I love cooking - I do it for a job and I do it for fun. My days off are full of experimenting with recipes, baking and generally making lots of mess, I like nothing more than cooking from scratch and seeing what happens.
A few years ago I acquired 4 cast iron skillets - they are 11 inches in diameter and have two small handles on each side, the kind of things you'd get in a Tapas bar and have had copious abuse in my kitchen. I picked them up cheap from a friend who was getting rid of some excess kitchen wares from a former restaurant venture and I wouldn't have bought them otherwise due the price. I'm glad I did, being cast iron they are very hard wearing - they will last a life time if treated right and they serve a wide range of jobs in the kitchen. However, as they don't have a long handle they are bit tricky used on the hob - enter the ICD 11.5 inch skillet.
I knew I wanted a skillet with a handle, so a few weeks ago I had a quick look on Amazon. Right away a few pretty intriguing options came up. I took particular note of the Lodge range - this was the make of the ones I owned and I knew they were good. I found the size I wanted but disappointingly it was out of stock - so after another little look about I arrived at this, and for about £20 it was within the price range I was ready to pay so snapped it up.
Those unfamiliar with a skillet - roughly speaking its a frying pan. Kind of. You could happily refer to this skillet as a frying pan, but you couldn't refer to a regular frying pan as a skillet. Skillets tend to by cast iron, one solid piece of metal, don't usually have non-stick surfaces and have low sides. As far as I'm aware, there is no real definition but frying pans matching that description tend to be called skillets rather than 'cast iron frying pans'. They don't have to have long handles like frying pans are but do need some kind of handle to grab on so its not just a metal bowl. Its getting confusing now isn't it? You kind of just to know something is a skillet - they look and feel heavy duty and have the character of a heavy duty cooking utensil.
Another common characteristic of a skillet is they tend to be quite small, about 10-12 inches rather than the 14-17 of a regular frying pan, and this skillet fits right into that category at 11.5 inch. It might be small, but its heavy - that's one of the first things you notice and it feels robust too. Right after getting your hands on this you become aware its going to be something you're going to using for years to come. I wanted one 11 inches for a specific reason and many will be put off that it seems quite small. You're not going to be able to fix up a Spag Bol for a family of eight in this, but that's not what its for - so don't worry, 11.5 inches is more than enough for ample kitchen experimentation. And not just experimentation, you might even get a decent meal out of it.
They fact it is cast iron has its pros and cons - firstly seasoning. The older skillets I have came pre-seasoned, so I was using them right away but this did not come seasoned so a little preparation was in order before I could use it. Naturally cast iron is not non-stick, its needs some help and that means seasoning it. Simply just wipe the inside with olive or vegetable oil and stick in an oven, on full, for about an hour. After you have taken it out and let it cool it will be partially non-stick and ready to use, but the more you use it the more non-stick it will get. This first hour of prep is a small price to pay for something that actually gets more non-stick as you use it, rather than with say Teflon that will wear out over time.
One of the biggest pros about this pan, and the reason I got it that it can be used in the oven. Do you ever fry sausages but fail to get a restaurant looking even cook, one side burnt and the other raw? (I understand this sounds like it came right out of a JML advert) Or burgers, find they burn on the outside but raw in the middle? A skillet is you answer and way more. This can just be stuck in the oven. So fry your burgers on each side on the hob in the pan, then stick the whole pan in the oven to let it cook through. That's just a perk of having such a pan, with some messing about you can get so much from this. As its pretty small it can sit on the top shelf of an oven with other skillets - 3 of my older ones and this can all fit on the top shelf in my oven so I can have 4 different things cooking at once. Great for things like tapas or if you making something with lots of small components that need to go in the oven. You could even use this skillet to cook small lasagnas as well as fry sausages.Cooking a lasagna in something like this might seem odd, but that's exactly what I use my other skillets for. Due to their size you could make 4 small ones at once, ideal if you cooking for meat eaters and veggies.
Being careful is essential with this, it will get crazy hot. The heat transfer well throughout the entire thing including the handle so if you grab that you'll end up cooking your hand instead. This heat transfer is great though, I often not only cook in this pan but also bring the pan to the table (make sure you put it down on something like a thick wooden chopping board or you'll ruin your table) as not only does it stay nice and hot its got a great rustic look - great if friends are round.
If you're looking to get more out of your kitchen and waiting for the next cutting edge gadget - look no further and pick up a bit of kit that's been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. You can fry, bake, grill, saute and serve with this pan - a kitchen essential.
Last Christmas when my husband asked what I wanted, I replied a cast iron skillet. He refused saying he would be humiliated to tell his friends he bought his wife a frying pan for Christmas, but he did buy the pan anyway and give it to me before Christmas. the year before I had wanted the same but got a very expensive no stick pan - which has long since gone to the bin.
I chose this particular pan because it was the largest one available for a reasonable price. The pan is 11.5 inches across, which I have always found adequate for my cooking. I also liked the slightly sloped bottom of the pan, and built in handle, and it is relatively thin iron. Thicker pans are available but then they are heavier as well. It is not the most stylish of cookware, my husband finds it decidedly old fashioned, but then I like old fashioned. Obviously the only colour choice is black.
What I really like about cast iron is, it lasts forever. No matter how badly you burn it, you can get wire wool and give it a good scrub and it will be as good as new. You don't need all those horrid plastic utensils that melt and bend, you can even cut directly in the pan. It scrubs out pretty easily, and even should you leave this damp for ages and allow rust to get a foothold, it's just a matter of getting the wire wool out again. Another thing I really like about cast iron is it does actually add iron to your food. Small amounts of the mineral seep into whatever you are cooking. This is also true for other metals, but personally, I prefer to have extra iron in my foods which is beneficial as opposed to aluminium and Teflon flakes. the fumes from Teflon which has been overheated are known to be toxic to birds and often fatal. While I am not one to panic at every scare story, I am happy enough to choose an option I know is safe over a questionable one. The fact that this pan does not need replacing every year also makes it a more environmentally sound choice. Cast iron is also a perfect conductor of heat, heating far more evenly then most metals, even better than copper bottom in my opinion. This means food comes out a much more uniform level of done and even coloured, and just makes cooking much easier.
The down side to cast iron is that it is heavy. I need to use both hands to lift this, and even then it can be sore, but I have problems with my hands. Unless you have arthritis or some type of joint disorder you should have no problem. Another problem with cast iron is just that people buy this without knowing how to season the pans. A cast iron pan must be well seasoned before the first use, and periodically afterwards depending on use. Seasoning a pan creates it's own non stick coating. This is done by wiping the pan down completely with cooking oil and burning it. Be warned that the smoke is pretty bad, you will need a window or door open.
You let it cool and repeat the process with a new pan. If an older pan is used primarily for frying it will season itself as it cooks. If however it used often for simmering sauces or and water based dish instead of oil, it will need to be seasoned occasionally. Any hint of rust means the pan must be seasoned. Also this pan should never be left wet. Either dry with a towel or by placing over heat after every wash. Finally this pan is much more expensive then most fry pans. At £25 it is even more expensive then my last non stick pan which came with a 10 year guarantee. My last pan ( a Tefal ) was thrown out after one year, and I did not attempt to claim the guarantee as there were so many exclusions to it. I do feel the higher price is justified though. The shipping weight of this is of course quite high. But the fact that it is if anything better now then when I bought it a year ago ( cast iron does get better seasoned with repeated use), and I can expect this to last for the rest of my life makes it worth paying that bit extra for. The pan has already paid for itself now as far as I am concerned since my last pan cost me £16 for one years use.