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Cast Iron Cookware Questions.

What's so good about cast iron cookware?

We're a little biased, but we think cast iron is the best of all cookware materials. It's a dense, heavy metal that absorbs and diffuses heat evenly and consistently. It gets hot, and stays hot, giving you an ideal surface to sear meats, fish, veggies and all manner of other foods on. From frying to baking, braising to searing, cast iron gets the job done, with great results and very little fuss.

A well-seasoned piece of cast iron cookware is one of the most versatile tools a cook can have. Get an Emba skillet nice and hot on your hob, brown some meat to a beautiful flavoursome crust. Reduce the heat, add vegetables and stock, then transfer to the oven. Throw in some potatoes and dumplings, then, when ready, bring it to the table and dig in.

Or, place an Emba griddle on your hob (or barbecue) and get it searingly hot. Throw on some oiled steaks, prawns, mushrooms, a whole spatchcock chicken, whatever. When the aromas make your mouth water, flip them over. Reduce the heat and let temperature do its thing, then enjoy beautifully seared food with that unmistakable charred flavour.

And the benefits don't just stop there. Did you know that cast iron cookware actually adds a tiny amount of natural iron to your food? It's true – every time you use your Emba cookware, it bestows a little beneficial trace element to you cooking! Bet your non-stick frying pan can't claim that.

Last but not least, cast iron is by far the most sustainable cookware. Every piece of Emba cookware is made from recycled iron. The very nature of its manufacturing process means recycling is just part of how cast iron is made. Once we melt and cast it in our foundry, the only thing we add is oil (and heat) to season it. Couple this with the fact that cast iron cookware can essentially last forever (certainly, generations) and you'd be very hard-pressed to find a more sustainable cookware. And if somehow it becomes unwanted or gets damaged beyond repair (a very exceptional circumstance!), cast iron can just be melted down and recast.

Isn't cast iron really heavy?

Cast iron cookware isn't the lightest, but its weight is what makes it special. The dense iron absorbs heat and diffuses it perfectly, radiating it back to your food very efficiently and searing and charring you're cooking to enhance its flavours. The thick iron also ensures your cookware is built to last a lifetime. So while you might not be tossing and twirling Emba skillets around, you will be searing and browning your food like a pro.

And it gets better. At Emba we were well aware that the weight of cast iron can be a barrier for some, so we did something about it. When designing our skillets and griddles, we considered every aspect – including how we could make them lighter without compromising quality. Our solution: to cast the sides of our skillets thinner. The base of a skillet is where you need the thickness, so we reduced weight where it isn't essential. We also crafted our handles with integral ribs, making them lighter, stronger, and cooler to touch.  

We were also able to reduce the weight of our reversible griddles. Ok, so there's only so light a large piece of thick cast iron can be – and quality of cooking performance was always our absolute priority – but by tapering the corners, adding two integral handles and crafting extra deep run-off grooves, we were able to shave some of the weight off.

What is 'seasoning'?

Ironically – considering we're talking about cookware – seasoning has nothing to do with salt and pepper. Seasoning is the process that gives cast ron cookware its natural non-stick cooking surface.

At Emba we season every piece of our cookware twice: coating the cooking surface with oil, then heating it way beyond its smoke point. This fuses a carbonised – or polymerised – layer into the cast iron surface, which stops it rusting and creates a natural 'non-stick' surface to cook on. We call this 'factory seasoning', which prepares your cookware for a lifetime of use.

However, seasoning is not a static thing. Technically, every time you use your Emba cookware, you are seasoning it (if you're using it properly!). The natural oils and fats you cook with will carbonise and further add to the 'patina' of the cooking surface. Therefore, with every use, your Emba cookware gets better (unlike chemically coated non-stick pans, which deteriorate with use).

Does Emba cookware need seasoning?

No, every piece of Emba cookware comes pre-seasoned, twice. You can use it straight away. Will it need re-seasoning? Occasionally, yes – although that all depends on how you use it. If you follow our best practice guidelines for cooking and cleaning your cookware, you should only need to re-season your cookware every now and then.

Having said that, it's always a good idea to do a light seasoning every time you use your Emba cookware. This will stop any rust forming and give you a freshly oiled surface to cook on next time you use it. Simple clean your griddle or
skillet with hot water (scrub with washing up liquid if necessary to remove burnt-on debris), dry it fully on the hob or in the oven, then apply a light coating of oil. If you're using your cookware again within a few days, this will be fine as is.

If this all sounds a bit daunting, don't worry, it's not. Cast iron cookware is much less complicated than you might have heard. You soon get used to looking after cast iron cookware and it doesn't take long to find you own rhythm. Eventually, you'll build up a beautiful patina and you probably won't need to worry about any re-seasoning.

What oil should I use for re-seasoning my cookware?

