Claypot rice in a 32cm Le Creuset marmite.
It really is not hype. Cast iron cookware really produces food that is flavoursome and moist. This particular Le Creuset marmite, with its 32cm diameter and gently sloping sides, is beyond awesome. I use it every day.
I bought it on a whim and it has turned out to be my best buy of the entire year. I use it as a wok to fry rice. I use it as a roasting pan for lamb leg. I use it to make claypot rice and stews. This pot does everything well, as long as you treat it with respect.
I was perplexed at WHY the dishes coming out of this pot taste so vastly different. I googled around and formed my own (inexpert) explanation. Cast iron cookware accumulates heat slowly, stores more heat and releases heat slowly.If you are interested, here is the science behind it:
Let's say you have an aluminium pan (weights 2lb) at 300 degrees. Aluminium's specific heat is 0.9 (never mind the units). It means that the aluminum contains 2lb*300*0.9 = 540 units of heat.
By comparison iron's specific heat is 0.45 but an equivalent cast iron pan (same size) would be at least 4 times heavier (relative density of iron is more).
So, the iron pan will contain: 8lb*0.45*300 = 1080 units of heat.
This means the iron pan is twice as hot (and will not cool down too much when you put your batter/steak etc on it). This is why uron pans cook things better than aluminium pans.
The magic (in my opinion) is in the way the pot releases heat to the food. By releasing heat slowly, the food is cooked gently. When this happens, odour molecules do not evaporate. Instead of perfuming the air in the kitchen, the smell stays in the food. Smell is integral to our appreciation of taste. In addition, the cast iron pot lids are heavy. This keeps the flavours inside the pot and sets up a virtuous cycle where flavours evaporate and condense on the lid ONLY to drop back into the pot to further intensify flavours.
This is the biggest of the Le Creuset marmites.
Frying rice with it.
This is Staub grill pan. I love the very distinct chargrill marks on the meat. This cannot be achieved with aluminium grill pans. Why? See HERE.
Dish assembled. Look at the individual grains of fried rice.
Each grain is thinly coated with a layer of egg.
Vegetables lining the 32cm marmite.
Rosemary, anchovy and garlic studded lamb leg (bone-in) laid atop the vegetables.
After browning the meat and roasting 1 hour at 150 Deg C in the oven, the roast looks like this, with the vegetables moist and ever so slightly charred. The liquid from the vegetables has not evaporated and forms a very sweet soup at the base of the pot. In my old roasting pan, the heat of the pan would have evaporated the vegetable juices. The vegetables retained all their flavours, and were still plump and moist.
Steamed fish in a Le Creuset cast iron braiser is incredible. I used to do it in my steamer and whilst the whole house was filled with the fragrance of steamed fish, the fish itself was dry and flavourless (even if I carefully adjusted the timing). My kids used to hate steamed fish, but both agree that these Le Creuset cast iron steamed fish are delicious.
If you ask me, I am not too enamoured of these white enamel braisers. White enamel tends to stain and is not as heat resistant as black enamel. Le Creuset does not have black enamel braisers. I have actually got Amazon Italy to deliver a Staub braiser (with black enamel) to our hotel in Zurich. I will pick it up when we go for the end of year holidays. I save SGD$85 compared to buying this in Singapore. These products are much cheaper in Europe.
How To Treat Your Cast Iron Pot With Respect
(1) Always preheat the pot slowly, with the lowest heat. Iron is a rather poor conductor and it will take time for the heat to move through the whole pot. I typically pre-heat the pot for about 15 to 20 minutes at the lowest heat. If your pot is made of white enamel, please put some water or oil into the pot during pre-heating, or risk causing cracks in the white enamel.
(2) Don't subject the pot to thermal shocks. If the pot is hot, don't throw in cold water. Throw in boiling water instead. Don't put a hot pot down on a cold surface. Use a trivet instead.
(3) Don't use soap on the pot unless very necessary. Oil settles into a polymerised layer on the surface of the pots. This layer of polymerised oil forms a patina renders the pot non-stick. The more you use the pot, the more non-stick it becomes.
(4) Never use harsh cleaning agents like bleach, Jif on the pots. If there are stains or food debris, I will pour in hot water and put the pot on the lowest fire, and use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrub. The hot water is quite good at removing any stains or stuck food.
This is my soft-bristled brush. For stubborn stains, I use soap, hot water and place it on the lowest fire on the stove top to scrub.