Monday, March 9, 2009

Another cool tool

Recently a friend gave me a 10.5 inch cast iron chicken fryer. When she told me about it, I was expecting a frying pan, maybe one that was higher in the center of the pan, like an old teflon chicken fryer I used to have. What she gave me was a really cool frying pan with another frying pan for a lid.

The lid is hinged on the back with a little hinge that unhooks. I've never seen anything like it. I've looked at the new cast iron skillets, and they all have regular lids- this one is so much more interesting.

This skillet had belonged to my friend's mother, and she brought it home after closing her mom's house up and selling it this past fall. It was made by the Griswold Manufacturing Company, an old Pennsylvania company. She said she knew someone would want it because Pennsylvania people love Griswold cast iron. I had never heard of it, but then, like the Plain people who are "in the world but not of it", I am in Pennsylvania, but not of it. But I was so honored that she thought of me to be the new owner or the pan. I was worried about depriving her of her family heirlooms, but she assured me it wasn't an antique. We know the pan was made after 1957. Pans made before 1957 said "Erie PA" under the Griswold makers mark, pans made after that did not.

I know it's a chicken fryer because the pan tells me so...
Cast iron cookware has been around for a very long time- since the 1700's here in America. Because they are so durable, pans and dutch ovens were often handed down from one generation to the next. However, when non-stick coatings like Teflon became available in the 60's and 70's, cast iron lost some of it's popularity. It is heavy, and if not properly seasoned, food can stick.

However, many cooks are turning back to cast iron. Concern about health risks with non-stick coatings is one reason. Bird owners know not to leave their birds in the kitchen when cooking with non-stick cookware- gases released at high temperatures can kill a bird. A 2007 study done at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore recorded levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctoanoate, both chemicals used in making non-stick coatings in samples of newborn infant cord blood. The study found a correlation between higher levels of the chemicals and lower birthweight. Most interesting to me is that there WERE levels of the chemicals in the cord blood.

According to a February 2009 Kansas City Star article,
    In 2008 Americans spent more than $28.5 million on cast-iron cookware. That figure is up nearly 10 percent from the previous year, with consumers spending less money on stainless steel and aluminum cookware, according to the NPD Group Inc., a leading global market research company.
Beyond the health concerns, there are other reasons for using cast iron. The heavy metal is an excellent heat conductor, allowing the pan to heat evenly- no hot spots. Cast iron moves from the stove top to the oven easily (Pineapple Upside Down cake is best in a cast-iron skillet). There are also health benefits for those who tend to anemia- cooking acidic foods (like tomato sauce) in cast iron leads to an increase of iron in the finished food.

Seasoning cast iron is not that difficult, either. Rub your skillet with a vegetable oil, and heat it for 30 minutes to an hour in a hot oven- 300 to 500 degrees. Let the skillet cool. If you do this a couple of times, the skillet should be well seasoned.

Caring for cast iron after use is also easy. Opinions are split as to whether or not to wash your cast iron with soap or not, but all experts agree that you should never leave liquid in your cast iron. What's Cooking America has a wealth of information about seasoning and caring for your cast iron, as well as how to clean up old cast iron.

Chuck fried chicken in the skillet Sunday. It was just the way I like it- juicy and not dreadfully crispy. I know other people love crispy fried chicken, but not me.

He likes to keep some fried chicken in the freezer to grab on those nights we don't get dinner ready before he goes to work. He's certainly well set up now!

No comments: