A skillet isn’t a term ordinarily used in English cuisine, but along with cups and sticks of butter, often appears in recipes from across the pond. Encouraged by a good friend to teach him some new cooking techniques, I ventured out and acquired this new piece of kit.
I have heard how real cast iron lasts a lifetime but since the cooking disasters of my youth, I’ve kept well away from lifting these weights. I was surprised how difficult proper cast iron was to find in the UAE, cast aluminium seemed widely available which looks like cast iron but is covered in a non-stick finish. I finally found the Lodge brand at Ace Hardware, Dubai Festival City and was surprised how reasonably price the range was.
Shockingly, one of the main benefits of using cast iron was actually about the detrimental affect that non-stick coated aluminium has on our health I feel I should have known this already. When overheated, the non-stick coating begins to break down at molecular level and releases toxic chemicals into our food as well as fumes that we inhale. These chemicals are allegedly linked to liver damage, cancer, developmental problems and early menopause. For this reason alone, cast iron seems certainly worth it weight.
Cast iron, if properly cared for and seasoned, can be virtually non-stick, which means using less oil compared to stainless steel. Following manufacturer’s instructions I washed the pan in detergent, dried it thoroughly and rubbed sunflower oil into the metal before storing. It took just a few minutes. There is plenty of alternative advice online, some say to reheat the pan before applying the oil. Others say heat up oil and then add salt to create a solid non-stick coating. One article advised never to use detergent, and that applying additional oil, then wiping off the residue food, keeps the skillet well seasoned. I am happy with Lodge’s instructions.
An additional benefit to using cast iron is that it actually releases iron into the food. This is great for me as an ex-anaemic and, in general, iron deficiency in women is quite common worldwide. I also read that tomato-based sauces increase the amount of iron released into the food, funnily enough they also help our bodies absorb and use iron more effectively due to the high levels of vitamin c in tomatoes. I seem to have been living in a cave for too long!
I decided to try out the skillet with a chicken curry. While I left it on the flame for a little while to get hot, it maintained the heat well and browned both the vegetables and chicken very nicely and without sticking. I tend to find both meat and vegetables tend to release moisture quicker than what the pan can reduce in liquid. Once the liquid reduces, the vegetables end up a little soggy compared to how a restaurant would make the same dish. When using this skillet, the vegetables were cooked but still firm, combined with the attractiveness of the browning, it certainly looked much more professionally prepared than usual. Without a soggy vegetable in sight, the curry was very enthusiastically consumed. After dinner, the pan was very easy to clean, dry and season.
For me, the benefits of cast iron far exceed the weight and care issues associated with it. The health concerns surrounding non-stick aluminium are very controversial, other than being lightweight I cannot think of any reason to continue using my old Teflon coated cookware. I was very impressed by the final result of the dish and think with a little more practice I might now actually be close to achieving restaurant quality results from my cooking. That alone is certainly worth investing into more from the range. The next dish? Well, that has to be a classic Mexican beef fajitas.
Lodge Cast Iron 12 inch Skillet (L10SK3) was purchased from Ace Hardware in Dubai for 149 AED.