Every cook’s friend, une bonne chaudiere

pc240016A cast iron chaudiere is the queen of outdoor cooking vessels.  Round-bottomed, with short legs and a thick lid, the chaudiere retains and radiates an even heat, perfect for cooking outdoors over an open flame.  Jambalaya for a crowd, red beans for an army, or a big batch of gratons–  the chaudiere cooks all to a turn.  But only if the pot is well-seasoned!  And any cajun cook recognizes that a properly seasoned cast iron pot is a true family heirloom.

Seasoning is the key:  it is the process of converting raw cast iron into a blackened, sealed, non-porous cooking surface.  With smaller pots and pans, the process is easy:  wash the vessel, rub with a light coating of solid shortening or lard, place upside down in  a 250-degree oven for 3 hours.  The fat will polymerize, sealing the pan’s surface.  As long as the fat used for seasoning is a solid at room temperature, the process is foolproof.  Just know that liquid oils result in a sticky, tacky surface unsuitable for cooking.  For the cook seeking instant gratification, pre-seasoned cast iron is sold by Lodge, Krazy Kajun cookware, and other manufacturers.

On the other hand, really big pots require a different approach, and chaudieres are sold in sizes up to 30 gallons.  One time-honored method:  build a sizeable hardwood fire, grease the pot, and toss it into the fire.  Easy, direct, but impractical for the backyard:  it will blacken a big patch of lawn and requires lots of firewood.

pc240017A more controlled approach is just as effective:  rub the pot lightly inside and out with grease, place on a propane burner, and light it up.  As the pot heats, spread coffee grounds around the inside and keep heating the pot.  Eventually, the grounds will burn, depositing a nice layer of carbon on the pot’s cooking surface.  Depending on the burner’s heat output, the whole surface of the oiled pot may flame up, giving a great overall coating of carbonized fat & coffee grounds.

pc240018Now what to do with the pot?  Traditional wisdom says to rinse it well, wiping out any ash & soot, then to fry in it, soaking the whole surface with boiling oil.  I seasoned my 5 gallon chaudiere last week–so now it’s high time to make gratons!

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