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  • The Timid Chef 11:28 am on June 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: care of cast iron, cast iron, , , , cooking with cast iron, learn to cook   

    Module 2-4 Iron Skillets 

    I have gone on and on about the importance of cooking with the right cookware. Using nonstick cookware on high heat is bad! I am aware that there are many out there that cannot afford the expense of a decent set of stainless-steel cookware. They can be expensive. That is where the timeless iron skillet comes in. Some of you may be lucky enough to still have the skillet used by your grandmother or even great-grandmother. If you don’t mind purchasing one used, I recommend taking a trip to Goodwill. They almost always have one. You can also check out garage sales, Craigslist, and stores that sell pre-owned merchandise. Even if it is a little rusted, you can bring it back into like-new condition. The only exception would be if there are any cracks in it which is the only time it needs to be thrown away. Even if it is rusted, sticky, or has lost its seasoning, it can be redeemed, and I will show you how.

    If you want to buy yours new or can’t find a used iron skillet, I recommend the Lodge cast iron skillet. Here is a thorough review of this skillet from America’s Test Kitchen. I am a big fan of their website, and I am sure you have heard me refer to them more than once already. I recommend that you have both a 10-in and a 12-in skillet. There are several reasons for this, but the most important is that you need the right size pan for the job. I covered the importance of the correct sized skillet in module 2-3.

    You can buy either a skillet that has an enamel finish or a traditional cast iron skillet. I prefer the traditional skillet because if it is seasoned well, it won’t stick. Here is a quick video from (of course) America’s Test Kitchen.

    So you have bought a used cast iron skillet and it is rusty and ugly. How do you bring back that wonderful nonstick coating (seasoning) and get rid of the rust?

    The following video does a great job of explaining what to do to bring your old, ugly skillet back to a beautiful sheen. However, once your pan is nice and shiney and looking brand new, DON’T use steel wool or Brillo pads on that skillet. Those are not necessary, and they will destroy the seasoning that you worked so hard to develop!

    I use about 1/8 cup (more or less) of regular table salt to clean my skillet and a wad of aluminum foil (if I need a scrubbie, and I usually don’t) to scrub away stubborn stuck-on food. You will be amazed at how well it works and it won’t destroy your hard-won, seasoned finish.With that being said, this is a great video on getting that skillet in tip top shape.

    Cleaning Cast Iron

    There is a lot of controversy on whether or not you can cook acidic foods in a cast iron skillet. When acidic foods are cooked in cast iron for extended periods (30 minutes or longer), it can eat into your hard-won seasoning. This could result in trace amounts of metals from the cast iron being released into your food. Although this is not harmful to your health, it can leave an undesirable metallic taste to your food. If you think you are going to be cooking a lot of acidic food in your cast iron skillet, and you don’t want to keep an eye on extended simmering, you can buy an iron skillet with an enamel finish instead. The coated skillets do not need to be seasoned but you sacrifice the beautiful seasoning that keeps your food from sticking. (In my case, I chose the best of both worlds. I have the traditional iron skillet and a porcelain covered dutch oven). Visit Module 1-3 for a review on dutch ovens and other cookware.

    The good news, a well-seasoned skillet discourages those pesky metals from leaching into your food. Until you become competent cooking in cast iron, use recipes that are specifically designed for use in cast iron. They will use little tricks like shorter simmer times and waiting until late in the recipe to add the acidic ingredients.

    Unlike stainless-steel pans, cast iron is not very good at heating evenly. If you throw a cold cast iron skillet on a burner, it will form very hot spots where the hot burner is, while the rest of the pan remains cooler. However, once it is hot, it stays hot! So to get around this, put your iron skillet in a preheated 500 degree F oven for about 15 minutes. This creates the perfect surface for superior searing that can’t be beat by any other skillet. Don’t forget to use an oven mitt on the handle. That handle gets REALLY hot!

    By the way, not only can you use your cast iron skillet on an electric stove, glass tops work well too. I know because I am not lucky enough to have a gas stove in my home. We have a glass top. However, be very careful. The skillet is very heavy and you don’t want to drop it on your glass top.

