Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Glory of Cast Iron; Hot Sauce Made at Home

I have recently had the opportunity to discuss the glories of cooking with Cast Iron with a number of serious cooks.  Not all of these folks are fans however.  And from what I am learning are pretty common reasons.  I heard repeatedly, “things will stick”; “you can’t cook everything in them”; “once they get messed up, they are done”, etc. I am here to tell you that all of those beliefs are false.  It just takes a bit of time and practice and care of the cast iron and they will become your favorite medium with which to cook.  So, let’s confront these fears one by one:

  1. Things will stick - actually if properly seasoned, nothing will stick if you follow a few simple basic cooking practices.  After a pan is well seasoned, it is necessary to use a bit of oil or fat - just a tiny bit  - to avoid any experience of “sticking”.  And let’s face it, some of what was sold to us in the latter half of the 20th century as “non - stick” was lethal!
  2. You can’t cook everything in them - OK, there is one caveat - cooking highly acidic foods - like slow cooking tomato sauce - is not recommended in cast iron. Other than that, feel free to try anything.  I regularly make scrambled eggs, omelets, frittata, vegetables, just about everything.  I also bake in my cast iron. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like a good steak of chop done in a searing hot cast iron pan.  
  3. Once they get messed up, they are done” - Nothing could be further from the truth.  We have purchased cast iron at flea markets and tag sales that have looked way beyond hope.  We use them regularly.  We have also been gifted with cast iron from friends’ relatives who have passed away.  Those mean more to us than we can say. Think of the food history in those pans. Unfortunately,  often they get packed away in a basement, sometimes get wet and end up rusted and sad. Bringing them back is totally possible!  If you get a chance, do it. 

OK - so what follows is a quick lesson in saving and maintaining Cast Iron that has worked in my kitchen.  Folks have different methods but the basics are generally the same. 
With poorly cared for cast iron, or if your own well cared for cast iron that starts behaving badly, here’s a tried and true technique.

  1. Rub the cast iron all over with a neutral oil and then add a half inch or so of the oil into the pan - if you are dealing with a griddle, get the oil as deep as you can.  
  2. Heat it on the stove top over medium heat and then put into the oven set on 250 degrees for an hour or so. 
  3. Let the pan cool in the oven and then wipe it out with a paper towel.  
  4. If the surface is not where you want it to be, repeat the first three steps.
  5. When you use the cast iron heat it before adding oil, butter and ingredients.
  6. After you cook, rinse it with very hot water.  If it needs to be scrubbed, use kosher salt on a paper towel - NEVER USE SOAP ON THE COOKING SURFACES OF CAST IRON! (did I make that clear?). If you cooked fish or seafood in the pan, instead of salt, use baking soda. 
  7. Dry the cast iron very well.  If your oven is warm put it in the oven to dry.
  8. You want the pan to have a nice smooth finish.  If it doesn’t, wipe it with a little oil after it has dried.
  9. You CAN use soap on the outside, non-cooking surface of cast iron if it gets really dirty but don’t make a habit of it and rinse and wipe it dry really well. 
  10. Get yourself into a schedule of re-seasoning your pans, especially if you don’t use them - or the ones that you don’t use - very often.  The trick is to USE them. They and you will be happy! 
See?  Not at all difficult.  Just a little time and attention is all that is needed. 
Please never look at a piece of cast iron as "shot" -  unless it is pitted. Unfortunately, that is hard to conquer and you will not be able to get a nice cooking surface.  Rust?  No problem.  Start with steel wool, get the rust off and start the seasoning process described above. 
Cast Iron is a wonderful thing for cooks to learn to love and use.  You are cooking through generations in many cases.  The price point of new cast iron is very reasonable and it is definitely something that you can pass from generation to generation. 

Why Use Cast Iron?

A Very Useful Reference Book
Recipe:  Making Hot Sauce at Home
Many of us like a little heat.  However, often, I prefer the heat with some flavor, too.  Many commercial hot sauces are just very hot peppers, vinegar and salt.  NOT that there’s anything wrong with that!  I want that hot sauce for a lot of things - oysters and pizza for sure. But when you want some flavor, making hot sauce at home will be a real treat for you.  And the best thing is, it is easy to do and just requires a little patience. 

Select one pound to one and a half pounds of fresh chilies.  I like to try different combinations.  I always use a few bell peppers for balance.  To this I add medium heat, like a Serrano, Fresno, or Jalapeno.  Then I add the serious heat:  just a couple of Habanero, or, as with my last batch, ghost peppers.  
1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 to 1 cup of minced onion
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 - 2 cups of distilled white vinegar

Pulse the peppers with the garlic, onions, and salt in a food processor  - for this stage you want the mixture to be a relatively coarse chop
Transfer the mixture into a large glass jar
Cover the jar loosely.  I use some cheesecloth over the opening, held in place with a rubber band.
Let the jar stand overnight at room temperature.
The next day, add the vinegar, stir the mixture and again, loosely cover.
Store at room temperature and away from direct light for at least 7 days - 10 maximum.
Pour the mixture into a blender (if you want a really smooth hot sauce, use a blender; use a food processor if you want some bits in the sauce. I highly recommend smooth).

Bottle the sauce and keep it refrigerated.  It is normal for the hot sauce to separate; just shake before using. I like to hold onto small bottles with good tight caps or corks to store my hot sauce.  Also, a small, labeled bottle of your sauce makes a great host gift for your heat loving friends.


Ready to Start the Process

Hot Sauce Bottling Time!

Il Moya Hot Sauce

No comments:

Post a Comment