We rang in the new year with our traditional hoopla of pot-banging! The heavy cast-iron set the bass notes of the kitchen symphony while excited voices chimed, “Happy New Year!”
Besides being an instrument, our cookware is an essential part of the kitchen.
Unknowingly, the choice of cookware relates to our health for better or worse.
Here's a true story that helps us to make the right choice for healthy cooking.
The kitchen filled with acrid smoke and fumes of melted coating within minutes of plugging in the old non-stick electric frying pan. The once easy-clean Dutch oven had only served as a tortilla warmer in recent months since the scratched bottom was no longer safe to cook food on.
The choking incident was a blessing in disguise since my husband had just wished for a new Teflon Skillet for frying his eggs. The fuming, aged frying pan was proof enough that the disintegrated man-made cooking surface was only going to serve up toxic cuisine. Talking him out of a non-stick pan and into a cast-iron type was easy at this point.
He is now happy to prepare breakfast with cast iron cookware and healthy saturated fat. His initial complaint about these “black beauties” was the laborious cleanup. However after demonstrating my brief soak and scrape technique, he realized how easy the task was. You can find all kinds of information about cast-iron including seasoning on the Cast Iron Collector Forum and in fact cast-iron is recommended by the Environmental Working Group and the Nutritional Therapy Association since the new chemicals used in today's non-stick cookware are still a bit of a mystery.
Contrary to recipe instructions about the acceptable heated use of flaxseed oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, sesame oil, and other vegetable oils which are all unsaturated; these are NOT desirable oils for frying. Without letting the discussion stray into science-nerd territory, just say that unsaturated fat is more reactive than the stable saturated fat especially when heated. If we use high heat with vegetable oils the potential of creating damaging free radicals is greater than if we use something like lovely saturated coconut oil. Let’s keep unsaturated oils for use away from heat in salad dressings or added to stir fried recipes at the end of your cooking. Please promise NEVER to use flaxseed oil close to any heat or cook pots even if the manufacturer says its ok. The science tells us that flaxseed oil is very delicate and should only be bought in small quantities, kept in the fridge, kept with the lid on to avoid oxidation, and not kept for long term storage once open.
While shedding a little more light on the oil biochemistry, here are a few tips for cast-iron cookware owners:
1. Use saturated fat for frying because it’s a very heat stable molecule that is less likely to change structure under high temperatures. Examples of these oils are: unrefined coconut oil which is especially great for Vegan and Vegetarian diets, as well as lard, tallow and schmaltz for omnivores.
2. Pre-heat pan on mediumand cook on same temperature so foods won't stick as much.
3. Clean up pan by letting it cool down on its own (don't douse with water while it's sizzling hot!)
Often when the frying pan reaches room temperature the remnants simply scrape off with a flat utensil such as an egg lifter. Sticky food may require a brief soaking with a little boiled water and only a drop of dish soap. After soaking, drain out water and use rough side of sponge scrubber or flat edge of scraper. Dry pan right away and do not leave it to drip-dry. By the way, cast-iron never goes in the dishwasher!
4. Season the pan by rubbing in coconut oil or other saturated fat and store dust free with a round of parchment paper in the bottom.