Everything Old is New Again – Cast Iron Cooking
Today’s chef has an ever-increasing arsenal of kitchen gadgetry.
Combi ovens, sous vide – water baths, the pacojet, gastrovac, liquid nitrogen and ultrasonic stirrers that make stunning food with push button precision while offering a wow factor not achievable in the domestic kitchen. With all of this ingenuity why are cutting edge chefs turning back to cast iron cookware as way of setting themselves apart from the crowd?
During a visit to Iwate prefecture we ask Chef Ito from L’aureole Restaurant why cast iron cookware is making resurgence in the commercial kitchen.
CHEF ITO: I believe with the use of modern machinery, chefs are losing their skills,” says Ito-san … “and by using cast iron cookware to produce an excellent dish they can highlight the natural flavours of the produce and showcase their skills as a chef.
To demonstrate, Ito-san prepares a dish of local scallops, carrot puree and foraged sakura mushrooms. The scallop is cooked to perfection, the outside is crisp, brown and the inside is juicy and bursting with flavour. The mushrooms are also intense, a symbiosis of freshness and a simplistic cooking style.
Several other dishes follow to further demonstrate the merits of cast iron cooking including koji marinated kurobuta – black pork, and a braise of local squab with root vegetables.
We ask Ito san for a few tips on cooking with cast iron pans.
CHEF ITO: Firstly you must make sure your cast iron is well seasoned. All of my pans have been in use for many years and are very well seasoned.
On cooking chicken …
CHEF ITO: If I wanted to cook a chicken breast for instance, I would heat the pan over medium/high heat and marinate the breast in a little olive oil. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper and when the pan is hot cook the breast skin side down until brown and crisp. Turn the breast over and cook for one minute and then turn off the heat. There is enough heat in the pan to cook the chicken all the way through. This works for many things, I even cook vegetables this way.
We head into the kitchen and apart from a few stainless pots for simmering stocks and sauces cast iron cookware dominates.
CHEF ITO: I have been using Oigen cast ironware for about 5-6 years now,” explains Ito san. “Iron cookware enhances the natural flavours of the food. It has the ability to create crisp texture outside with juicy moist texture inside. Also the pans are produced here in Iwate so there is a kind of synergy.
From speaking to chefs in Japan as well as Australia, it seems that cast iron cookware is back like bell bottomed trousers.
Thanks for sharing Chef Ito’s views in regard to using cast iron cookware. Just got back from Japan and this trip acquired a cast iron tea pot. Decided I wanted something special for my tea drinking when working late at the office.
Hi Chef Ito, I am wondering about a couple pieces of equipment for a commercial kitchen for Japanese food.
The first is a grill for yakitori, I guess it would be a robata grill but I have heard other chefs call it a “Higo” grill, not sure if this is right, is there anything or anywhere you can recommend I can get information on this.
Second I am wondering what they traditionally use in ramen shops in Japan, I would think to cook the noodles that quickly they would now use a pasta cooker or water bath set up but is there like good ramen “Pot” that is better.
I would greatly appreciate any input you could give on both these items.
Thank you for your time.
Not sure when we will visit Chef Ito again but in answer to your questions, if you’re after a commercial yakitori grill we import these into Australia. For noodles they use the same as we do in Australia with regards to pasta baths that you can see in shopping centre food courts.