I spent some of Sunday afternoon out at the front of the house curing a new wrought iron sautéuse pan, seen above and below with its distinctive low heat handle sporting a stylised Australia cut out.. This was a gift from Solid Tekniks who make fantastic seamless Australian wrought iron pots and pans. Wrought iron is half the weight of cast iron, which I will greatly appreciate. It takes a bit of time to cure a pan well but having done so you will have the perfect surface for cooking up a storm forever more. I hadn’t realised how much a fan I was until I gathered together the iron cookware I own and I couldn’t fit it all in the shot! When I look at these above I realise that they each serve me well, for differing purposes, I have acquired these all over time and you could get buy with a crepe pan and a skillet alone and its always good to have an enamelled cast iron pot to make casseroles in because iron and steel are reactive to acids so its best not to cook those in them for long..
The heavy cast iron pot at top left above makes the best grain dishes when using the absorption method, the large steel crepés pan is also perfect for omelettes, galettes, pancakes, dosa or injera flatbreads, The small Dutch oven goes onto the coals in my fireplace to roast a few vegetables or chestnuts when those are in season, the new sautéuse I expect to shallow fry in or make a small stir fry and like the rest it will make, perfect crispy edged fried eggs or something shallow fried and golden, the large skillet works very hard in my kitchen. I bought it for a fiver in my 15th year, at a camping shop in London. When I went travelling, for a year I thought, I left it with Mum and reclaimed it 32 years later, after she had no further use for it. That pan needs resurfacing, as over the years its patina on the sides has gone rather crusty but on the base it was recently stripped of its patina all together by overheating (grrr to those that cook in cast iron on on full blurt!). I call on that pan to do a thousand jobs, sautéing, dry toasting, searing to seal, for fish for a steak… in the foreground on the left is my trusty Mexican tortilla pan the ‘camal’, it produces all sorts other than the best tortilla, it’s good for reheating flatbreads and toasting seeds, the small steel pan I use for mini pancakes, omelettes, frying a single egg or a few mushrooms, finally and if you have attended a bread class with me, you will have tasted the product of my large Dutch oven, it bakes an absolute beauty, those with lids offer a really good seal so the contents steam bake in a hot oven. What all these offer is an even transfer of heat and a little stick? Stick is not a dirty word, far from it, stick is your friend when you are making any of the above. Stick is good but stuck is to be avoided. The means of that is to create a good surface on these pans as soon as you can after getting them home. Being iron or steel, they are subject to rust and rust can ruin their surface and the food cooked on it. After use wash them well but don’t scour, dry well and oil before putting them away. You can see that the surfaces on mine are imperfect but none except the Dutch ovens are rusty, they are because I cook bread at such high temperatures the oil would create more smoke than I care for so I leave them bare. The patina develops with use. When you put ingredients in the pan to cook to a crisp, hold your nerve and let them form a good base before attempting to turn or move them, that way, when you do they will come away with ease and their texture and flavour will be at its best.
CURING AN IRON PAN
New steel and cast iron pans are given a coating to stop them oxidising whilst they sit on the shelf waiting for you to buy them. What is used varies but in any case the first thing to do before use, is give them a really hot soapy wash and then rinse well and heat to dry completely. Now you have a bare steel or iron pan, if used now food will stick and burn and rust is certain over time. What is needed is to ‘cure’ the pan by coating with fat. This is very easy and quite fun to do, though doing it well and evenly takes some time, don’t rush, build up the surface in thin even layers. You need a heat source, I like a flame best and preferably outside as you will be burning fat onto the pan and this inevitably creates smoke. A gas barbeque will work well or a fire pit or a simple inexpensive burner such as the butane burning portable stove above. These can be bought in any hardware store these days, for around $25! These are excellent to have for cooking other strong smelling foods and of course, for picnics and camping trips. I find this an ideal means for curing pans as I can secure the pan in a particular position, as seen above and leave it until the surface in that area is evenly coated and then secure it at the next point to get an even surface all over. Here how its done….
You will need a largish clean soft lint free cloth, 1/4 cup say of fat such as duck, goose, coconut or ghee, an oven glove and a large jug of cold water. Wash and dry the new pan, Solid Tekniks don’t coat their pans with toxic substances, so there is nothing but dust to wash off and hot water alone will do. Place the pan over a medium flame until it is hot, dip the cloth in fat and remove the pan from the heat using an oven cloth as some handles get super hot, I was delighted to find that this one did not – good design Solid Tekniks, now spread a thin even coating all over the pan, inside and out including the handle, place the pan over the flame and heat until it smokes and the surface blackens, carefully hold the pan off the heat and pour in cold water, expect furious steam and beware getting in its way, put back on the heat in a new position, heat the pan until it is dry and then apply another thin coating of fat using the cloth, repeat all these steps until the entire pan is blackened with a smooth even patina. wash with hot water and a soft brush and heat to dry completely before taking to your kitchen for use or storage.
Once these pans are in use you can use a flat edged wooden spoon to remove excess food from them and them was in wash water with a soft brush. Soak don’t scour, as you will lose the patina and cause worse sticking next time; due to roughing up the surface. I hope you will give these a try and enjoy yours as much as I do mine. Check out stockists and the word from Solid Tekniks here. If weight is not an issue keep an eye out for secondhand pots and pans, they last forever and so can often be found in junk yards, garage sales and the good old op shop.