Cooking with cast iron

New cast iron cocotte

In some of my travels and snooping around ancient kitchens in castles, châteaux, palaces, palazzi and any other magnificent abodes where I am allowed to visit the kitchen, I check out at the batterie de cuisine and high on the survival list are centuries old cast iron pots.

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Recently after cooking a Beef Bourgogne in my fifteen year old red Le Creuset cocotte I was shocked to find a couple of small chips on the inside enamelled surface.  It was the first time anything like this had happened and I tried to find out what went wrong.

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This Le Creuset gratin dish has been in my kitchen since the 80′s. It is no wonder the French cast iron company Le Creuset offer a lifetime guarantee on their equipment – that is if you don’t treat it recklessly.

IMG_2375Here it is empty so you can see it is still in fairly good condition. IMG_2374

The black baking dish I bought even earlier, probably mid 1970′s. The brand is Danish Copco but sadly Copco has moved away from cast iron and gone into tea kettles. I discovered on Ebay, Amazon and Etsy that there is a healthy second-hand market mostly for Copco coloured cast iron cooking pots.

IMG_6493This Copco cast iron ‘Dutch Oven’ I discovered lurking on the bottom shelf in a Paris apartment that we stayed in some time ago. The lid is upside down but the style is still contemporary.

Now back to how I developed chips in my Le Creuset cocotte. I am not one hundred percent sure but I have been told that I may have filled the pot with cold water to soak after use whilst it was still hot. Or it may have suffered a shock by my turning up the heat too high whilst I was browning the meat. Whatever I did I am not sure but I am guilty of taking the pot for granted.

When I got the new big black one at the top of the page a manual came with it and so it gave me a chance to read the instructions again.

If like me you just think they will be hardy whilst you are tardy follow my extracted tips below:

  • Always put something in the pot/frypan if going on the stove top, eg water or oil and fully cover the base.
  • Warm it up slowly, only then can you turn up the heat.
  • Once you take it out of the oven put it on a neutral temperature base, I usually put it on one of my gas top trivets as I have stainless steel benches and that would be too cold in the winter.
  • You can use a high temperature if you use it to boil water for pasta, just warm it up first. High heat should never be used to pre heat a pan before lowering the temperature, I definitely own up to having done that in the past.
  • Cleaning – soak with warm water if the pot is still warm
  • The versatility – can be used on gas, electricity radiant electric ring, ceramic, induction and thermic ovens.
  • I have always been fussy though about the implements I use, never metal, always wood or heat proof plastic to stir in the pot or serve out of the pot.
  • If you have developed chips inside you can continue to use it if you keep the exposed cast iron bits oiled.  I love the stainless steel knob on top of my new black cocotte and I promise I will look after it.

U tube can be helpful, if you have an old cast iron dutch oven or frypan, the type that may have looked like it spent most of its life over a camping stove or fire, then follow the lead of an American woman I saw on U tube buy an old dutch oven at a junk shop to replace the one she donated from her kitchen to her son when he left home. It had layers of black gunk and since she had a pyrolitic oven it was a cinch to clean. She acquired a fire brick to sit on the base of the oven to hold the pot and turned on the pyrolitic programme and it fully restored the oven and then she discovered that the brand was the famous one she had given to her son. A happy ending but I would not recommend it for enamelled cast iron.

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My large frypan is a bit blackened around the edges but I try not to scrub it too hard for fear of scratching. The blackness has developed over many years by sending it to the oven for final roasting of quail, steaks, racks of lamb, and many other dishes including tarte tatins and souffle omelettes and frittatas. They are heavy but I love them despite arthritis in my fingers and wrist. Having a second place to hold the frypan helps.

IMG_2377Another recent addition to my cast iron family is this Japanese Nambi Tekki designed by Sori Yanagi. It is multi purpose and has a matching lid that costs about the same as the base so I hesitated and have not bought the lid yet as I don’t think it need it.
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My former red cocotte lives on in my memory – I used the lid to weigh down a flour and water paste that was a seal for seven hour lamb.

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I have this terrine in bright red also. Terrine making is a dying art in the average home but I still make them and I also use them for baking loaf cakes and sometimes for extra stuffing and the occasional meat loaf.

For the people who asked me about the Doufeu Cocotte I wrote about in the previous post. IMG_1747

I checked and they are not available in Australia as there has not been enough interest to justify the shipments but Amazon will sell and ship them to Australia.

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Goodbye red oven, you have served me well.

The cookware shop Taste in the James Street, New Farm shopping complex stock the largest variety of Le Creuset shapes and colours in Brisbane.

I have no affiliation with Le Creuset, Copco or any other brand of cast iron or the Taste shop.

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  1. #1 by Trees on January 6, 2014 - 10:43 pm

    I finally parted with Mums much used but worn out 70′s orange enamelled cast iron saucepan set, timber handled they were too. I used them as storage for a while, they looked so bloody good. Such a pity they’d not been looked after better. I did look into re- enamelling but .. Well, $$$$$.

  2. #2 by customshouse on January 12, 2014 - 9:00 pm

    Ros, I’m sure you’d like a great french blog called simon says, it’s by françois simon food critic for le figaro, and full of interesting food issues, film , restaurants and reviews. Great research.

    • #3 by tastetravel on January 12, 2014 - 9:32 pm

      Thanks I will look it up. My own blog is overdue for an update but we have been occupied with the big move from Queensland to Tasmania. Back to the computer soon.

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