I’ve been having a hard time concentrating all day because the house smells like bacon. This is nobody’s fault but my own, since between bouts of “working” at my computer, I’ve been rushing off to fry batches of bacon. All for the sake of seasoning my new cast iron skillet.
For years, I’ve contemplated adding a cast iron skillet to my collection of cookware. Now, this is a serious investment because we live in a small house and the cupboards in my tiny kitchen are bursting with pans and dishes. Collecting kitchenware is a weakness of mine, balanced out by the fact that I buy very few clothes. Who needs clothes when you’re saving up to buy a Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker? My husband is unimpressed, saying that he’d rather I bought a nice pair of stilettos instead of some frightening, pressurized pot, so a (second) pressure cooker is currently off limits. Which brings me back to cast iron.
A cast iron skillet is a solid piece of history, from way before things like tri-ply stainless and ceramic infra-red coatings. It’s also incredibly heavy and needs to be seasoned before use. I had been looking for something to replace my nonstick pan and given my space constraints, ended up buying a petite 8″ skillet just right for crisping up some corned beef hash topped with two oven poached eggs. But first, I had to season it.
Chowhound and Cook’s Illustrated were filled with dizzying advice about how to season cast iron. Some people advocated burning off the factory pre-seasoning by sticking it in the oven and setting it on “clean”. Others said you should build a bonfire and leave your skillet in until it turned white hot. Still more purists argued that vintage cast iron was the only way to go. Then there were pages and pages of discussion about the right sort of oil to use, from flaxseed to lard. I felt so overwhelmed that I had to eat some dark chocolate to revive myself.
As a child, I recalled seeing my mother season a new cast iron wok. She slowly fried grated coconut in it, stirring and scraping until the house was full of a nutty aroma and the wok had taken on a glossy black sheen. This seemed like a fairly straightforward proposition, but not having any freshly grated coconut on hand, I decided to make do with bacon.
My skillet was so small that I could only fry 2 rashers of bacon at a time, but I figured that the long, continuous frying time could only help. And so it was that I was trapped in the house, frying dainty portions of bacon for much of the day. Make sure you scrape often with a metal spatula to ensure a smooth finish. The house was permeated with a sizzling aroma and I was forced to open all the windows plus the front and back doors. Stumbling around in this lard-induced atmosphere, I was beginning to feel a little high and starting to think disjointed thoughts of pioneers who survived on skillets of beans and fat salt pork.
Cast iron is fantastic at making crisp, deeply coloured bacon that looks like it belongs on the cover of a magazine. And at the end of this marathon bout, I drained the fat and tentatively slipped in a sliced tomato. Success! It didn’t stick at all. Then I fried an egg which stuck only slightly. I ate all of them, including several rashers of bacon and part of a baguette. It was very good.
The most interesting development (apart from having a house that smells like one of Three Little Pigs has been smoked in it) has been my personal popularity. Eau de Bacon is apparently a captivating scent. Dogs wandered across the street to greet me. My children rushed to hug me with squeals. “Mummy, you smell so nice today!” And my husband enthusiastically spun me around when he came home. Best of all, I have a giant stash of crispy bacon in the fridge. Ah, bacon, mon amour. The love that keeps on giving.