CLEANING YOUR CAST IRON SKILLET
With many restaurants not yet open to full operation, you may have found yourself cooking more than usual. That means more pots and pans to clean and put away. While soap and water are fine to use on most non-commercial sets, cooking with a cast-iron skillet is another story. If cooking with cast-iron is new to you, there are a few important things you need to know.
There are two misconceptions about cooking with cast-iron. The first is not to cook acidic tomatoes or a wine-based sauce in the skillet. According to Food & Wine don’t cook a tomato sauce from start to finish in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, but deglazing a cast iron pan with wine or vinegar is just fine. (Deglazing a pan means adding liquid to a hot pan to remove all of the food residue that has deposited at the bottom.) Provided that your pan is seasoned, the acid will simply come into contact with seasoning layer. And even if there are bare spots, brief contact with acid is completely fine.
Second, is that you should never use soap to clean cast-iron. Food & Wine also says that is not true. Again, as long as your pan is well-seasoned, you can use soap and water after each use. The key is to not scrape off any of the seasonings by using an overly abrasive scrubber. If you do, just re-season your skillet. An option to soap and water is coarse kosher salt and a rag.
Now, this one is true and the most important — never put cast-iron in the dishwasher. It takes a long time to build up the non-stick surface. Dishwashing detergents will strip it away and leave the pan vulnerable to rust.
Cleaning A Rusty Skillet
The rusted skillet you found while cleaning out the kitchen or the family heirloom you were gifted can be resurrected.
If the layer of rust is just on the surface, scrubbing with soap and water in this instance is fine. You will remove any remaining seasoning, but that’s okay. You will re-season it. Using a mild detergent, warm water, and a green scrub pad or steel wool (not copper), scrub the skillet. Dry it immediately with a towel so rust does not settle. You can also pop it in a warm oven to dry.
For heavily rusted skillets, use a vinegar soak. Mix basic white vinegar with equal parts water and submerge it for up to eight hours. It could be done much sooner, so check the progress often. Because the vinegar will dissolve the rust, it can also ruin the original cast surface of the pan. The possible pitting that can result is irreversible, so remove the skillet from the soak as soon as the rust easily flakes away. Toss the skillet if is severely pock-marked or pitted with rust.
Now that the skillet is restored, it needs to be reseasoned. Cast iron seasoning simply refers to the polymerized and carbonized cooking fats that create the corrosion-resistant, non-stick coating in the pan itself. Preheat the oven to 350˚ and set a large piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack. Rub a neutral oil with a high smoke point, like vegetable oil, all over the entire pan—inside and out. Set the pan upside-down over the foil to catch any drips. Bake for an hour and cool for at least 45 minutes before using it.
Maintenance & Storage
After each use, wipe the skillet down with another layer of oil. This will gradually build up protective layers of seasoning, making for a better cooking surface and guarding against rust. Before putting the skillet away, make sure it is completely dry and oiled. Store it in a cool, dry location with low humidity. Any excess moisture will cause rust to slowly creep back into the pan. If you stack pans, line each one with a few layers of paper towel.
“Try this Cornbread Albers skillet recipe by my momma, Baby Kay, from: What Are Some of the Romero’s Cajun Favorites?.” -Rosie