Cast Iron or simply iron cooking pans, skillets and woks are considered to be some of the best cooking utensils world wide.
Other safe cookware options are stainless steel, ceramic and clay. I do not recommend cooking in aluminium or non-stick vessels.
Iron is a tough, long lasting metal and if handled with care, a good iron pan or kadhai will last you for decades. Flat cast iron skillets are widely used in the west for cooking where food is cooked in the skillet on the gas burner and is then finished off in the oven. These are slowly popping up in Indian kitchens in India as more people are adapting to various western methods of cooking. However, each and every Indian home has one iron Tawa for making chappatis and atleast one iron kadhai. Whether it is used regularly for making delicious sabzis or jalebis or for deep frying puris, or its just rusting in the kitchen’s darkest corner behind the gas cylinder is a completely different story.
Benefits of cooking in an Iron Kadhai –
Initially I was very inclined towards non stick cookware. They are fancy looking, easy to use and food does not stick. But slowly, as I could see my non stick pot go from a bright purple to a pale violet after just a couple of months of usage inspite of the fact that I was taking very good care of them, never using metal spoons or washing with harsh scrubbing pads, alarm bells started going off in my head. Soon the non stick quality of the pot also began deteriorating . My mother in law was the one who insisted I let go of this Non-Stick obsession of mine and switch to an iron kadhai. Though it felt like a task, because Iron pots and pans are heavy and difficult to maintain, listening to my MIL’s advice and getting an iron kadhai was one of the best kitchen decisions I have ever made.
I bought my 24cm Iron kadhai from a shop at my local market. These are sold by weight and mine cost me less than INR 250. I don’t have much information about purchasing these online.
Iron is a strong, sturdy metal. So if your kadhai is well made, then that ensures even distribution of heat throughout its body which helps evenly cook your food and makes this the perfect medium for deep-frying. Iron is an excellent conductor of heat and you can exercise complete control over your Iron kadhai. So it is great for grilling, sauteing, or braising food and making dry sabzis. Another advantage of cooking in iron is that some of the iron also enters the food which is actually good for your body. It helps make hemoglobin in your blood and keeps your energy levels up. So unlike cooking in non-stick cookware where the toxic non stick coating can cause serious damage to your body if it enters the food, Iron is actually beneficial for you. Iron is considered as one of the safest cooking mediums.
Iron however does not do well with acidic or citric foods. The acid in the food tends to pull more iron from the cooking pan than necessary and that can give a very bad metallic taste to your food and trust me you don’t want to taste that. So, avoid cooking any food that could be sour, acidic or citric in nature in your iron kadhai, such as Tomato based gravies or soup, Kadhi, Rasam, etc
How to season you Iron Kadhai – Making it Non-stick
Seasoning is the most crucial step you need to follow before you start cooking in Iron mediums. Seasoning is basically the process by which you can turn your Iron cookware non sticky and rust proof. It is a time consuming process but you have to do it only once, provided you maintain the seasoning and treat your kadhai with the care and respect it deserves. Here is a step by step guide as to how you can season your iron kadhai. I also made a video tutorial on my you tube channel which is embedded below. Please watch it if you can and do subscribe while you are there.
- Wash and rinse the kadhai with water in your kitchen sink. Then using a tough metal scrubbing pad and liquid dish soap, scrub the kadhai thoroughly until you can see the lather turning darker. This step is to take off all possible traces of rust that might hiding in the kadhai. Scrub the kadhai inside out and cover each and every inch of the pan, including the handles. Rinse well to get rid of all the soapy water and pat it dry completely with the help of a dry and clean kitchen cloth.
2. Drizzle a few tablespoons of cooking oil on the kadhai. The oil should be heavier, or more viscous, like rice bran or soyabean oil. Avoid using lighter oils like olive or coconut. Then with the help of folded paper towels smear the entire surface of the kadhai, both inside and out with the oil and vigorously rub it in, almost as if you were polishing it. Do not forget to cover the handles as well. This should take atleast 2-3 minutes. Then taking another fresh piece of paper towel, rub off all of the oil you just applied. The idea is to take away as much oil as possible after polishing.
3. Next, set the kadhai on a medium high flame on your gas burner and let it heat for atleast 20 minutes, You will see the kadhai giving off vapors. This is the excess oil evaporating away. After 20 minutes, turn of the heat and let it cool down completely before proceeding to the next step. Cooling should take bout 30-45 minutes.
4. After the kadhai has completely cooled down, take it your sink and wash it again, thoroughly. But this time instead of using a metal scrubbing pad which is used for tough stain removal, use a milder pad, like something made of nylon which you would use to wash a non stick pan. Use dish soap this time as well. And like before, rinse out the soapy lather thoroughly and pat it down bone dry with a clean kitchen towel.
5. Repeat Steps 2, 3 and 4. But this time use the kadhai with only water without soap and place it directly over your gas burner on medium high heat and let the water evaporate. Let it stay like that for 10 minutes, turn of the heat and let it cool on its own till it reaches room temperature.
CAUTION -Please do this carefully, without any kids or animals around. The iron gets really hot. Always use oven mitts or tongs to handle hot cookware
6. Your Kadhai is now seasoned and ready to use. In fact it is going to be so non sticky you can actually fry an egg in it and no it will not stick.
Seasoned Iron cookware Maintenance
If you want your seasoned, ‘Non Stick’ cast iron pan to stay non stick and seasoned, you will have to take good care. Seasoning essentially creates a non stick surface for your food to glide on easily via a process called polymerization, Iron is a porous metal and with seasoning, what you are basically doing is trapping oil molecules in those pores and locking them in with heat.
- Always wash your kadhai after it has cooled down with a non abrasive scrubbing pad and mild liquid dish soap after you have used it. Using an abrasive scrubber will disturb the polymerization, allowing water to seep into the pores and cause rusting. Rust is your iron pan’s biggest enemy
- Never pour cold water on a hot iron pan. Simple science says metals expand when heated and contract when cooled. Iron gets hot and stays hot. So after cooking if you take your kadhai to the sink and let your tap go to town on it, it will cause it to contract fast and even though this is not visible to the naked eye, the damage happens and its not good for the seasoning or longevity of the pan.
- After each and every use, wash as suggested above and always dry your seasoned kadhai with a clean kitchen cloth removing any traces of water or moisture and store in it upside-down a dry place away from water.
- Avoid cooking acidic or citric foods.
That is all. It sounds like a lot of work, but if you season and maintain your Iron cookware well, then cooking becomes a much more fulfilling, rewarding and enjoyable process and your kadhai will serve you for generations. You will be able to actually feel a difference in your food if you transition from non stick cookware to iron.
And if your kadhai somehow catches rust, don’t worry. You can always re-season it. But the maintenance is easier than the seasoning process so be wise!