Chris Martin

The forever skillet

I am no cooking expert, but Julie endorses the accuracy of this post.

Some helpful facts:

  1. When food browns, it can stick to a porous cooking surface; a coating of oil on the cooking surface prevents this.
  2. Ingredients typically contain oils which, in the normal course of cooking, incidentally end up deposited onto the cookware.
  3. A cooking surface is used at temperatures that kill any bacteria present on it.

Therefore, always keep some oil on the skillet. Fact 1 tells us why this is helpful, fact 2 tells us that it is convenient, and fact 3 assures us it is safe.

I was not, until recently, able to use an iron skillet. The reasons:

  • I have always used "non-stick" cookware made of nonporous material (until it starts showing signs of age), so I have never needed to think about fact 1.
  • Dish soap removes oil very readily (which is desirable for most cleaning tasks). Since I have always used dish soap to deal with fact 2, I have always had fairly sterile cooking surfaces and no need to think about fact 3.

My new habits:

  • Clean the skillet by scraping stuff off, without soap.
  • If the surface doesn't look shiny, melt a little oil on there.

I see a lot of other people who apparently also find iron skillets as mystifying as I did. What's upsetting to me about this phenomenon is that it represents a common feedback loop between technology, ignorance, and consumerism. Non-stick cookware obviates the need to understand any of the facts I've mentioned here. But it does wear down, whereas an iron skillet will never become any worse for wear. Not having any iron around, we lose this basic competence and come to depend on disposable alternatives to a tool that ought to be indestructible and timeless.

I write about Haskell and related topics; you can find my works online on Type Classes and in print from The Joy of Haskell.