Having castiron cookware in your kitchen indicates two things: you enjoy cooking and you care about your health. A good set of cast iron cookware can last a lifetime with proper care, and a properly seasoned cast iron skillet is a delight to cook with and clean. It's also the cheapest form of healthy cookware.
So if you've been looking for healthy gourmet cookware, look no further! Many professional chefs use cast iron cookware for its heat retention and even cooking qualities. It has no equal for frying and searing, and you can use it both directly on the stovetop and in the oven. This is useful for things such as stews that start on top of the stove and are then transferred to the oven.
My cast iron skillets are among my most prized possessions, and I actually hauled all of them across the ocean when I moved from the U.S. to Europe. The movers wondered why my boxes were so heavy! Castiron cookware actually improves with age, since each time you use it the patina becomes a little darker and the surface more non-stick. If you can find the ones your grandmother used then you're really in luck!
There are two basic types of castiron cookware, unseasoned and enameled.
These are the least expensive forms of castiron cookware you can find, and cast iron seasoning takes only a little effort. You can find most pieces for between $10 and $30. You can also find most pre-seasoned pans for $15 to $65 if you would rather not season them yourself. There is a slight benefit in that pre-seasoned pans produce a better non-stick surface sooner after their first use, but the choice is up to you. You often get better deals when buying a set, which is handy when you don't want to use a large skillet for frying one egg.
Lodge cast iron cookware is probably the best-known and has been around for over 100 years. They no longer produce unseasoned cast iron, so their prices are a little higher than what you could find in something unseasoned, but they are a reputable company.
Your best bet would probably be to scour yard sales and second-hand shops, as you can find some wonderful pieces that have already been broken in for a fraction of what you might pay for them new. And they have usually already been "pre-seasoned" by the previous owner!
Castiron cookware is especially useful for those suffering from anemia, as you get trace amounts of iron from the food you cook in it.
The drawback to unseasoned or pre-seasoned castiron cookware is that it is not advisable to cook acidic foods in them, since the iron reacts with the acid in the food, producing a metallic taste. For these types of recipes it's better to use enameled cast iron or the best stainless steel cookware you can afford.
The advantage to enameled cast iron cookware is that you can cook just about anything in it. The protective enamel coating keeps acidic foods from coming into direct contact with the iron so you avoid any metallic taste. However, enameled cast iron must be treated more carefully because the enamel can be chipped or scratched, losing its protective effect. You must use wooden, plastic or silicone utensils at all times and be sure never to use a scouring pad on it.
There are a number of noted manufacturers of enameled cast iron cookware, including Le Creuset (sometimes misspelled Le Crueset), Staub cookware, Lodge and Le Chasseur.
Le Creuset cookware is probably the best known, and among the higher priced, though other brands are not significantly less expensive. Le Creuset's smallest skillet costs around $70, and they go upwards from there, most items costing over $100 each.
A Staub cocotte, useful for stews and casseroles, ranges between about $50 and $250, depending on the size. Most enameled cookware isn't cheap, so be sure to take care when using it, as the enamel can chip if banged or dropped.Once you have used it for a little while, your castiron cookware will come to be as integral a part of your kitchen as your stove and your good knives, and will be a valuable asset to pass down to your children. And on top of it all, you will know you are doing something good for your health!
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