Friday Yeast Fail

I banked my evening post on some cast iron skillet focaccia bread. The plan was to bake a zesty round of generously seasoned pan bread, a twelve inch disc of leavened goodness, baked to perfection in the oven and sliced up for some Friday night snacking.

I followed a simple recipe: some flour, yeast, olive oil, spices, salt, water… you know how this goes.

Mixed, I set it all aside to rise.

I waited.

I watched.

I put it into the proofing drawer of my oven.

I waited some more.

I think my failing was relying on store bought yeast. I would have gone the sourdough starter route, but I dreamed up this plan in the afternoon and was hoping for a Friday treat.

The darned thing never rose.

I turned into a cold, wet, oily ball of dough with so little going for it that six hours later I’m pretty much resigned to cooking it up and seeing what happens.

And whatever happens will definitely not be focaccia.

Strip This Pan, Part Two

I know that with a name like “the cast iron guy” you might expect that I’m some kind of guru in cast iron when in reality it as much about a philosophy of life that is expressed in the form and function of cast iron as much as a so-called cast iron expertise.

I write this as a caveat because often I post ideas that I’m as much interested in exploring more about or expanding my experience with and not so much sharing some deep knowledge of or advice in.

Like, say, recommendations for stripping a cast iron pan for reseasoning … with, say, vinegar.

Something that I have to report that as of my experience over the last twenty four hours did not work out at all for me.

I set up a shallow basin in the backyard.

I rested my twenty-inch cast iron grill in the basin.

I submerged the grill with a generous glug-glug-glug of multiple litres of 5% white vinegar.

I let it sit for sixteen hours.

The result? My pan was wet and smelled of vinegar, but there was no noticable breakdown of the seasoning let alone was it completely flaking off or otherwise dissolved. In fact, I would say all I accomplished was wasting about five bucks worth of vinegar. The pan after drying is unchanged from its soak in food-grade dilute acetic acid.

I suppose the allure of this idea that vinegar might have come from the notion that acids are bad for seasoning. We’re told to limit how much you might, say, cook with tomatoes (which are an acidic food) because they degrade your seasoning. A few years ago I made the mistake of leaving a bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of a pan (someone else put the lid on and it got missed in clean up) and a couple days later the seasoning had degraded to the point where I needed to run it through the oven a few times.

Also, vinegar seems like one of the easier and/or cheaper methods of stripping a pan. No fancy chemicals cleaners or tools or long, energy-expensive trials in the oven: just a bit of solution from the cupboard.

It’s also suprising how many search results appear for this, too, complete with warning about how the pan might rust up as soon as you pull it from the vinegar bath.

I suppose, if I’m being generous to these content farmers, there are many vaguely worded bits of advice about using vinegar on cast iron and there seems to be a genuine misunderstanding between “cleaning” a pan and actually stripping the seasoning. It’s easy to assume it will work “as advertised” if you’ve never tried it for yourself.

Which I have now tried.

And which I’ll not be trying again, unless someone happens to point out some glaring error I may have made in my simplistic trial of (basically) soaking my pan in kitchen chemical overnight.

Bringing me back to my point of experience versus expertise: prior to this weekend I had no experience with vinegar and cast iron, whereas now I can confidently advise that I don’t recommend you bother with this method.

Strip This Pan, Part One

My big ol’ twenty inch reversible grill has developed some pitting over the summer and I’ve been contemplating the pros and cons of various methods to strip a pan down to bare metal and start the seasoning process from scratch.

1. A self-cleaning oven on clean mode heats up the pan hot enough to incinerate the seasoning and burn off everything down to raw iron, but it heats up the house and has been linked to cracked pans.

2. Roasting a pan in a fire or over the barbecue can get the iron hot enough to turn the seasoning to cinders, but the heat is uneven and, again, has been said to warp or crack cast iron if not carefully monitored.

3. Elbow grease and a lot of sandpaper or other mechanically abrasive system will rip down the seasoning on all or part of a pan, and is a method I’ve used to spot repair seasoning, but the work involved is definitely… well, work.

4. Posts online have claimed that soaking in white vinegar overnight can erode the seasoning on a pan down to the point where it can be wiped off easily. I’ve never tried this, but with a twenty inch pan I might need a bigger sink or a big tub of some kind.

5. Back in the realm of over cleaning, chemical oven cleaner sprayed on the surface (then tuck the piece into a couple layers of garbage bags) is said to strip a pan to bare metal, though my suspicion is that the mess at the end might leave me wishing I’d tried something simpler.

6. And finally in the realm of complicated (and perhaps expensive if you don’t own the set up) is using electrolysis which likely involves some clever chemistry knowledge and a bit of electricity to erode the carbon of the seasoning.

I’m going to pick one of these before the week is out and give it a whirl.

Stay tuned.

The Hot Pan of Endless Convenience

This is not the first time I’ve brought up my mushroom grilling wonder pan on this blog, and it is unlikely to be the last. A summer of backyard grilling and open-flame cooking has done nothing short of cementing my resolve celebrate a years-long (if accidental) effort to season a chunk of generic cast iron into one of the most useful pans in my cast iron collection.

Behold, the barbecue beast.

In fact, one of the first posts I wrote in this space referenced a chance purchase by a naïve young cooking enthusiast a decade prior.

A new gas stove in the kitchen prompted an experimental foray into cast iron.

Frugally, I bought a small pan from a discount department store, a generic import that had no pre-seasoning but a cherry red enameled outer finish.

Cast iron was cast iron, I thought. Tho my lack of experience with the product left me floundering with messes and ruined meals. I struggled.

Admittedly, there is a learning curve when switching from an everybody’s non-stick basic cooking tool approach to a tool that requires care and preparation. I had jumped in the deep end and with minimal research immediately sunk to the bottom of the metaphorical swimming pool.

Years passed.

Further research and interest blossomed a casual cooking fascination into a mild obsession and I quickly expanded my collection of newer cast iron items.

The cherry red pan lacked for a home in my bursting cupboards and for one reason or another migrated to a more permanent home on the backyard barbecue grill, hiding under the lid from rainstorms and winter snow.

Year after year after year.

Back to that accidental effort: it was just sitting there taking up space on my grill, so alongside a steak, some seasoned chicken, or just a stack of hamburger patties I got into the habit of oiling up the cherry red pan, tossing in some veggies or sliced mushrooms, and grilling up a side aside the main.

Year after year after year.

Now that at least half a decade has passed, and my understanding of cast iron cooking has blossomed into a kind of enthusiast-level expertise, countless heaps of potatoes have been browned, numerous broccoli fry-ups have been enjoyed, and endless bowls of garlic mushrooms have topped homemade burgers, the pan is matured.

This cherry red generic cast iron pan still sits inside my barbecue, of course, waiting patiently for the next outdoor cookout, but now as a perfectly seasoned cooking vessel and a prime example of the potential of a little oil, time, heat, and patience has on a black iron surface.

The potential is bountiful and amazing in this barbecue beast, my hot pan of endless convenience.