Food journal number 42: Meet our cast iron pan
The Swedish company Skeppshult makes fine bicycles, but they also make top-quality cast iron pans. Guess which one we bought?
Now, I don't complain over nice new Teflon pots and pans. The problem is that they're only nice and new for a few years. At one point, for one reason or another – vigorous scrubbing, too much heat on an empty pan, etc. – the supposedly non-stick Teflon rubs away and start sticking to your meals. I'm sure you know those little black flecks all too well, or at least, recognize what I mean when you see those silver streaks in your pan. Or then again maybe you don't know know what the heck I mean because you don't cook. :-) Then you'd have to take my word for it that it happens, and it's the reason we retired our old Teflon pan.
On the other hand, cast iron pans don't only last a year or two –not even for just a few decades – but literally for more than a lifetime, which, even if we're talking about Swedish life expectancy, is more than 83 years. Cast iron ware are pricey in comparison, considering that you can probably buy two or three nice Teflon pans for the price of a cast iron one, but since you never ever need to throw this one away, you wonder if it's really worth it to buy the numerous disposables. Cast iron cookware will literally outlive you and your descendants, and in the Pot-and-Pan world, this means they deserve respect and have real kitchen cred. With that weight, it even doubles as a self-defense weapon!
Merely a matter of days after buying our Skeppshult pan, I've turned into a cast iron convert. It cooks eggs well (they never stick!), it makes perfect medium-rare steaks (red center = delicious!), and it even makes perfect pancakes that are easy to flip. In fact, I'm so sold on the gospel of cast iron ware that I want my ideal kitchen equipped with cast iron pans and casseroles of different sizes, and I wouldn't care if I had to lug those heavy things around the kitchen whenever I cook.
You'd think that for something so long-lasting, cast iron pans need special care. Surprisingly, these hardy things need very little. Too little, people may argue. For one thing, you don't wash it with detergent. That will ruin the "seasoning," or oily layer that makes your cast iron ware non-stick. To clean the pan, you only need a good dish brush (a nylon brush or a plastic scouring pad, but never ever iron wool!), hot water, and oil to coat the pan again after it has dried but is still warm. Secondly, there are almost no restrictions for what you can cook in cast iron ware, the only no-no being acidic foods that can damage the seasoning, such as beans, tomatoes, vinegar, sauerkraut and the like. Don't despair if you ever cook these things from time to time, though. Then you can either re-season the pan again (Google "cast iron pan seasoning") or – as a much easier option recommended by Skeppshult's care guide – fry sausages as a way of re-oiling the pan. I like.
Our first ever meal cooked on our Skeppshult pan was tortang talong, a Filipino comfort food. Wikipedia tells me that "torta" are actually Mexican sandwiches, but in Mexico city they can refer to fried egg-and-meat mixtures, which are just what the Filipino tortang talong are. Basically, it's a meat omelette fused on a bed of eggplant. I've spent all my years in Sweden experimenting how I can make good tortang talong out of large aubergines. Eggplants in the Philippines are commonly long, slender and soft, but the ones available here are thick, dense, and never seem to get cooked even well after the omelette is done. After experimenting on whether I should roast the aubergines whole or in slices, or boil them whole or in slices, if I should salt them or drain them after boiling and other permutations of the above, I think I finally got the perfect technique. Maybe it also has something to do with the pan ;-)
about 150-200g ground meat (we use blandfärs, half pork and half meat), precooked
3-4 eggs, depending on the size
some corn starch
salt and pepper
1. Cut the aubergine into slices (about 4 or 5, depending on the thickness of your eggplant), cut of the round parts a bit so that the slices all turn out flat. Boil in water until soft, drain in a colander and lay them on paper towels. Salt them and pat dry.
2. When the eggplants are cooked, you can start heating your pan on the stove. Cover the pan with a generous amount of oil. In a bowl, beat the eggs and cornstarch together. I don't think my mom has cornstarch in her version of the torta, but I find that it helps keep the egg running down the eggplant into a pool on my pan. I've also eventually made successful torta without it though, so I guess it's up to preference. Lastly, add the pre-cooked ground meat to the egg mixture.
3. Carefully spoon the egg mixture on the aubergine slices until these are covered, and then lay the aubergine (omelette side down) on the hot pan with hot oil. Tuck any runny egg mixture back to the side of the aubergine with a spatula. When cooked, turn over. Serve with rice and ketchup, preferably hot ketchup like Heinz chili sauce. It's the best alternative to the classic sauce for this dish: the Filipino sweet-and-hot banana ketchup. Yes, you read that right: ketchup made of bananas!
This article has been linked in Cooking in Cast Iron, a website promoting the use of cast iron ware. There you can read about cast iron tips, the benefits of cooking in cast iron, and pictures and recipes from cast-iron lovers around the world. Really inspirational, check it out!