Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Smoke gets in my eyes

In honor of the steak I cooked tonight:

This was the first steak that I have ever cooked, in fact, and I chose to do it Alton Brown's way: searing the meat on my spiffy new (and goddamn heavy) cast-iron skillet, then transferring it to the oven for a few more minutes to cook the center.  Other than some low-grade smoke inhalation and some slightly watery eyes, I have to admit that it turned out pretty well, even if I can't yet locate any grass-fed beef in Cornstate — even in mighty Corntown!*  When you can't even rely on Trader Joe's, you probably have to call off the search.

All respect to the illustrious Mr. Brown, but I don't recall him mentioning in that episode ("Steak Your Claim," if you're keeping track):
  • that my skillet would come out of its oven pre-heating already smoking a bit.
  • Or that applying the steak to the super-heated skillet would cause such huge billows of smoke that I would lose 50% of my usual visibility within my apartment, thereby encouraging me to open every window for emergency ventilation, in the middle of a windy snowstorm.
  • Or that the steak would leave such a stubborn imprint on my thoroughly seasoned skillet that it would shred the paper towels I used to scour the bottom with oil and salt, thereby encouraging me to re-season the pan after dinner amid fears that I have somehow removed the seasoning that I have been patiently building for a week and a half with greasy, greasy breakfasts and dinners.  Oh, well.  Cast-iron cookware is a lifetime investment, I'm told, and regularly re-seasoning is just part of the game.
*Clearly, I have succumbed to the inevitable, and now think of the major regional city in the center of Cornstate as Corntown.


  1. So, theoretically it shouldn't leave a burnt on residue like that. Possible causes are that you tried turning the steak too soon before it had fully released from the pan. Also, the pan could be not hot enough. I usually don't bother heating the pan in the over first, but just leave it on high on the stove top until it gets as hot as possible, add steak, follow his instructions, then move to oven. A bit more oil might also help. Lastly, I don't actually bother with my cast iron anymore and just do it in a stainless steel, oven safe skillet. Then I don't even have to worry about wrecking the seasoning.

    1. Dude, you seriously need to come over here and cook with me, since you seem to know what you're talking about. Honestly, the pan was probably pretty hot: pace Magister Brown, I pre-heated the skillet at 500º, then put it on a burner and heated it up to high. And I actually thought I used too much oil: I could feel and even slightly taste the canola oil on the outside of the steak at a few places along the sides that hadn't been in direct contact with the skillet. I've used more canola oil in the past ten days than I ever thought possible with constant seasoning treatments for the pan, so I figured I was in the clear there. Maybe the skillet is still too new and rough-textured for that, though?

      Are you suggesting that my Calphalon stainless-steel pan could tolerate a 500º-degree oven? I didn't think the handles were designed for that. And jeez, at least 25% of my motivation for buying the damn skillet was to make my own steaks like Alton Brown does! Sigh.

    2. According to my internet research most stainless steel pans are oven safe up to 550, but you're theoretically supposed to check with the manufacturer.

      As to cleaning cast iron, screw the salt and paper towels crap. Sometimes it just needs to soak a bit, and then wash it with a (very little) bit of detergent and a sponge. They key is not to let it dry with the water on it, so after washing I always heat it up on the stovetop for a bit to make sure all the water evaporates.

      Seasoning should actually be pretty difficult to remove, and a little soap and water shouldn't disrupt it.

      Here is a pretty in-depth discussion of seasoning. http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/

    3. Very thorough research, sir! I read that post too, and I've used some of her approach, although I couldn't stomach the idea of buying expensive oil just to season the pan. Like I said, I've been using canola, since an uncle of mine is a serious cast-iron fan and assured me that the oil itself didn't matter as much as the process. I worried that I was being too cheap about this, though, so I just got a bottle of (to my frugal mind) safflower oil, which seems to have some similar properties to those of flaxseed oil. More experimentation awaits.

      Oh, and you're totally right: Calphalon says my steel pan should be good up to 500º. Yet another thing to play around with, next time I get a craving for steak.

  2. So was it tasty???

    I have a le creuset braiser and it is wonderful! All of the heat holding (and heaviness) of cast iron, but with an enameling that makes stuff come off easily! Yeah, I know it's expensive, but as soon as I have more money, I'm getting more of them!

    Or maybe upgrading my knives... hmm.

    1. I was always told that enamel cast iron shouldn't be heated to high temperatures, like over 350ish. We have a cheap lodge version of enamel cast iron and it is a great dutch oven, but I definitely wouldn't use it for steak.

  3. Too much oil (with heat) leaves a sticky coating. I know that the experts say never to scrub or wash these, but sometimes you have to do that to get it back to a state where you can re-season it. Once it's thoroughly seasoned, a quick washing by hand won't hurt it, but don't put it in the dishwasher. The experts' "paper towels and salt" aren't going to cut it if you've made chili, beef stew, or other such dishes in your cast-iron pot.

    Also, Crisco (I know--hydrogenated oils are bad) works pretty well, even if you don't use it for anything else.

    I've had cast iron pans, Dutch ovens, etc., for years (a couple of decades), and this has worked for me. Good luck!

    1. Yeah, I know a lot of people swear by Crisco for seasoning. The same way I don't want to buy $1-an-ounce safflower oil for the pan, I don't want to buy Crisco, since I wouldn't dream of cooking with it.

      I keep dreaming of having a Dutch oven, but I honestly can't figure out where I would even keep the thing in my current kitchen. My kitchen has some virtues to it, but intelligently organized storage space isn't really one of them. Even in the cabinets wide enough for that, the shelves are basically all too rickety to support the weight of a cast-iron vessel that big.

  4. Edited to add: Crisco for seasoning the pan, not necessarily for cooking.

    And the comment made it sound as though I keep replacing the pans, when I've had one skillet, one small skillet, 1 muffin tin, 1 Dutch oven, etc. for decades.