Saturday, 3 May 2008

Saga of the Grill Press

As the Teflon controversy finally crawled into my skull and convinced me to slowly place less dependence on their non- stick qualities, I turned back to the old reliable cast iron wear hidden somewhere in the jumble of items too valuable to toss, but not used enough to keep at hand. Rather than rely on the old frying pan – needs a lot of work to bring back to its former glory – I purchased a pre-seasoned 9” square griddle pan with ridges. I confess I’m addicted to those pretty grill lines perfectly crossed on steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts and various vegetables that we prefer not to boil endlessly in water. Testing the newly purchased cooking utensil with some chicken breasts brought to light a couple of problems. One, it took longer to cook than I preferred – fussy. Two, due to the extra time on the grill, it left a slight, but noticeable burnt taste which we decided was objectionable. How to rectify these minor dilemmas?
Somewhere in the back of my mind lay the answer. Ah, yes! I remembered seeing a grill press – that cast iron item about 8” in diameter with a wood handle – perfectly formed to place atop whatever was in the griddle to speed up the cooking time; and as an added advantage, it was reputed to be excellent for squeezing out excess fat (told me on the cute advertising tag). How could one go wrong? Quick, run over to the gourmet shop and pick one up. Once home, it takes only a moment to realize the press is light grey in color and both the pre-seasoned griddle and the older frying pan are black. So I recall that in the past you were expected to season your cast iron at home the old fashioned way. Wash it with hot water, slather on some cooking oil and bake in the oven for 45/60 minutes and let cool. With loving use, the new item would eventually darken and take on the preferred black patina treasured by cooks. At first the wooden handle seemed to preclude placement in the oven, but on further examination I discovered it was easily removed by removing the two holding screws. Therefore, after the wash, the light application of oil and placement in a 350’ F oven, I awaited the buzzer announcement that I would be able to use my newest utensil for the preliminary test.
As I relaxed in my Lazy Boy reclining chair, intent on completing the New York Times crossword, a weird odor arose from the kitchen causing some concern as it definitely was pouring out of the oven. Why would such a foul smell arise from a bit of cooking oil? Smack upside the head! Suddenly, I remembered reading an article online which indicated that manufacturers were now coating cast iron with a protective wax finish before shipping. Ran to the kitchen and hauled out the grill and sure enough, the waxy coating had shrivelled in spots and was clearly visible. No problemo – as they say in Mexico. Left it to cool then attacked it with steel wool and plenty of hot water until the sticky substance was committed to history. And then: began the process anew, oil, oven heat etc. Tremendous success on the second try, once cooled you could feel the smoothness and eye the slight patina already in evidence.
Happy to report, the initial use of combined griddle and press was a total success. If I neglected to mention before, I relied on the use of an electric indoor Teflon covered grill – okay, I confess, a George Foreman special, quick and easy until the Teflon wears off – hope I do not half to burn up my apron a la “Hell’s Kitchen & Gordon Ramsay”. Cooked in almost the identical time and did so without sticking. Plus cleaning up cast iron pans somehow connects you even closer to the joy of the cooking process.

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