For a light, post-wash seasoning, use a cooking oil like rapeseed or vegetable oil. They're both quite neutral and have a high smoke point. For a more serious re-seasoning, these will be fine too, but flax and canola oils are probably the best. Just remember to wipe off any excess oil before heating your cookware to
beyond the oil's smoke point.

Is seasoned cast iron just as good as non-stick?

Chemically coated non-stick is pretty hard to beat. But… it's also very hard to make and is quite polluting. Plus, it doesn't last forever, can easily be chipped and scratched if you're use the 'wrong' utensils, can't be used at very high temperatures, and we don't even like to think where that deteriorated coating ends up.

So even the most beautifully patina-d cast iron skillet might not match the non-stick qualities of something like Teflon – but it can come pretty close. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet, properly heated, will fry eggs and cook omelettes perfectly, but it will also sear steaks and brown mushrooms like nothing else, giving you a deep, flavoursome char that you just can't achieve with thin, coated aluminium. If you want a piece of non-stick cookware that gets better with age and actually enhances your cooking, go with cast iron.

Can I go from hob to oven without damaging the cookware?

There’s no plastic or wooden handles - everything is cast iron, so Emba cookware can go straight from hob to oven.

Can I go from hob or oven straight to table?

Emba cast iron cookware is perfect for serving at the table. Food will stay hotter for longer on the table
and the food will taste better being served directly from where it was cooked and looks just as good on your table.

Can I use it on my electric/induction/halogen hob?

Emba cast iron cookware is incredibly efficient on these cooking surfaces and heats up very quickly, so you can get cooking even faster.

Isn't it really difficult to look after?

No, it's honestly not. Cast iron is an extremely strong and durable material. And with our double-seasoning process, Emba cookware is built for the long term.

Sure, if you're really determined, you can mess up cast iron cookware. You can dent it and chip it by smashing it around and hammering nails with it (we bet you'll get through A LOT of nails first though ;-). You
can also undo our beautiful seasoning by repeatedly boiling acidic sauces in it, or worse still, running it through the dishwasher and letting it rust.

If you're happy to follow a few simple 'best practices', then you'll have a lifetime of great cooking, and great cookware, ahead of you.

Essentially, these are our main pointers for success cast iron cooking:

1. Let your cookware get nice and hot before adding any food to it
2. Scrub/brush off any burnt-on food debris to keep the cooking surface smooth
3. Rinse well and dry thoroughly overheat after washing up
4. Wipe it with a little oil before storing
5. Never put it in the dishwasher;

As we always say: the more you use your Emba cookware, the better it gets and the better it cooks. You'll soon wonder how you ever cooked without one!

Can I wash-up cast iron cookware?

A lot of people seem to think you can't, but you absolutely can. The confusion possibly dates back from when cleaning detergents contain lye, a harsh compound that is mostly only found in oven and drain cleaners these days. Lye would be very bad on cast iron cookware's seasoned cooking surface.

But yes, you can wash your Emba cast iron. In fact, we'd recommend it, especially in the early days of using it. You want to try and remove burnt-on bits of food in order to keep the cooking surface nice and smooth. Use warm water and a brush to lift off any debris. You can even use a little washing up liquid, contrary to what people say. Yes, detergents break down oils, but not seasoning, as this is carbonised oil.

The important things to remember when washing cast iron cookware is not to soak it and to dry off any water as quickly as possible once you're done – ideally on the hob or in the oven. Oh, and never, EVER put it in the dishwasher.

Can I use metal cooking utensils?

Absolutely, there are very few dont’s with Emba cast iron. Our cookware is tough and durable, so feel free to use metal utensils to turn and move your food. Or wooden, or plastic, whatever you prefer. The important thing is to cook and enjoy it!

Are there things you can't cook in cast iron cookware?

Not really, although in the early days of use, while its seasoning is still quite young, we would recommend cooking food with a higher fat content and not cooking very acidic sauces/liquids in your Emba skillet. This is because acidic foods can break down the seasoning and lift it from the cast iron itself.

The good news is, the more seasoning your cast iron gets – from repeated searing, frying and baking – the more durable it becomes. Then you won't have problems cooking tomato-based or wine-rich sauces, and vinegar-based reductions. But still, we'd always recommend keeping the time these types of sauces are in the pan to a minimum. Deglazing your skillet with wine or vinegar? No problem. Making puttanesca sauce? Go for it.

If you’re happy to use more than one pan, we'd always recommend browning your meat (or similar) in your Emba cookware, before transferring it to a ceramic or enamelled casserole dish. The sear and crust you'll achieve on the meat will help create a richness and depth of flavour that you just can't get with other pans. And don't forget to deglaze those lovely burnt-on piece and add them to the dish. That is 100%

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