    How to maintain your iron skillet:

    • Always clean your skillet immediately after use and while it is warm. Don’t soak the pan or leave it in the sink because it WILL rust.
    • Wash the skillet by hand (dishwasher is bad) using hot water and a sponge or a wad of aluminum foil. (Use tongs or wear gloves if the water and/or skillet is extra hot!) Avoid using dish soap, but if you really need to (sigh), use only a drop or two (NO brillo pads).
    • To remove stuck-on food, scrub the pan with a paste of coarse salt (table or kosher salt work fine) and water. Then rinse or wipe with a paper towel. Stubborn food residue may also be loosened by boiling water in the pan.
    • Thoroughly towel dry the skillet or dry it on the stove over low heat. It will rust if not dried completely.
    • Using a paper towel, apply a light coat of vegetable oil (don’t use shortening, butter, or ghee) while the skillet is still warm. Some people also like to oil the outside of the skillet. Buff with a paper towel to remove any excess oil.
    • Remember to always clean your skillet immediately after use and while it is still hot or warm. Don’t soak the pan or leave it in the sink because it may rust. (Yea I know I’ve repeated the rust thing several times. If it rusts, you are going to spend some time removing the rust and reseasoning. (That means don’t soak it and dry it after washing).
    Le’s Cook with Cast Iron

    A cast iron skillet has some additional uses. I would have never thought of using my skillet the way it demonstrates in the following video. I only recently began experimenting in ways to use my skillet besides cooking. I would really like to hear my readers’ ideas on this.

    It works great to prevent food from scorching. I melted chocolate in a regular stainless steel pan and then sat that pan inside of my iron skillet. It did a great job of keeping the chocolate from scorching; maybe not as good as a double boiler, but I don’t have one and there is no more room in my kitchen to store stuff (I swear cooking can turn you into a pack rat). I use that same technique when simmering milk for homemade yogurt to prevent the milk from scorching. I would love to hear of anyone else’s creative ideas.

    I promise we are at the end of this article. We will continue learning about cast iron by cooking steak in the next module!

    Cast iron can be used for more than just cooking

    Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s learn how to cook the perfect strip steak in an iron skillet: Module 2-4 Cast Iron Steak

  • The Timid Chef 11:41 am on June 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: baked chicken, chef, , , , fried chicken, learn to cook   

    Module 2-3 Recipe: Donna’s pan-seared crispy chicken thighs 

    I made this for dinner with mashed potatoes, pan gravy, and roasted mixed vegetables. Make extra chicken for an easy chicken salad for lunch the next day.

    I prefer to use bone-in chicken thighs with the skin on. I think the bone gives added flavor, and who doesn’t love crispy chicken skin?

    • Preheat oven to 350 ° F
    • Trim the fat and excess skin from the chicken thighs.
    • Thoroughly pat the chicken dry with a paper towel before seasoning, This will ensure a delicious crispy skin.**
    • Lift the skin (don’t pull it off) and season under the skin with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of the dried basil.
    • Sprinkle a little salt, pepper, and basil on the outside of the skin as well. Be sure to season both sides of the chicken
    • Heat skillet as you learned in Module 2-2 with the water drop test and add oil.
    • At the first wisp of smoke, add the chicken, skin-side down. You should hear a nice sizzle. Adjust the heat as necessary. (Listen to the food). You can use a splatter screen if you have one
    • Using a pair of tongs, turn the chicken after the skin browns. Brown the second side as well. (Don’t keep turning the chicken. You should turn ONLY once)
    • Once both sides are brown, place on a rack sitting inside a cooking sheet and put in a 350° F oven until done. This should take about 30 minutes.
    • Use an instant read thermometer to test for doneness. Chicken should be about 160 -165 F
    • Allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.

    *  I used ghee for the nutty flavor. Peanut oil or any neutral flavored oil such as canola oil would also work. Just be sure that the oil you choose has a high smoke point. Butter or margarine would not work as it will burn  with the high heat required to get a brown, crispy skin.

