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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tips: Cast Iron Care

+ grilled Caesar salad recipe:

Originally, I wrote "grilled Cesar Salad", and was tempted to leave it that way. Cesar, the Spanish version of Caesar, is one of my favorite names. So much so, that I've named a very proud three-legged pig totem Cesar - my roommate was kind enough to bring it back to me from Chile once upon a time. I'm not sure entirely how it works yet; I think I'll try rubbing the curly tail before my next big interview for good luck.

As you can see, despite my instincts, I chose to stick with "Caesar salad" since that is what this recipe really is. This salad is inspired almost exclusively by a similar dish I used to get every time we ate at one of our favorite cafes in college. The first time I went I got the Turkey-Bacon-Avocado (which was delicious), and I remember eating brunch there at least once. But every other date, birthday, Friday night or special occasion I ordered the grilled Caesar because - honestly - I couldn't get enough of it. Thanks to the new cast iron grill pan that found it's way into my possession Christmas morning, I can make my favorite salad at home! No college required. In retrospect, I'd like to have the college part too, but beggar's can't be choosers. Whenever I feel especially morose, or lonely in a "where-are-all-my-roommates" sort of way, I think of my grill pan and this salad.

Speaking of my grill pan, you should get one if you don't have one already. They can be a little pricey, but a lot of chain stores (Crate & Barrel or Williams-Sonoma) have reasonably priced pans starting around thirty dollars. You can also try discount stores and kitchen supply stores, too. My pan is pre-seasoned, which is ideal. But, if yours isn't, here are some tips for seasoning your pan the first time you use it.

Seasoning Cast Iron

Why: This provides a nonstick surface for the pan, as well as a natural protective layer to prevent rust.
1. Wash the pan out with warm water and a very mild detergent (bleach free). You will only do this *once* in the life of your pan.
2. Dry the pan thoroughly.
3. Spray the pan with cooking spray, or rub with a fine layer of oil or melted shortening (no butter or butter flavored shortening).
4. Preheat the oven to 350 and set the pan on the top shelf (upside down). You should place a baking sheet below, to catch rouge drippings, and bake the pan for 1 hour. Let cool completely in the oven afterwards.

If you don't own a grill, or (like me) don't trust yourself around the space ship of a gas grill out back, a grill pan is perfect. It is low maintenance, you don't even have to wash it, and it is half as likely to explode. The flavor is exceptional too, whatever you're grilling on it. But, like you, I'm new to this thing so I'm starting from the bottom. So far, I'm sticking to vegetables: zucchini, onions, lettuce. That might sound a little boring to some of you meat lovers, but I don't think my delicate kitchen psyche could stand over cooking a nice piece of meat, or worse, under cooking it. Learning what temperatures work for different ingredients is important, and discovering how long and what temperatures it takes to get good char marks will make your future meals even more impressive. Plus, who doesn't like the vegetables they give you at a habachi grill? Try this grilled Caesar salad, and then we'll talk. But before you go, check out the tips below for cleaning and caring for that new favorite kitchen utensil.

How to Care + Store your Cast Iron
How to clean:
Never put your cast iron in the dishwasher.
Never wash your pre-seasoned cast iron with soap and water.

Do "wash" your pan while it is still hot, but be careful.
Do use hot water and a soft towel or scrub brush to wipe your cast iron clean.

Always allow your cast iron to dry thoroughly. Then, rub the pan down with oil or melted shortening, and wipe with a paper towel after each use.

How to store:
Do keep the pan safe from scratches and scrapes.
Do NOT store other things in the pan - this includes the lid; which, should be stored separately.

Grilled Caesar Salad
Inspired by Clementine's, and Grilled Salad by Patio Daddio BBQ
Serves 2

1 large heart of romaine lettuce
1 tablespoon (roughly) of olive oil
garlic salt
black pepper
Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup Caesar dressing, scant

1. Preheat your grill pan to medium-high.
2. Trim the "root" of the lettuce, very slightly - you want the leaves to stay together.
3. Rub the split side of the lettuce with olive oil. Season with a little garlic salt, to taste.
4. Place the lettuce, split side down, on the grill pan. Grill for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. The lettuce will being to wilt slightly and you should have good grill marks on the lettuce.
5. Remove to a plate and season with black pepper. Use a vegetable peeler to add curls of Parmesan cheese to the salad and top with a few drizzles of dressing. Serve immediately.

"Caring for your Cast Iron Cookware". Lodge Manufactoring Company. link

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