Okay, fire and meat-on-a-stick may have come first, but it is arguable that cast-iron cookware came pretty soon after. In homes over the course of history, you’d find heavy cast-iron pans suspended over hearths or nestled cozily in embers, simmering breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or (in the case of Dutch ovens), even baking bread. In China, cast-iron woks are almost elements of architecture—they’re multi-generational, built-in fixtures just as integral to homes as their roofs. Cheap cast iron makes excellent pots, pans, ovens, and, when needed, weapons. It’s relatively inexpensive, nearly indestructible, and as common as dirt.
Still, cast-iron cookware is far from inelegant. Its performance includes optimal heat retention and a unique cooking surface that yields excellent crusts to meats and breads. We asked Chefs Kyle Inserra and Michael Abruzese, who together own Polpettina, one of Westchester’s favorite restaurants, how they use this kitchen workhorse, and they offered the following recipes. Says Chef Inserra, “We’ve had the same Lodge cast-iron pan through three restaurants, about six years, and it’s as good as new. I like the way it retains heat and can go in and out of the oven. Plus, it’s just soulful—it’s cookware with soul. And nothing can get a better crust on chicken.”
Any downsides? “You’ve just got to keep it out of the dishwasher’s hands.” Inserra recommends gentle cleaning with hot water, as detergent will ruin the seasoning (the pan’s finish).