I’d never had a lot of luck browning tofu…or tempeh or burgers. I usually seemed to leave half the tofu stuck to my ‘non-stick’ pan when I flipped it over with my thick plastic spatula – so when I got Isa Does It, and read that Isa recommends a cast iron pan for frying tofu, I was itching to give it a try.
Having grown up in the age of the non-stick frying pan, I’d never really thought about buying one made of cast iron – apart from those pretty enamel ones. The idea of using unfinished cast iron is that the surface allows you to use a thin, metal spatula to scrape right under the food, so you can flip it over without breaking off the lovely crunchy, charred outside part that develops as it cooks – or damaging your pan.
I found a nice stainless steel spatula easily enough, but had a bit of trouble tracking down a cast iron pan that wasn’t enamelled.
It wasn’t until I remembered the old cast iron pot we used to take on family camping trips that I thought about trying a camping goods store.
Oz Camping, the friendly, local, family-owned camping goods store where I’d bought my original pot about 20 years ago had closed down, and all we have nearby, these days, are the big ones – Ray’s Outdoors and Anaconda. (Don’t get me started on that!)
Anyway, Anaconda had a couple of nice iron pans. I chose a smaller pan (about $29), mainly because I could hardly lift the large one with one hand!
Clean and season your new pan
Of course, you have to season a cast iron pan before you use it, so the surface will be non-stick and won’t rust. (Thank goodness for YouTube!) This pan came pre-seasoned, but who knows how, or with what, or where it had been, so I cleaned it up and re-seasoned it. You can see the process of seasoning a pan in the video at the end of this post.
Not just tofu
So did it work? Yes, it really did! It made the tofu really hot and crispy, and the pieces didn’t get mangled as I flipped them.
I started off just using the pan for tofu, but I’ve been so pleased with it that I use it for pretty much all my frying now. It crisps up the food so nicely that my poor old non-stick pan has been gathering dust, unless I’m cooking something huge, but then I usually use my wok anyway.
Using the thin, steel spatula is so much nicer than the plastic/nylon ones needed for non-stick pans. It’s so satisfying to scrape right underneath the pieces of food and flip them over cleanly.
More iron in your dinner
In all my excitement, I had almost forgotten another reason to cook with cast iron. I had a distant recollection of reading (long ago when I had two tiny children, and was afraid that we would all be anaemic because we didn’t eat meat) that cooking in an iron pot increases the iron content of a meal – although the food is supposed to be acidic and liquidy, rather than dry and crispy. I’ll have to find some tomato sauce recipes!
Finally, a tip
If you haven’t tried a cast iron pan, you should give it a go. Just one tip: If your pan has a metal handle, remember not to burn your hand! I’ve done it a couple of times, when I’ve been juggling several pots on the stove.
Now I’m so clever, I just put an oven mitt over the handle while I’m cooking – let’s hope it doesn’t catch fire!