

finally! someone who hates seafood, peppers, olives,and mushrooms as much as me and on top of that can cook (hamburgers anyway)...

Posted by: mel on July 19, 2003 04:28 PM

You wrote below about cooking a steak. What did you season the pan with? No oil or butter? Did you flip the steak? When? And are you talking about using a cast iron grille pan or a flat surface frypan?


okay - searing is one way to cook the stuff. another is to cook it using lower heat. much juicier that way, if done right. basically, get yourself a 1.5 lb porterhouse (certified black angus), nice, thick, and well-marbled. warm it up to room temperature (never ever ever freeze it). once it is that warm, place it in the pan, crush some fresh black pepper on it, and then turn it on. medium low should do. then let it cook slowly. it won't dry out and should cook in roughly 5-7 minutes (for rare to medium rare). done correctly, you can cut the filet with a fork. and as amber can attest, they are incredible

Posted by: NOLA on November 25, 2004 10:53 AM

...mmm there is nothing like cooking a 1.5 lb porterhouse the wrong way...

The ONLY way to enjoy a steak is to sear the outsides of it using high heat.

Ok, time to take a page from Alton Brown, my dear friend....

Use a cast iron skillet, and put it in the oven at 500 degrees for about 15 minutes. Remove the pan, using a towel or a strong hot pad *OUCH* and put it on your burner. Turn it on high heat and let it heat up even further for another 5 minutes.
It's going to smoke quite a bit, especially if it's a new pan, but do what you can to keep the smoke alarm from going off, your fire fighter efforts will pay off in the end.
Now, take your peice of meat, a steak for instance, and lube it up with a high smoke point oil, I use canola, it works wonderfully. Season with salt and a very little bit of black pepper, it tends to burn...avoid rubs, they will just burn on the outside of the steak and it wont sear...
Now, place the lubed up steak in the impossibly hot pan and...
Let it sit in there for about 20-60 seconds, if you touch it...you lose...you wont get a magnificent seared crust on the outside and your steak will greatly decrease in yummy nummy value.
Do this on both sides, then quickly throw it in an oven, I do 450 degrees, you can do 500 if you want.
Cook it for about 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 minutes and turn it, cooking an additional...
Now you will have a perfect, rare, to medium rare steak and it will be the juiciest, most succulent steak you'll ever eat...

Trust me kiddies...I'm an actual chef XD

Posted by: Diek on September 12, 2006 02:49 PM

Interesting! Will have to give that a try!

Posted by: Scott on September 12, 2006 03:09 PM

I've tried stove-to-oven broil once before, and the taste was not good.

It's easier for someone inexperienced as myself, to achieve more consistent results by keeping the steak on the grill.

1. Porterhouse, 1/2 inch to 1 inch, 40 mins to reach room temperature from fridge temperature.

2. Open windows, doors, etc. and turn the AC fan on. Without the AC fan circulating the blue smoke will just stay in the room. Auto/On: set to On. Cool/Off/Heat: set to Off. Next, turn the stove fan on.

3. Spray PAM grilling-model spray onto cast-iron pan. Pre-heat pan on stove.

4. Rub meat all over top, bottom, sides with the cut side of a garlic clove.

5. Rub extra virgin olive oil on both sides, then rub in fresh ground sea salt and fresh ground peppercorn onto both sides.

6. Turn temperature to proper searing temp. On my stove, anything higher than medium means ignition with olive oil... so I go with a notch or two below 6 o'clock. They are more powerful compared to 25 years ago. I can't imagine cooking at medium-high or high--those are just for warming up the burner faster.a

7. Sear the steak, flipping once, do not poke with a meat thermometer while it is searing.

8. Transfer steak into aluminum foil and fold up for around 5-6 minutes.

9. Turn stove off. Place pan on cool burner, retaining all juices.

10. While steak is in the aluminum foil, cut off a chunk of butter and put into pan. Add dried rosemary, minced garlic from the clove earlier, and cabernet sauvignon red wine. I do this until it is time to open up the foil and pour over the steak. I may need to turn the stove to low to maintain heat.

As far as cooking time, it took me 3 steaks to figure out the time per side before flipping, as well as the stove temp setting. I started with 2.5 minutes, but found there was too much black charring, so I decreased from there.

Posted by: Lee on October 14, 2006 06:48 PM
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