Cookware Care

Love your cookware and kitchen utensils

A word on dishwashers

If you love your cookware the way we love ours, you will be very careful how close it gets to a dishwasher. Dishwashers provide useful additional storage, but are otherwise brutish thugs in domestic kitchens. They are fine for sterilising ceramics and stainless steel, and admittedly there is no better way of getting dog or cat lick off the pet bowl. But be aware that the chemicals, salt, intense heat changes and whooshing about in violent water surges will erode all really useful cooking surfaces like aluminium, copper, cast iron, carbon steel and enamels. If you doubt this, take a look at your grandmother’s bone handled silver plated cutlery after a few years of dishwashering. It’s as shocking as looking at a smoker’s lungs.

Why can’t you put knives in a dishwasher?

There are four main reasons why good quality knives can’t go in the dishwasher:

    1. They have a higher carbon content (and/or lower chromium content) which means the abrasive chemicals and salts in the dishwasher can cause pitting and even rusting.
    2. Sharp edges are thin, which makes them vulnerable. If they are rattling around in a dishwasher banging into harder objects, they will become blunt and deeply unhappy.
    3. Most good quality knives are ‘mixed material’: ie the metal of the blade and whatever the handle is made of. Dishwashers get extremely hot. All materials expand when they get hot. Different materials expand at different rates, metals usually expanding more and faster. The non-metal handle will very soon crack under the pressure.
    4. It takes about two seconds to wipe a knife with a soapy sponge. Putting it in the dishwasher is an inexcusable laziness. (And, another point on time-saving, a good kitchen knife is in use whenever you are doing any food preparation - you don’t have time for it to go through a whole dishwasher cycle.)

Wood

While it is true you can’t sterilise wood, it is not true it’s unclean. Wood has its own antibacterial agents which attack germs rather than encouraging them to breed. All it needs is a wipe down with a damp, soapy sponge and not too much soaking in water. If it becomes waterlogged the bacteria in the water will breed (this is not the same as the bacteria from food breeding on the surface) and the wood will crack. If your board begins to dry out, give it a wipe with a light oil, such as groundnut or vegetable. Don’t use olive oil, as it’s far too viscous to be absorbed into the grain.

Seasoning cast iron and steel

Seasoning is simply the process of burning fat into the pores of the metal, sealing it from moisture and creating, over time, the most natural nonstick surface.

Most European cast iron these days has a glass enamel coating inside and out. This is a very hard, glossy surface which doesn’t need seasoning. Uncoated cast iron – and steel pans (like woks or ‘black iron’ frypans used in catering) – do need seasoning.

If your cast iron or steel pan is black or very dark grey, with a tendency to rust, it is the seasonable sort. The main thing is: don’t panic. Get some wire wool and rub off all the rusty bits. Wipe some groundnut oil ALL OVER (the cookware, not yourself). Put it in the oven on a low heat for a couple of hours for the oil to burn in. It’s best if you line the oven and turn the piece upside down so dripping fat drips out rather than pooling in the bottom of the pan. If the piece doesn’t fit inside the oven, wipe the oil over the cooking surface and place on a low hob for a few minutes (no more than 10). Never leave the kitchen when you are seasoning on the hob, and make sure it is a very light coating of oil. If you see smoke rising from the pan, you have put on too much oil - remove it from the hob immediately. Please be extremely vigilant - oil can catch fire if it is heated too much and for too long.

Don’t use olive oil for seasoning as you won’t be able to get a thin enough layer and you’ll end up with knobbly bits of burnt oil all over it.

Each time you use the pan, scrape off any food residue, give it a rinse out, dry it thoroughly and give it another wipe round with a small amount of oil. Some people don’t even bother to rinse cast iron or steel frypans, they just wipe them out with a paper towel after use. (I know lots of people who clean nonstick frypans in this way, but long-term the build-up of carbon will degrade the surface.)

Never, ever, ever put cast iron, steel (or anodised aluminium bakeware) in the dishwasher. It will undo years and years of seasoning in half an hour.

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