QUESTION: When I read a recipe for citrus fruits and tomatoes, it calls for a non-reactive pot. What is a non-reactive pot?
ANSWER: Citrus and Tomatoes are high in acidic content and should be cooked in a non-reactive pot. A reactive pot is one made from a material that reacts chemically with other foods. Aluminum and copper, for instance, conduct heat extremely well and are the 2 most common reactive materials used to make cookware.
Lightweight aluminum, second only to copper in conducting heat, reacts with acidic foods and can impart a metallic taste as well as discoloring light-colored soups and sauces. Also, if you stir light-colored soups and sauces with a metal spoon or wire whisk, the sauce can change color. For this reason, you should not cook or store light-colored foods in aluminum cookware. On the other hand, anodized aluminum has a hard, corrosion-resistant surface that helps prevent discoloration.
Most copper pots and pans are lined with tin to prevent reaction. However, tin is a very soft metal, so it scratches easily exposing food to the copper underneath.
Stainless steel is the most common non-reactive cookware available. Since it does not conduct or retain heat well, it frequently has aluminum or copper bonded to the bottom or a core of aluminum between the layers of stainless steel. Although it’s expensive, it offers the benefits of a durable, non-reactive surface and rapid, uniform heat conductivity.
Glass cookware is non-reactive. Although it retains heat well, it conducts it poorly. Enamelware in non-reactive as long as the enamel is not scratched or chipped.
Cast iron is considered reactive but, if it is seasoned well, it can be used as long as it doesn’t stay in contact with acidic foods for too long a time.
Here’s how you season a cast iron pot or pan:
Rub it with oil, solid vegetable shortening, bacon grease, lard, or food-grade coconut oil, or even butter. Heat it for 30 to 60 minutes in a 300° degree oven. Let it cool to room temperature. Repeat this process several times to create a stronger "seasoning" bond.
The oil fills the cavities and becomes entrenched in them. By seasoning a new pan, the cooking surface develops a nonstick quality because the formerly jagged and pitted surface becomes smooth. Also, because the pores are permeated with oil, water cannot seep in and create rust that would give food an off-flavor.
If there are brownish stains on the bottom after you season your pot, it means you didn’t do it correctly. Scour it clean and begin again. If the discoloration is just rust, it will come off easily. If, however, it is from excess cooking oil used in the first seasoning, it will require heavy duty scrubbing. This is why I season my cast iron with solid shortening, which does not create a gummy residue if too much is applied.
Unless you use your cast-iron pans daily, they should be washed briefly with a little soapy water and then rinsed and thoroughly dried in order to rid them of excess surface oil. If you do not do this, the surplus oil will become rancid within a couple of days.
Remember - Everytime you cook in your cast-iron pan, you are actually seasoning it again by filling in the microscopic pores and valleys that are part of the cast-iron surface. The more you cook, the smoother the surface becomes!
Avoid buying cast iron pans or skillets with wooden handles; these are useless for oven cooking and most camp cooking. If the utensil comes with a cast iron lid, commonly called a Dutch oven, cure the lid's inside the same as the pot. Otherwise, use a glass lid or whatever you have