    ** What is the secret to crispy skin? It is simple, be sure to pat the chicken dry with a paper towel before seasoning. Also never cook a partially frozen or frozen piece of chicken. This will make the chicken tough. Be sure that it is completely thawed prior to cooking. You can also season the thawed thighs and put them uncovered in the fridge for about an hour before cooking.

    This is a great youtube video on cooking chicken thighs. He uses a cast-iron skillet,but the concept is the same for a stainless steel skillet.

    3 ways to cook chicken thighs
  • The Timid Chef 8:29 am on June 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , learn to cook, mise en place, , sucs   

    Module 2-2 Pan-frying with Stainless Steel 

    Check out this video.


    Temperature control is key in using stainless steel cookware. The surface of a stainless steel pan is porous at the microscopic level. As the pan is heated, it expands and these pores shrink. If food gets pinched by these pores, it will stick. To prevent this you need to follow a few simple rules:

    • Preheat your pan properly by using medium to medium high heat and check the temperature with the water droplet test.
    • Add cooking oil AFTER preheating. You will heat the oil until you can see the first wisp of smoke and then IMMEDIATELY add your food. This is the reason that your food should already be prepared and waiting for you. This is known as “mise en place”.
    • If the oil gets too hot, pour the oil into another container, allow the skillet to cool, and then wipe out the oil with a paper towel. If the skillet has become discolored, wash and dry the skillet before continuing.
    • Depending on what you are cooking, food should be close to room temperature before cooking. Temperature differences make food sticking to the pan more likely.

    Properly heating the pan

    The water droplet test is a time-proven technique that will tell you exactly when your pan is ready for adding oil. Watch this youtube video by Rouxbe before continuing.

    Water Droplet Test
    • Heat your pan over medium to medium-high heat and let it sit for a few minutes on the burner.
    • After a few minutes add a drop of water to your stainless steel pan
    • If your pan is too cold – the water droplet will bubble and evaporate extremely fast. Adding oil and food at this point could cause food sticking problems.
    • Wait about 15 seconds and try again.
    • If your pan is too hot, the water will split into smaller droplets and dart around the pan very fast. If this happens, wipe the droplets from the pan, turn down your heat and let the pan cool for a moment.
    • When your pan is ready to add the oil, the water droplet will stay intact and move around the pan like a ball of mercury. This is when you should wipe your pan clean of water and add your oil. Do NOT add the oil without wiping the pan.

    Adding the oil

    So now you know when to add the oil, but when do you add the food? Now watch this Youtube video from Rouxbe on adding oil and when to add the food.

    Think about this:

    When adding oil to your pre-heated stainless steel pan, it immediately begins to smoke and turn brown. What should you do?


    You should discard the oil and clean the pan. Burnt oil can alter the flavor of your food. Additionally, oils that have exceeded the smoke point can be dangerous to your health.

    What is Mise en Place?

    It is a French phase that means, to put in place. Chefs use this phrase to describe the things that need to be done to prepare a dish. This includes chopping the necessary veggies, measuring spices and placing in little bowls, etc. The end result is that all of your measured ingredients and preparations are complete and at your fingertips as your prepare the food †

    Mise en Place

    What are sucs?

    The word “sucs” describes the caramelized bits that stick to the bottom of a pot or pan. When pan-frying, the juices from the meat caramelize and form browned bits. Sucs have an intense, sweet flavor, which can be released from the bottom of the pan by deglazing.

    To develop the best sucs, which are dark-golden brown, it is essential that you properly heat and oil your pan before adding any ingredients. The ingredients must be patted dry before adding. To properly develop and preserve the sucs during cooking, the heat must be controlled. The heat must be high enough to develop the sucs in the first place, but not so high that the sucs burn. Burnt sucs must be discarded as they will only add a bitter flavor to the dish. If the heat is too low or if the pan is overcrowded, little or no sucs will form.

    It is also important to not leave too much space in between ingredients, as this could cause the exposed oil to continue to heat and burn. Therefore, you should always use an appropriate-sized pan for the amount of food you are cooking or cook in batches.

    The last thing to note is the amount of sucs that form depends on what is being cooked. Leaner cuts of meat will yield less sucs versus meats with higher fat content. In addition, foods that are high in natural sugars, will yield more sucs.

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