I am new to cast iron cooking but I have long known cast iron cooking to be one of the healthiest ways to cook dishes. Cast iron may not be popular in the Philippines yet but in America, the use of cast iron cookware is as old as the first settlers’ era. Those early pioneers used cast iron pots, skillets and dutch ovens in cooking all their dishes.
The pilgrims fried, grilled, stewed and baked in their cast iron cookware. Cast iron was later replaced by other cookware materials such as steel, copper and aluminum, yet there is a resurgence of cast iron cooking today because of the many benefits it offers.
1. Fat-free or low-fat cooking
I have successfully grilled in my cast iron skillet. I only have to brush a teaspoon or so of coconut oil on the skillet surface and, as you can see, the grilled fish I have is lovely and smoky and with a crust which is just perfectly crisp and brown. Could I grill fish in a stainless steel skillet? Not even in my dreams. Probably in a Teflon pan, but we all know Teflon has a host of unsafe chemicals that would coat our foods.
2. Indestructible (Well, nearly.)
Cast iron is cast iron. My Japanese brand cast iron skillet is mega-heavy, ultra-thick and utterly solid. Why, this would outlive me, especially since I’m a couple of years shy from middle age. I would pass this skillet on as a family heirloom piece to my only daughter. The sheer durability of cast iron is the reason why the early settlers used it for their everyday cooking. Cast iron does not warp, dent or pit. It would take tremendous pressure to break it, if at all.
Cast iron can be used in wood stoves, campfire cooking and gas ovens. They can go from fire to ref to the oven and the table. I have actually been using my cast iron skillet in my woodstove. Yes, I cook in a woodstove—partly because I am frugal and also because the 4 coconut trees around us give us a perpetual, inexhaustible supply of firewood.
4. Naturally non-stick
Unlike Teflon pans which are coated with chemicals to give a non-stick finish, cast iron is naturally slick so that foods glide easily on its surface. My pre-loved cast iron skillet seems to be well-seasoned by its previous Japanese owner and I’ve never had issues with foods that stick. Later, I will share how I maintain the non-stick finish of my skillet.
5. Distributes heat evenly
Provided that you regularly season your cast iron cookware, it will be the best cookware you will ever use. The very thickness of cast iron creates uniform heat distribution and eliminates those hot spots in aluminum pots which char foods. Chefs everywhere appreciate the value of cast iron in gourmet cooking.
6. Does not leach chemicals
Aluminum pots leach aluminum to foods. Even stainless steel pots which are of inferior quality leach unsafe minerals. Clay pots may be inert but easily crack. Cast iron, on the other hand, is said to leach iron, but of course iron is a mineral our bodies need. Besides, the amount of iron that leaches is well below the recommended daily allowance and so you need not fear iron overload. And as long as your cast iron pot is well-seasoned, iron may not even leach at all.
Something about cast iron reminds me of rustic, much-used kitchens with dutiful mamas whipping up lots of sautéed, pan-grilled, glazed, caramelized and long-simmered dishes. The beauty of cast iron pans is not for show. I liken it to the beauty of a virtuous, wise, strong and hands-on mama. Kind of like my mama. Both are indestructible, versatile, solid, reliable and beautiful.