Most any type of main dish, side dish or dessert can be cooked to perfection in a cast iron skillet or pot. However, there are a few things that don’t do well in cast iron cookware. Remember to take into account that all cast iron is virtually non-stick when well seasoned and taken care of in the proper manner.
Delicate Fish Fillets
Some types of thin fish fillets are very delicate, such as tilapia, sole and flounder. While a cast iron pan will cook these types of fish to perfection, getting them out of the pan in one piece is another story entirely. Delicate fish will flake when it is cooked and no matter how easily and carefully you try to remove them from cast iron cookware, they tend to fall apart into small flakes instead of remaining intact as a fillet. If you aren’t picky on the presentation and don’t mind eating fish flakes instead of intact fillets, then this may be okay for you.
Many other types of fish that cook well in cast iron and are easy to remove from the skillet in one piece. You can choose a thicker fish with skin on it and cook it with the skin side down so it simply slides out of the cookware when it’s done. Choose from swordfish, salmon, tuna, snapper or mahi mahi for flavorful white fish with a firm texture that holds up well in cast iron.
Many eggs dishes, such as omelets can stick to cast iron when cooked and you try to remove them. Not only do you get broken eggs yolks and ugly omelets, but also a lot of the egg residue remains in the cookware and needs to be removed. This may cause you to be tempted to soak your cast iron in water, which will remove all the seasoning in your cookware and lead to it rusting.
If you have a new pre-seasoned cast iron pan or have one that you use often and keep it in pristine condition by re-seasoning it often, it is quite easy to cook egg dishes in it without a leaving part of your meal in the pan.
Long Cooking Acid Based Recipes
Acidic ingredients cook just fine in cast iron when they only remain in the pan for a short time. Recipes that have acid in them and have a long slow simmering time, such as a marinara or Bolognese can actually harm your cast iron. Acidic ingredients include tomato, vinegar, citrus and citrus juices, such as orange, lemon and apple. When these items remain in the pan for an extended period of time, the cast iron, which is a reactive metal, becomes oxidized and this will make it rust drastically. In addition to long cooking acidic ingredients, if you store leftovers in the refrigerator in the cast iron cooking vessel, it will have the same affect on the cookware as well as absorb some of the oxidation and the food will take on an iron flavor. Some consumers find that deglazing a cast iron pan with vinegar or wine can impart a metallic taste to the food.
You can cook any type of acidic-based dishes in cast iron as long as they don’t cook for long periods of time at a low setting. Skillet lasagna, enchiladas and other dishes usually cook at a higher temperature on the stovetop and then transfer to the oven for a short amount of time so as not to harm your cast iron.
Savory Followed by Sweet
Cast iron absorbs some of the flavors as dishes cook in them. Stronger flavors of garlic, onions and hot peppers can absorb into the material within the small pores of the iron. If you decide you make a savory main dish for a meal and then want to wipe the pan out quickly to clean it and make a dessert, chances are your dessert will absorb some of the savory flavors. This can be less than desirable to have onion or garlic flavored cobblers or pies.
There are two solutions for this scenario. You can have one designated pan for savory and another designated for sweets. This will prevent the flavors from mixing. Otherwise, you can let the pan cool completely after the savory dish, and then scrub the entire pan with salt, then re-season it, allow it to cool and make your dessert. This method is very time consuming, so most professional chefs and aspiring home cooks prefer to have one cast iron piece of cookware for each type of food. Cast iron is very inexpensive when compared to other non-stick cookware and lasts for generations; so basically, buying two pieces of cast iron is an investment in your culinary quest.