Let’s all be honest, all of us, love a good meal during our times in the outdoors. It doesn’t matter if we’re out on a weekend excursion with the family or in base camp in the Yukon. Meals are the times we all generally enjoy most, short of taking the game we are out there seeking. However, the savoring of our efforts in camp or back at home rank right up there with the effort we invest in bringing the meat home. It stands to reason then, we should take some preliminary steps to insure we make our efforts palatable for as long as we have the game in our freezer.
As a general rule, meat is best, after some aging. Yes, there is something to say for eating portions of our harvest while we’re still in the field. It’s not a practice I wholeheartedly subscribe to, but it does have it’s merits and can be very enjoyable with the right preparation and care.
We will begin with the basics in this article. The ‘basics’ makes all the difference in the world to the quality of your meal. YES YES I’ve heard it all, “I can get the same results and a great meal with __” Although it’s all boils down to taste and what you have available, I would argue the meal may taste good but the result will not be as good.
I grew up in a home, that for reasons I was unable to figure out at that time, had cast iron in the cookware cupboard. However, I seem to recall it was difficult to clean had eggs, pancakes, and just about whatever one was comfortable using stuck inside it. This need not be! With the proper care, seasoning, and cleaning, cast iron will not only out cook, it will out live, any other cookware on the market. Sorry Emeril, your stuff may look good, but my cast iron will last generations. Far longer than Calphalon or any other fine cookware you will find in a department store. No offense or slight on Calphalon and others. It that’s your preference, use it. However, this article, and my cooking is and will be done with good ole, tried and true, indestructible, cast iron. Personally, I use Lodge as my choice of cast iron. I’ve used it for 25 years and still have some of the same pans that I originally purchased. Cast iron has been around as early as the Han Dynasty as early as 200 BC. It’s not a fad, its a tried and true cooking medium.
- Seasoning: This is the beginning of a long happy life with cast iron. Season the pan, pot, or dutch oven prior to any use. This is a simple easy task. Simply preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While thats heating up completely coat the inside with the pan(s) vegetable oil of your choice. Then place the coated pan, pot, or dutch oven, upside down on the center grate for approximately 1 hour. When the hour is up, turn off the oven and allow them to cool in the oven. Once cooled, they are now ready to use. Depending on the amount of use, you will need to re-season about every 6 months. In between seasonings, rub a light coat of vegetable oil on the cooking surface before storing and after cleaning.
- Cleaning: If you’ve seasoned your pans properly, there should be minimal sticking with your new cookware. However, as you use it and season it it will become more and more easy to clean and you will find that it will allow food to stick less and less. It really is the original non-stick cookware. To clean it, if I’m in the field and want to minimize the use of soaps and odor they cause when you’re hunting, I put hot water in the used pan and clean it out with water only using a sponge. After I’ve removed all the remnants of my cooking, I add a little water and a healthy amount of kosher salt, sufficient to make a salty paste. I rub that around and let it stick to the surface and allow it to sit until I’m back from the field. The salinity will hinder the growth of bacteria and all it will take is a rinse and you’re ready to use it again. I don’t put my cast iron in a dishwasher, and I only occasionally use soaps on it. I keep it as natural as possible and am very happy to report that in over 25 years of using it, not one episode of Montezuma’s revenge or other associated ills.
- Storing: Take a very light coat of vegetable oil and lightly coat the bottom and side cooking surfaces. Place a paper towel on the surface and pack your remaining pans one on top of the other. The light coat of oil will significantly retard rust and oxidation in addition to insuring the pan is ready for use the next time you pull it out.
The beauty of cast iron is it’s simplicity. The downside to cast iron, don’t pack it in on your back. It’s loud and heavy. Insofar as untensils are concerned, you don’t need to utilize rubber or synthetic spatulas, spoons, ladles, or any other utensil designed not scratch the surface of your cookware. Metal works great and I don’t have to worry about scratching the pan. I just follow the above steps and have had cookware that has lasted decades.
So, you ask, how does it cook and how does the food taste. It’s as good as it gets in my opinion.
More on that in later posts.