Pros: Even heating, inexpensive and durable product. Great for weight lifters.
Cons: Heavy, rust-prone. More likely to degrade in my kitchen than in landfill.
Growing up there was no T-Fal, Cook's Essentials or Calphalon. There was Mom's new-fangled Revere Ware, (the kind with copper bottoms), and Grandma's trusty set of perfectly seasoned Lodge frying pans.
Nestled in the bottom drawer of her big, (60") stove, there was the petite 8", the used-daily 10", the larger 12", and the gargantuan, 2 fisted 15" model. The last one fit over 2 burners, and saw little use save at huge Holiday get-togethers.
It's nice to see that trusty 10" model, available in department stores and even larger supermarkets, and the price, less than $10, makes it great for the first time shopper.
The price is right. The deep, 1 3/4" sides make it large enough to do double duty as a chicken-fryer or small stock pot, (for spaghetti sauce and the like). Acidic foods, like tomato sauce, are bound to give you the benefits of extra elemental iron, (ferrous oxide). Even heating is another plus, with your food tending to brown nicely, and the darned thing is near* indestructible.
This is one heavy frying pan. The kind used in cartoon skits for banging the heads of wandering husbands, ("that's my story and I'm stickin' to it!"), and once found atop the type of books perfect for pressing dried flowers. It makes a good loud thump when you want to bang something around, but will not endear you to first floor neighbors or loved ones trying to sleep in.
The biggest fault I can find with Lodge, or most any cast iron cookware is how much work it is to clean. Yes, yes, my Grandma told me about seasoning the pan, and how to clean it-never soak it-to prevent *rust from sneakily taking hold. Maybe it's a knee-jerk thing, but back in the days of Revere-stick-to-everything-Ware my Dad taught me to soak everything. So no, this is not your low maintenance product!
Putting It Through The Paces
I only have 1 cast iron skillet left. It's not the perfectly seasoned, well-aged ebony of my Grandma's set, but there isn't any rust formation. After recently testing my new favorite, Cook's Essentials Chef's Pan, I've decided to put this homely Old Faithful to a rather stringent test: browning meat, then preparing a tasty cream gravy.
Would the thin pork cutlets be golden outside and still moist inside, and evenly cooked? Would the dark iron of this pan cause my seasoned white sauce to discolor, scorch or impart metallic flavors? Read on to see my results with:
Howard's Pork Schnitzel & Sour Cream Gravy
1 pound boneless pork cutlets, pounded 1/8" thin
1/4 Cup flour
1/4 teaspoon Lawry's? Seasoned Salt
1/4 teaspoon Lawry's? Seasoned Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Sweet Hungarian paprika
3 Tablespoons cooking oil, or lard (preferred)
Drippings from pork cutlets, (1 to 2 Tablespoons)
1 Tablespoon butter or margarine
2 Tablespoons reserved seasoned flour
1 Cup chicken broth
1/2 Cup lowfat (2%) milk
1/2 Cup regular sour cream
1/4 teaspoon dill weed or thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Combine cutlets with flour, seasoned salt, pepper and paprika. Preheat skillet over medium high heat while flouring pork, adding 1 Tablespoon oil a minute before browning. With the 10" skillet this will take 2 batches.
Drain meat after browning about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining cooking oil and second batch of meat, then reserve.
Tip: Don't overcrowd your meat. It will not cook evenly and will have the tendency to steam rather than brown. An old Bavarian trick is to rub each cutlet with about 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar to ensure the perfect color and flavor. Sugar burns easily, though and watch meat closely if you chose to try this tasty trick.
Add margarine or butter and flour to frying pan, over medium low heat. Stir up the browned bits with a fork and cook about 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, a little at a time until all incorporated. Now add the milk, stirring well and increasing heat to medium. Stir until thickened to your liking, about 2 more minutes at a gentle boil. Cooled gravy will be thicker than it appears warm.
Stir herbs and spice into sauce, which you are holding at a simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings. (For health reasons we don't use a lot of salt in our household, but many will want more at this point). Stir in sour cream.
Divide reserved cutlets onto 4 dinner plates. Spoon sour cream gravy over. Excellent served, as Howard C. suggests, with a wilted cucumber salad, (slices of cucumber in a tangy vinegar-based dressing), and with traditional potato dumplings on the side. Dessert, if any, is up to your imagination, though warm, sliced cinnamon apples would be light, yet comforting on a dark and stormy winter's night.
Like chicken-fried steaks, schnitzel has it's floured versus battered adherents. For battered version, coat with seasoned flour as above, dip in small bowl containing a mixture of 1 large beaten egg and 2 tablespoons low fat milk, then roll in fine bread crumbs of your choice. I've tried this using instant mashed potato flakes in place of the bread crumbs and it is lovely.
You can, of course, substitute veal scallops or boneless chicken breast for the pork, if so desired.
Results & Conclusions
I mean to say that the cutlets were evenly, perfectly browned, and the gravy was silken, though next time I will add a few dashes of instant minced onion for extra pizazz.
There was no metallic taste to this earthy offering, and the sauce wasn't discolored, something I'd wondered about.
Clean-up, on the other hand, was not a breeze. I really, really tried not to soak the pan, and at least succeeded in not adding the squirt of blue dishwashing liquid that's almost another automatic reflex in my slapdash housekeeping style. The sizzling pan soaked 5 minutes in warm water.
Lesser pans would have warped from that alone. I know, because it happened to 3 of my less-than-top-of-the-line T-Fal batch, before I wised up and bought smart.
I ended up using the scrub brush, plenty of elbow grease, and having to re-season the whole darned pan, on the off-change it would repay me with that familiar powdery orange oxidation known as rust.
Would I use it again? Of course, it is wonderful in it's way, but not what I plan to pull out for everyday cooking.
2 paper towels, a couple tablespoons of cooking oil, and over-all rubdown and an hour in a 200 degree oven later, the pan is good as new. It works as a backup pan in this otherwise modern oven. Just the thing when the hankering for some Paul Prudhomme style Blackened Rib Eye or Snapper strikes my fancy.