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 naรฏve 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.

Pan Fried Mushrooms

I keep a cast iron pan near my barbecue for exactly one reason: my wife loves grilled mushrooms on her hamburgers.

I know very well that a well-seasoned pan atop an outdoor gas grill has a whole host of purposes, but when you have a system like this that ain’t broke… why fix it?

We eat barbecued hamburgers at least a few times per month over the summer, and without fail we slice up a couple cups of fresh button mushrooms, toss them into the blazing hot pan with a pat of butter and a clove or two of crushed garlic.

Recipe

2 cups of sliced button mushrooms
1 tablespoon of crushed garlic
1 tablespoon of butter

The fungi heat and sizzle and brown up with a rich, lovely aroma as the burgers grill up nearby, and everything is usually ready to eat just in time, as I swoop the plate full of patties into the house with a steaming hot bowl of grilled mushrooms alongside.

These go great with hamburgers, but I’ve been know to toss grilled mushrooms atop a steak, beside some grilled pork, as part of a veggie medley, or even just to nibble on their own.

Why I Cook on Cast Iron (Part One)

Do you remember the first time you got the perfect sear?

I do.

We had come into a couple thousand dollars as a small inheritance. The decision had been made years prior that any windfalls like that would be rolled back into our house. It was simple: money from a family legacy transformed into value to our home.

Our choice then was to extend the gas line to our kitchen and replace the electric stove with a gas range.

We had been living the post-university student lifestyle for years at that point, but had been watching too much Food Network. The cheap aluminum frying pans were not cutting it anymore. They needed to be replaced, and I couldn’t help but notice that serious chefs didn’t cook gourmet meals over a glowing red coil burner.

Gas range installed and burning, life went on. We upgraded some of our cookware to stainless steel and expanded our repertoire of recipes. We cooked better, ate well, and thought the world of amazing food was our oyster.

At one point I had been curious about cast iron (for just a few months back when we still had the electric range) and I had fished a cheap pan from a discount rack at one of those surplus merch stores. On the electric range it was unimpressive. Couple with that the fact I had no clue about seasoning cast iron, and the whole thing was a succession of crusty messes. The pan got shoved to the back of a cupboard…

…until one particular experimental recipe we’d found specifically asked for a cast iron skillet on our new gas range.

The breaded chicken seared with a crisp, beautiful, crunch that I would have paid real money for at a nice restaurant. I had cooked it in my kitchen, with my limited skills, and I was hooked.

My cast iron mission had begun.

to be continued…