Can I Use the Same Cast-Iron Skillet for Sweet and Savory Foods?
A cast iron skillet is a kitchen tool that seems endowed with magical powers. It's non-stick, but you can still use metal utensils on it. It cooks the flakiest golden pie crust and gives a whole chicken a perfect crispy skin with tender meat. It only improves with age; in fact great grandma's hand-me-down skillet is shinier than one bought new from the store.
With all of these enchanting traits, it's not too surprising that cast iron is also shrouded in some myth. Today we're here to bust one of them.
Can Savory and Sweet Dishes Be Cooked in the Same Cast Iron Skillet?
The simple answer is yes! But to really do it right, we have some tips for keeping your cast iron in tip-top shape for the most decadent desserts and meatiest stews.
This myth exists because unlike teflon, hard-anodized, or other non-stick pans, cast iron's non-stick layer is made from using oil and heat. Heating fat on this massive hunk of metal causes the two to bond together in a process called polymerization. Once the fat cools on the metal, it is more similar to a plastic than it is a cooking oil. But, people still perceive that layer of polymerized oil as more organic than the chemicals used to seal other nonstick pans. The "natural" quality of this nonstick layer leaves people to believe that their cast iron is more likely to pick up strong flavors.
It is true that this layer can have flavor carryover. But, the benefit of the create-your-own nonstick surface that is inherent to cast iron cookware is that if a little flavor is left hanging around in the very thin - literally just a few molecules deep - layer of polymerized oil, we can make a new neutral layer in a few simple steps.
How to Thoroughly Clean Cast Iron
First, it's fine to use a mild soap to remove any food that may be sticking to your pan. There we go, another myth busted!
Keep Reading: How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan
Now that the crusty food is gone, a simple baking soda scrub will restore it to its former, flavorless, glory. Use baking soda and water in a 2:1 ratio, it should form a thin paste. Scrub this into the pan with a soft or plastic bristle brush and then allow the paste to sit for two to five minutes. Just like the stinky aromas in your refrigerator, the baking soda neutralizes the leftover flavor that may be in the top layer of your cast iron.
Then rinse the paste out of the skillet and wipe with a paper towel or a kitchen rag. If you went really crazy with the fried catfish or boiled clams in the skillet and you're about to make Grandma's pear upside down cake in it, go ahead and give the skillet another baking soda bath. If the flavors of the previous dish weren't too strong, skip the second scrub and follow these steps to re-season your skillet.
How to Season Cast Iron Cookware
Once all the flavors are neutralized, it's time to re-season. Put your skillet on a burner over medium high heat to ensure it dries completely. Contrary to popular belief it's not acidic food, soap, or metal tools that will damage your cast iron; it's water. Moisture can cause cast iron to rust especially if it is sealed in by a layer of polymerized fat, so don't skip this step.
When the water has evaporated from the skillet, it will be nice and hot. Pour about two teaspoons of a neutral oil, like avocado or canola, into the skillet, and carefully wipe the oil across the surface of the skillet with some paper towels. Please be very cautious not to touch the hot skillet! Once the pan is coated let it continue to heat until it just barely starts to smoke. Turn off the heat, and once it is cooled completely you have a neutral, seasoned pan ready for even the most delicately flavored dishes.
Now that you know your skillet is ready for anything sweet, savory, or somewhere in between, check out our collection of the best recipes to make in your cast iron.