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Earth Week: Buying, Using, and Cooking Better with Cast Iron by Chef Mo

At Keep A Breast and Non Toxic Revolution, April 22nd is a big deal. In fact, we take the day off. Why?… Because its Earth Day! We try to take that time to do something good for others or ourselves, and make our planet a better place.  In that spirit, every day this week for Earth Week, we will provide you with different project and tip ideas so that you can join the Revolution and be your own eco super hero! Today’s element is… FIRE!

Buying, Using, and Cooking Better with Cast Iron by Chef Mo

Who is Chef Mo: My love affair with food started around age 4 where I thought I was filming PB&J how to’s in my moms kitchen. Becoming a chef in my adult life was a natural progression. Having worked in San Francisco, one of the more greener cities, really drove the need for sustainability in every aspect of life at home. Especially in food. When I’m not playing with food I am hiking, running, and most importantly hanging out with my amazing baby girl. 

Cast iron is a commonly overlooked cooking utensil. An Aunt of mine used to be in a cast iron club – because of her I once went to a gathering and had the BEST ginger pork I have ever had. As a Chef I have tried to re-create that flavor a million times in the kitchen but something was always missing…cast iron. Some of the BEST braises, stews, beans, and baked goods I have ever had have come out of cast iron. I guess most people think it is too complicated or time consuming for our immediate gratification driven society, but you know what they say, “If something is worth doing, do it right.”

When I cook I prefer to cook as green and clean as possible. There is a reason Farm to Table caught on and became so popular so fast. It just makes sense. Why don’t we also think about the flaking, nonstick, chemically enhanced pan we cook it in? Does everyone think about the convenience when their $26 per lb Copper River salmon filet slide right out of the pan? Or about how the free range, non-GMO grain fed, local chicken releases like it was simmered in a pound of butter? If you don’t already know what’s lining your pots and pans there is very good chance you may be introducing toxins into that beautiful bouquet of farmer’s market veggies you have been waiting for all week.

Cast iron is not only derived from a natural resource but it’ll save you money in the long run and last a lifetime if cared for properly. Cast iron does require a little research before you purchase it though. Some companies have coated their cast iron with “food safe” nonstick enamel and some have kept it OG – that’s traditional, natural, non-toxic for the rest of you. There are pros and cons behind both. It basically comes down to preference.

The reason behind the enamel is, like most things in our lives now, convenience. But at what price? In my opinion, taste. While enamel coated cast iron is ready to use out of the box it also comes with cautions. If your enamel chips most manufacturers suggest tossing it out. The cost of cast iron has others thinking they will just treat the exposed cast iron like a traditional skillet and save the pot.  However, like non-stick you now run the risk of further chipping and ultimately consuming it in your food.  The only way around this is making sure the cast iron you buy has a warranty that includes chipping. Regardless, I don’t recommend buying enamel on cast iron.

Original cast iron is where it’s at. The only time you use soap on it is when you get it home. Most manufactures put a protective coating on the iron that you need to remove before you begin to season. I suggest bathing your new friend 3 times to be sure scrubbing as you go. Once it’s clean, pop it in a low temp oven to completely dry it before you season. Seasoning not only helps with flavor but also prevents rust. It is important to season inside, outside and both sides of the lid. Oil and shortening (lard) are the recommended seasoning methods. Oil tends to get tacky, and let’s be honest; doesn’t pork fat always make everything better?! For the herbivores, vegetable shortening is fine as well. Once you coat the base and lid you need to bake it in, and once that is done you are ready to cook!

Not only can you use cast iron in your oven but on the BBQ and over an open flame. Be sure to check the temperature restrictions on the enamel before taking it camping with you.  As far as pricing they range from $50 to about $300 and this is one place I feel you should not cut on cost. However, if you can’t stomach that much money, garage sales are a great place to find cast iron cookware.  They are already pre-seasoned all you have to do is throw it in a high-temp oven to sanitize.

Clean up for the enamel is standard, soak it in soap, scrub it, and dry it. The OG needs nothing more than a quick boil with water after all food has been removed, re-season and bake the season in. Iron is very porous and requires the season to be baked in to prevent rust.  Breads and some other baked goods do not require cleaning, just a quick wipe down with a towel.

Since we are so concerned today with what we put into our bodies, we should be equally concerned about how we are preparing that food.  Cast iron has been around for hundreds of years and continues to be a healthy, environmentally friendly option.   With cast iron, you will always know what is in your food, because only you control what goes into it.

- Chef Mo

Tune in every day this week before Earth Day for more ways on how to become an eco super hero! If we let our powers combine… we can save this PLANET!

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