A question I was asked last week was whether I really do cook all the food that I blog about. I am embarrassed to say that I do, and the reality is that I actually cook a lot more meals than I end up writing about, as I would have to pen down 15 odd recipes per week. I try and choose a few that are more interesting.
I also bake bread every week, alternating between the versatile multigrain and a dark rye sourdough. Thinking of bread, do take a look at this article, which an American friend sent me. It makes the argument for sourdough more compelling. Making sourdough at home is not easy, which is why I haven’t posted the recipe yet. But it’s so worth it – this photo of homemade dark sourdough from this week says it all.
For the closet bakers in London, if you are ever interested in learning how to make your own, buy me a good bottle of wine, and we can talk….
Moving on to burning question of the week – Non-stick, cast iron, or something else?
Our parent’s generation survived quite happily without Teflon. Although non-stick cookware is a breeze to use and maintain, over time concerns have arisen about the potential ill effects of the coating used. Information regarding it is still insufficient, so for past many years I have eschewed non-stick cookware.
The main issue with non-stick coating is that it can start releasing toxic and carcinogenic gases if heated beyond 260C, a level surprisingly easy to reach if you are using high heat for searing or frying. It’s best not to bother with non-stick when there are so many good alternatives.The only reason I retain one non-stick pan for crepes is that I never use it on high heat and it makes easy work of crepes without added oil.
Stainless steel (heavy gauge)
Stainless steel pans are excellent for foods that don’t stick easily. I love making omelettes and searing steaks with mine, so I get a good “fond”. However, it’s hard to fry fish, eggs or veggies like mushrooms. I find that the food ends up sticking to the pan unless I use copious amounts of oil.
When stainless steel won’t do, and you need something more non-stick, anodised aluminium pans are a good bet. Anodisation is a process that builds up the metal’s natural coating of oxide on the surface. With anodised aluminium, just ensure that you don’t use scratched or worn out pans (the anodised layer might have broken through). If you are buying anodised, obviously avoid those that have a layer of non-stick coating as that brings us back to square one.
It’s reasonably reassuring that cast iron has been used for cooking for 2000 odd years. Cast-iron and stainless steel are the two materials that have no known ill effects as yet. My mother still has her 50+ year old trusty iron “kadai” (Indian wok) in which she always cooked certain vegetables whilst avoiding anything with tomatoes.
When I looked for scientific evidence behind the benefits of cooking in cast-iron, I found the American Dietetic Association has confirmed that iron does leach into food ( a good thing) from the cookware, but with certain acid based foods, a lot more leaches. Our parents and grandparents probably knew this, because too much iron can also be toxic. However, for most people, especially those relying on a plant based diet; additional iron from cookware is a bonus.
Problems with cast iron
- Cast iron cookware can be very heavy and my wrists have taken the brunt on a few occasions.
- If left wet, cast-iron cookware can rust easily.
- The cookware needs regular seasoning, and
- It shouldn’t be put in the dishwasher.
- Over time the surface becomes more non-stick, but it can never beat Teflon.
If you decide to follow in my cast-iron footsteps and take a few precautions, your efforts will be worthwhile:
- Before first use, season the cookware with oil, especially ordinary cast iron (not so with the expensive pre-seasoned stuff).
- It you use soap to wash the cookware (which is absolutely fine) do season with oil afterwards. It just takes an extra minute. Heat it as soon as it’s washed and dried. Turn off and rub in a bit of cooking oil into the surface with kitchen paper. That’s it. Let it cool and store.
- Contrary to advice about not using abrasives on cast iron, I happily do. Cast iron is very robust and in order to make it “non-stick” over time, you need to keep it clean of burnt residue. Sometimes a good scrub is needed, and I have found that even my Le Creuset black iron pan has benefited from that (despite Le Creuset’s advice not to use anything close to abrasive). Do season well again after the scrub.
- Lastly, using cast-iron does need patience (which incidentally is not my best virtue!). Heat it low and slow; as it’s easy for hot-spots to form, which can burn the food in sections (as I discovered trying to fry eggs in haste and ending up with burnt whites).
The best part of owning cast-iron cookware that it’s virtually indestructible. Even very rusty pots and pans can be rescued with elbow grease, a good hard scrub, and many rounds of seasoning.
Recipes this week:
Ever since we had eaten Raclette in France on our ski trip, I had wanted to make Tartiflette, which reminds me of Raclette, and is doable at home. Tartiflette is a French gratin of potatoes, lardons and cheese. None of us need to eat lots of potatoes and cheese, but occasionally it’s just what the doctor ordered. Eat it like the French do, with tonnes of fresh green salad and some wine (trust me, it’s the perfect way to round off the meal). It’s a breeze to put together in advance and I did that on an evening when I would be home just in time for dinner. The boys managed to bake it and start eating it. Perfect, except that we have no pretty photos of the finished dish as you will see!
Life would be so much easier without remorse, and needless to say the next day we all wanted something lighter. For me, that equates to Japanese. Cold soba, a light & delicate chawan mushi (savoury custard) and green beans with miso. It’s only after we polished off the meal that I realised that there was little stove top cooking involved; no oil and no mess. Virtuous on so many levels.
My final triumph (and I use that word because the end result did look quite impressive, if I do say so myself) was a lemon & passion fruit tart. I love fruit tarts for dessert, and although lemon tarts can be a hit or miss with some people, they are fresh and tangy, and make a perfect end to a rich meal. I made it recently to take to a friend’s house (an excellent portable dessert), and we ate it with a little crème fraiche on the side. Decadent.
For the tart crust, I always turn to a recipe by my dear friend Suzanne Despature (Kitch’n Coach Singapore). It’s based on an original Pierre Hermé recipe which can’t be bettered in my view. I always make double the pastry dough and freeze half. It’s no extra effort and now I have a ready tart crust for my next sweet treat. (I’m thinking of Dorie Greenspan’s chocolate and caramel tart!). Anyone wants to invite me for potluck dinner where I get to make dessert?
Love your friends, invite them for a potluck, and ask them to cook the dessert!