Cook Like A Man with a Cast Iron Pan

by Kevin Nakao

Episode 2: The Manly Cooking Series (Episode 1: Gas is for Sissy’s: Steak Done Right)

I was turned on to cast iron by a kitchen store clerk when I told her my meats and veggies were not getting the caramelized brown and black-striped foodspotting look.  Her answer, cast iron.  American-made.  I left the store with a Lodge Cast Iron Reversible Griddle/Grill.  Lodge has been making cast iron pans in South Pittsburg,  Tennessee since 1896.  I couldn’t wait to throw some meat on this 10 pound beast.  My lamb chops cooked perfectly with beautiful restaurant-quality grill marks.  I finally earned my stripes.

I cook everything but fish on her because she doesn’t bathe with soap.  They call this a seasoned or oiled pan.  The flavor just gets better over time.  Lodge says that if you keep it dry and oiled, the pans will last for a 100 years.  Like a heirloom sourdough starter, families have been known to pass them down from generation to generation.

Fate had me part with my colorful french Le Creuset cookware and a Wolfe 9-burner gas range.  When I went to the store to get a new Le Creuset I realized how expensive they were compared  to the Lodge Dutch Oven.  In the left corner, Lodge $40 in utilitarian matte black.   In the right, Le Creuset , $240 in Hermes orange – she was hot.  Bonjour belle, voulez-vous [cook with me] ?   The Le Creuset is porcelain smooth with enamel inside and out.  She can be bathed with lemon scented Joy.    Some people claim that cast iron without enamel sticks.  However, there was a bigger danger lurking that would reveal itself when things got heated.  Frugality got the better of me, as did boy scout memories of baking biscuits on a dutch oven over a fire.  Le Creuset isn’t the camping type.  I bought American, Go Lodge!

Armed with my new Lodge 8 quart dutch oven, I began to make  the sauce for my signature dish, Arancini di riso (humblebrag ).  The heat was on low and I added the tomato sauce.   Plop. Plop.  Sauce exploded in every direction with tomato shrapnel spraying over 2 feet away.  As I went to put a lid on it, hot flying sauce hit me right in the eye.   Frick that hurt.  I really think I burnt my eyeball.  Who burns their eyeball cooking?  My sister tried not to laugh.  Her kids scrambled like brocoli just showed up.  Later I read that cast iron reacts to acidity.  Tomatoes are really red-colored blobs of ascorbic, citrus, and malic acid.  In  a thick french accent I heard, “fool, we told you dumb Americans you need enamel”.

After moving the remaining tomato sauce to another pan, I wasn’t going to quit on my Lodge — semper fi.  Since the recent emancipation of most of my cooking gear, I only had two pots to piss in.  I needed to cook the Risotto.  My coy Lodge glanced up at me.  I swept her off her feet and buttered her up.   The onions and garlic got wet and brown, the riso danced and skipped.   I added the first cup of broth and she held her heat like a champ.  I followed the careful tango of risotto al dente, backing off with broth until it begs for more:  stir, stir, stir, stir, stir, stir pour…stir, stir, stir, stir,stir, stir, pour..once cup at a time.  This felt really good, it was unprotected, we had no enamel.  Lodge rocked steady.  Her wide girth hid the ugly red face of my not-gas but electrical abomination of a range.

Cooking a elegant risotto with it’s pearly patina in a heavy cast iron pan felt like a unlikely pairing,  but it worked.   She cooks very evenly with no hot spots.  I thought I invented something new.  Google popped my genius bubble and found some Chowhound message boards talking about cooking risotto in cast iron.  There were also heated Lodge vs Le Creuset debates with dire warnings of cast iron reacting to acidic foods.

Last night I called up my pan with benefits to cook a simple risotto with just butter, onions, and garlic.  I was carbo-loading for a half-marathon today (humblebrag 2, one more and I’m out).  The risotto had a light smokey and nutty flavor, no doubt a gift from meals past.  It was delicious (brag 3, I’m out).

Le Creuset may have washed away her past and left me, but Lodge is mine forever.  Time only makes her better…with every savory memory  carried forward.

I’m a man and I cook with a cast iron pan.