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.