How to Care for Your Cast Iron Skillet (includes recipes)

Some of the best meals I've ever eaten were made by my grandmothers in their cast iron skillets. Tender, flaky catfish; finger-lickin' chicken; and mouth watering cornbread were the traditional scrumptious fare. Today, we have a new generation of cooks, and they are conjuring up all sorts of new and tempting recipes to cook in cast iron skillets that have either been handed down through generations, or picked up brand-spanking-new at the local Williams-Sonoma store. But before I share some of those unusual recipes with you, I would like to first educate you on how to care for your skillet.

First rule: Don't ever wash your cast iron skillet! Doesn't that just blow your mind? I was positive that my mother was slipping into early dementia when she told me that years ago. But I soon found out she knew what she was talking about, as always. Actually, you should wash your skillet the first time, but afterwards, put away the soap when it comes to cleaning your skillet. And never put it in the dishwasher.

If you have a used skillet that was handed down or picked up at a garage sale, you can clean the rust and crud off with a steel wool pad. Then wash it with mild soap and water, dry thoroughly, and prepare to season it as follows:

SEASONING YOUR SKILLET

What is seasoning? It's a process that you go through to "break in" your skillet, giving it a smooth, non-stick surface. And the more you cook in it, the better it becomes seasoned. You cannot overuse a cast iron skillet.

The seasoning process is applicable for both new and used skillets that you are breaking in. Generously grease the insides with shortening, oil or bacon grease, and heat in the oven for a couple of hours at 300 degrees. Allow it to cool completely, then drain off any excess grease, wipe completely dry with a paper towel and store. This procedure may need to be repeated a few times until your skillet has been completely broken in. And from time to time, you may still need to repeat seasoning sessions to maintain a good surface; especially if you cook acidic foods, like tomatoes, in it.

CLEANING YOUR SKILLET

Seasoned cast iron skillets can be cleaned up nicely with boiling water and a stiff-bristled brush. Brush the skillet vigorously with the brush, rinse it out with clean water, and completely dry it to prevent rust spots. Some people reheat the skillet again on the stove to make sure it is thoroughly dried. Remember, no soap and no dishwasher.

Another bonus when using cast iron cookware, is that it can also enhance the iron content of food. Scrambling eggs or simmering spaghetti sauce in an iron skillet can double or triple the iron absorbed in a meal. To this day, many doctors still recommend that a person with an iron deficiency have their food cooked in a cast iron pot or skillet.

RECIPES THAT YOU NEVER THOUGHT OF COOKING IN A CAST IRON SKILLET

Okay, here are some of those recipes I promised that you can stir up in your nicely broken in cast iron skillet:

CAST IRON GERMAN POTATO SALAD

4 slices bacon
1 medium red onion, diced
1 pound red potatoes, precooked and cut in half
3 tbsp. white vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Fry the slices of bacon in a cast iron skillet. When done, remove bacon with a slotted spoon and add onion to bacon drippings, cooking and stirring until onion is clear. Add potatoes and sear for 1 minute, cut side down, until brown and crisp. Remove from heat and pour the contents into a large mixing bowl, setting the skillet aside. Crumble the bacon and add to potatoes, along with the vinegar, salt and pepper, mixing thoroughly. Chill and serve.

MADIERA TUNA STEAKS

4 tuna steaks (3/4 to 1-inch thick)
1 cup orange juice
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
1/8 teaspoon onion salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup Madiera
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon horseradish or to taste

Marinate the tuna steaks in the orange juice for 3 hours or overnight, in the refrigerator.

When ready to cook, combine celery salt, onion salt, white pepper, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Remove the tuna steaks from the orange juice and dip in the flour mixture, lightly coating both sides.

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet on high and add the tuna, searing for one minute, before turning over and searing for another minute. Reduce heat to medium and cook for one extra minute, being careful not to overcook. Remove tuna steaks to a warming plate and reduce heat to medium-low.

Add soy sauce, Madiera, cream and horseradish to skillet and stirring until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat and pour sauce over tuna steaks. Serve immediately.

PINEAPPLE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

1 20 oz. can sliced pineapples in syrup
1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
10 maraschino cherries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or nut of your choice
1 16 oz. package pound cake mix

Drain the pineapple and reserve the syrup. In a 10" or 12" cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar to the butter and stir until dissolved, then remove from heat. Arrange the pineapple slices in the sugar mixture, placing a cherry in the center of each slice and sprinkling the chopped nuts in the remaining spaces. Prepare the cake mix according to the package directions, using the reserved pineapple syrup in place of milk. Pour the batter over the pineapple in the skillet and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then loosen the edges and invert onto a serving plate.

CAST IRON SKILLET CARROT CAKE

1 3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. grapeseed oil
1 egg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1 cup raisins

In a large bowl, beat the egg, then add the sugar and buttermilk, stirring together thoroughly. Then add the two kinds of flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt. Once these ingredients have been thoroughly blended, add grated carrots and raisins. Next, coat the insides of your cast iron skillet with the grapeseed oil and add cake mixture. Bake for approximately 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center. Cut into slices and serve warm.

BASURS ZALDA (GARLIC SOUP) OR MOSCOR ZALDA (DRUNKARD'S SOUP) (I don't know where this recipe originated from, but I have seen it on several sites and thought it was a hoot!)

2 tbsp. oil
3 eggs
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
Parsley
Dry French bread, broken into small chunks
Water

Coat bottom of cast iron frying pan with oil. Add garlic and brown gently. Next add the chunks of French bread, stirring to thoroughly coat with oil. Add enough water to cover the bread, and add parsley. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes, then add the eggs, which can either be stirred in or poached.

This soup is good for sinusitis, colds and hangovers. However, be a good neighbor and stand down wind from people.

Bon appetite!

Charlene Davis is an experienced and published freelance writer specializing in online auctions, business trends, marketing strategies, e-commerce, parenting, travel, spirituality, cooking and food. She has a popular recipe website (http://www.busymomsrecipes.com) for today's busy Christian women, that has been featured in Quick Cooking magazine.

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