Cast iron cooking

I grew up with cast iron–and I still love it. I have some enamel cast iron cookware (Le Creuset), but I also use the plain black cast iron stuff that is a workhorse in the kitchen, for example, my griddleLodge is a readily available brand., likely even at your local hardware store.

Plain black cast iron is a great way to add some useful items to your batterie de cuisine inexpensively.  Sure, it does have some limitations, but lots of advantages, too. Sure, Le Cruset enameled cast iron is wonderful, colorful, but not an inexpensive way to get the advantages in your kitchen (and it also has some disadvantages).  One thing about cast iron: it is heavy! Seriously heavy–that’s part of what makes it desirable, but can make it difficult to handle; skillet-shaped pans can with dual handles rather than the long handle of the skillet can be a good idea if you are concerned about the weight.

 

There seem to be some misconceptions and myths surrounding this versatile cookware. The concept of “seasoning” seems to induce a particular hesitancy for some. Even though I’ve used it for a long time (not willing to give away how long) and feel comfortable with it, there is an online course with Clifford A. Wright (a favorite food person of mine) on cooking with cast iron (through Craftsy).

One of the things I’ve always liked about Clifford Wright’s recipes is the focus on flavor, without a bunch of frou-frou stuff–it’s like black cast iron–just the basics. He also stresses looking and tasting as part of the cooking so that you can learn to improvise as you cook what you want to eat as you like it. This orientation carries right into this course. If you need an introduction to the care and feeding of cast iron, this is worth every penny.  The recipes that are demonstrated are available to download as PDF document.

This really gets to the heart of single-serving, simple, delicious, easy cooking for one! One of my favorite “helpers” for this kind of cooking has become fused and infused olive oils.  I especially like Bull City Olive Oil as a source since I can taste the oils before I bring them home. If I’m unsure how I’ll like it in actual cooking, I’ll get a “mini”–just enough to try a few different ways in my kitchen: new addition for me is dill infused oil. I like dill, but it’s not a flavor that’s at the top of my list–so it will be interesting to see if I want (need) a bigger bottle of the oil–(I’m thinking just a drizzle to finish off griddled salmon).

Another thing I liked that there is no focus on high-tech equipment–the recipes are demonstrated using kitchen equipment like an old-fashioned, hand-cranked egg beater. You won’t watch the videos and then feel you need to run to the cookware store for equipment!

Basic techniques are explained and demonstrated very well, and recipes that are easy to adjust for cooking for one.  There are recipes from around the world to bring some adventure to your cooking for one–all this with inexpensive black cast iron.

(Disclaimer: no affiliation or monetary considerations from anything mentioned here–just personal opinion and my (opinionated) preferences here).

Improvise! A son gôut!

 

Lamb leg steak

IMG_8327I’m an omnivore–and that definitely includes meat in judicious amounts. Lamb shoulder chops get frequent use in my kitchen since they are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and tasty. Lamb chops or a rack appear seldom, unfortunately, since they are expensive; braised shank will appear occasionally, but leg of lamb almost never–unless I’ve organized my self to invite lamb-loving friends to share.  Even a half leg is just not in the single-serving category, so much as I like it, I don’t get it very often.

On a recent quick stop at the grocery store, I found a lamb leg steak! Fortuitous since I just happen to have made a batch of  ratatouille (slow-cooker testing of a recipe) and somehow those two thing are appealing together.  That lovely steak is going to be cooked indoors since it’s grey outside with spatterings of rain off and on–comforting sound on the metal roofing, suggesting a lazy day.

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single-burner griddleThe omnipresent cast-iron griddle is my instrument of choice for cooking steaks or chops indoors. For steaks or chops that are up to an inch in thickness–or perhaps just a tad more–I like to cook them with the method described by Jamie Oliver for pork neck steak.

This 1-inch steak weighs in at just under a pound, so there will be leftovers, but as with beef steaks this isn’t a problem–easy to find uses for the leftovers before they spend enough time in the refrigerator to taste like something that has been in the refrigerator. Though this steak could be cooked right out of the package without any preparation, I’m going to give it just a bit of pretreatment.

Cook’s Illustrated (and America’s Test Kitchen) have repeatedly demonstrated that brining or salting improve texture and taste of meats. Salting has the advantage of not requiring planning–and it’s easier.  The usual procedure is to sprinkle with lamb leg steak saltedkosher salt and allow to stand at room temperature for an hour. I’ve found that salting and allowing to stand in the refrigerator overnight works well–I can prep my chop or steak immediately on bringing it into to the kitchen and it will be ready for later. The suggested amount of salt is 3/4 teaspoon for each 8 ounces of weight.

(This doesn’t call for a measuring device at all;  two good three-fingered pinches, sprinkled from way above so that it spreads out evenly.  When you see chefs sprinkling something from shoulder height, that’s not showmanship. Sprinkled from that height, the salt crystals have a chance to spread out and not just plop on the steak in one spot.)

Cooking instructions

lamb leg stteak on griddleNotes:  I prefer a griddle (or griddle pan), not a grill pan that has the ridges on it. The griddle will give you browning all over the surface of the meat, not just stripes on it. Stripes are pretty, but all-over sear really tastes better to me.

  • Deactivate the smoke alarm–probably means taking out the battery. This is necessary before you start cooking because you need to be paying close attention while cooking.  (You see the smoke in the picture, right?) There’s no way to do this without it smoking. If you try to do this without smoking, you won’t get the same results.
  • Heat cast-iron griddle (or skillet) over high heat until it’s very hot–you want really high heat. This is why you deactivated the smoke alarm. Test heat by flicking a drop of water onto the griddle–it will sizzle and skitter around hectically, kind of like one of the really supper bouncy balls that my cat plays
  • Pat steak dry and rub with a little oil (not extra-virgin olive oil–the heat will destroy flavor) on both sides.
  • Put steak on the griddle–it should make some noise or the griddle is not hot enough, and cook for two (2) minutes without moving it. Don’t turn the heat down.
  • Turn and cook the other side for two minutes.
  • Return to the first side, and cook for one minute; turn over and cook that side for one minute.
  • Repeat the one-minute cook-and-turn until the steak has been cooked for about 8 to 10 minutes total time. Check with an instant-read thermometer if you  need to (insert through the side of the steak or simply press the surface with a finger. For medium it should feel the same as pressing on the palm of your hand at the base of the thumb).
  • Let rest for 10 or 15 minutes for juices to distribute evenly, then eat!
  • A dollop of gremolata would be a nice touch; you might even add a bit of mint when making the gremolata.

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lamb leg steak on plate with ratatouilleEver since I discovered this technique of cooking 1-inch chops or steaks, it’s all I’ve used for meats. For thicker steaks, I’ll use a combination of pan-searing and oven. I’m sure there’s a good food-science explanation for why this works so well, but I haven’t gone looking for it–I suspect that the heat transfer to the interior of the steak or chop is different than cooking one side at a time, as well as the extremely high heat.

True, the stove will need cleaning after you’ve done this, but the result is well worth it. There is no “overcooked” grey area to this steak. This works well with pork, veal, beef, and the lamb.

. . . don’t forget to put the battery back in the smoke alarm!

lamb leg steak cut to show pink interior