6 Things To Know When Cooking With Cast Iron

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Cast iron is once again gaining popularity in Indian kitchens owing to its purported health benefits and durability. But often, newbies find cooking and maintaining cast iron intimidating and give up after a while. To help such newbies, we asked a few veteran homemakers their best tips that you need to know when cooking with cast iron.

Heat retention

cooking with cast iron
vegetables sauteed in cast iron

Chefs love cast iron for its heat retention capacity. Cast iron cookware is comparatively thicker and retains heat much longer than any other material. This helps create a beautiful sear on everything you fry. Not just fried food, even curries benefit from being cooked in cast iron Kadai. Sridevi, a 45-year-old homemaker from Cochin suggests that fish and chicken cooked in cast iron Kadai retains their succulence much better. The cast iron also enhances the taste of spices, making it irresistibly yummy.

Cast Iron Is Not Non-stick

Dosa in cast iron Tawa

Often manufacturers say that cast iron when used over a period of time develops a non-stick surface. This is a bit misleading.

Malini, a cast iron enthusiast says, “No matter how long you use a cast iron cookware, it never becomes non-stick. Rather, it improves the stick resistance. Even then, you have to use a sufficient quantity of oil. Else, the food will get stuck on it.” Teflon coated nonstick cookware on the other hand releases food even when you don’t use any oil at all. You may also like to read our article on why dosa gets stuck to Tawa to explore further reasons why your Dosa doesn’t come out well on a cast iron Tawa.

Related reading: Cast Iron vs Stainless Steel Comparison

Cast Iron Doesn’t Conduct Heat Evenly

cooking with cast iron
Flour heated in cast iron Tawa. Centre gets brown, while edges are white.

This is something we have talked about in our article on best dosa Tawas. Cast iron does not conduct heat evenly. The centre is always hotter than the edges by around 40-60° C. This is why you need to preheat cast iron for at least 5-10 minutes before you start cooking as it helps reduce the temperature difference.

While making Dosa, apply some oil and heat the Tawa on a low flame for 5-10 minutes to ensure the Dosa doesn’t get burnt at the centre and uncooked along the edges. This also helps create a layer of seasoning that prevents Dosa from getting stuck to the Tawa.

Cooking Acidic Food

cooking with cast iron
Food cooked in cast iron pan

There are two schools of thought on cooking acidic food in cast iron. A few people say that cooking acidic food damages the seasoning and food will get stuck on it, and hence, it should be avoided.

However, as per research, moist acidic food absorbs more iron from the cast iron cookware, compared to others. Hence, to maximize the benefit of cooking in cast iron, occasionally cook tomato and tamarind based food in it.

Related reading: Common Cast Iron Problems and Their Solutions

Maintenance

Cast iron pan held with towel.

Cast iron rusts without proper seasoning or protection. That is not a fault of the brand or the particular piece you bought. To protect cast iron cookware, simply clean it after use and apply a thin layer of oil before keeping it away. If you do this for a few years, the cookware will develop a thick layer of seasoning and after a while, it won’t rust even if you don’t oil it.

To remove rust, you can scrub it with steel wool or use rock salt.

Storage

cooking with cast iron
Cast iron pans stacked one on top of the other.

Cast iron should be stored in a clean, dry area preferably away from the cabinet under the sink. Always, keep it on top of a thick cardboard sheet so that rust from it doesn’t discolour your cabinet shelf. If you are going away on a vacation, consider wrapping it in a cotton cloth, so that moisture doesn’t cause rust on its surface.

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