Several people have written foodieporn asking for advice and such on cooking and food matters. This is the first in what I hope to be a series of columns answering readers’ questions. If you have questions or would like cooking advice or recipes, please send a PM to foodieporn. If you are not a journalspace member you can send an email to foodielover (at) hotmail.com (minus the spaces and replace the (at) with @, of course). Please specify which foodieporn contributor you would like to field your question (all contributors are listed as foodieporn’s favorites on the right).
The first question is from kamai40:
What are ramekins? What does it mean to season cookware and what types of cookware need to be seasoned?
Ramekins are glass, ceramic, or even enameled baking dishes that usually measure 2 to 4″ across and are at least 1″ deep. They range in size, but the size needed for a recipe will usually be listed. Desserts like creme’ brulee’ are usually served in them. They are also used as molds for custards, babycakes or miniature fruit tarts.
Most recipes will list size by the ounces the ramekin will hold. If you are unsure of the size of your dishes, fill the ramekin with water and pour the water into a pyrex type measuring cup for liquids labelled with ounces by volume. That will let you know if you have the properly sized ramekins for the recipe. If your ramekins are bigger than the recommended size you can still use them but don’t bake the recipe for as long. I wouldn’t recommend using ones smaller than those called for as whatever you’re making might run over.
For seasoning cookware: Seasoning of cookware happens over time through use and is basically a build up of fat and carbon on the pan that makes the surface non-stick. (Sounds kind of gross when you think of it that way.) Certain types of pans need to be seasoned before the first use, generally cast iron and carbon steel, but also cast aluminum.
For cast iron, if it’s a new piece it will be dark gray in color. It’s best to wash the pan in hot, soapy water to remove any oils left over from manufacturing and dry the pan thoroughly. Water left in cast iron will cause it to rust. The general method for seasoning is to set the oven for 250 degrees. Coat the interior of the pan with lard, rendered bacon grease or Crisco type shortening. Bake the pan for 30 minutes, remove from oven to wipe out any excess grease and then bake another 30 minutes. Allow the pan to cool and, if the pan has a lid, store with the lid off because condensation trapped inside will, again, cause the pan to rust.
If you keep kosher, are vegetarian or do not use hydrogenated products there is an alternative method. After washing and drying the pan, coat it with a thin film of light oil (canola or plain olive oil–don’t bother with the fancy extra virgin in this case). Bake it as above in a 250 degree oven but turn it upside down with a baking sheet on the oven rack below to catch any oil drips. This keeps the oil from pooling and making a burned sticky place in the pan.
After seasoning, it is best to cook high-fat items in the pan the first few times. Fry bacon or panfry other things with a suitable oil (ones with high smoking points, especially peanut or high-oleic canola). Never wash the pan with soap or place in the dishwasher or you’ll undo all your seasoning. You can either boil plain water in the pan then wipe out using a plastic scrubber to dislodge an burned on food. Alternately, place about 1/4 cup of salt in the warm pan and swish around with a paper towel held with tongs (to avoid burning yourself). Then rinse out the salt and dry thoroughly before storing.
For carbon steel, which is what woks are usually made from, there are great instructions for seasoning on the Joyce Chen site where you can also purchase a traditional wok. For cast aluminum, which isn’t as popular these days but is a great material for crepe pans, here is another site that also mentions cast iron.