Beautiful Cowboy Cooking – Cast Iron Pans and BBQ Salt Crusted Fish
Until a year ago, I was a fool.
Every time we would peruse our favorite kitchen stores I would gaze longingly at all of the beautiful stainless steel pans shimmering by their storefront windows. “Oh, to own a full set of copper cores…. sigh.” But for the copper cores one must come with cash, lots of it, and we knew it was a luxury that wasn’t necessary. (Yes, we could have charged it up, but we don’t endorse that sort of needless spending!)
We did have our one copper core 2 qt. saucepan which is perfect for sauces and the pan pours liquid like a dream. For saute pans we continued to successfully cook on our 13 yr old calphalons with ease and aplomb, but I still couldn’t help but wonder how great it would be to have one of those sexy pans. At least that’s what I thought I wanted, until I wrapped my hands on an old country girl, cast iron.
We bought our first cast iron after chatting with Diane’s dad about banh xeo, Vietnamese crispy crepes. Both his and my favorite dish, we are always seeking the best way to make them. When he was growing up in Viet-nam, they would cook the best banh xeo on these heavy pans which we interpreted as cast iron pans. So we picked up a cute pair of 8″ pans (both of us and Diane’s dad like the banh xeo smaller like they do in some parts of Viet-nam).
The pans came pre-seasoned and were a whopping $16.95 each. That’s a whole decimal place cheaper than the copper cores! And this was even in the same fancy kitchen store that sells all the sexy pans and the idiotic baguette cutters. (People, do not buy a mold with slots just to cut your baguettes! JFC!)
From the first day we cooked on them, it was love. The crusting and release on meats was phenomenal. They cooked scrambled eggs like a dream. Clean up is as easy as it gets, and the more we used them the better everything got. And Diane’s dad was right about using them for the banh xeo. Ohhh baby do the cast irons make great banh xeo!
Now that the BBQ is getting regular use again with the warming of the seasons, we’ve taken the pans out of the kitchen and have begun to cook in the old school, cowboy way. We’ll slide our country beauties onto the BBQ and use them directly on the grill over the glowing coals.
We packed some Japanese River Trout in salt on the pans then put them in the BBQ with the grill’s lid down, and in about 15 minutes had some of the tastiest fishies we’ve done over coals. Same thing with the baby golden yukon spuds. A little oil, some herbs, salt and pepper, into the pan, and onto the grill. Soon we had nice smokey potatoes and a clean kitchen with a wipe-clean pan.
I can’t believe we’ve overlooked them for so long. Unlike the sexy pans, there is no concern about staining or marring them. They are rough and tough, but cook with beautiful finesse and ease. After their trip through the BBQ filled with salt and fish, they were clean with a quick oil wipe. Plus it is kind of hard to discolor black.
People have been cooking like this forever and we feel like idiots for just now thinking of it. So often we had looked at the expensive pans and marveled at what modern technology had reaped, but what is newer or more expensive isn’t necessarily better.
We’ve had a few requests and questions about the salt crusted fish, so here we decided to add this recipe/technique in for anyone interested.
Salt Crusted Fish on the BBQ Recipe
- whole Fish (scaled & cleaned with head and tail still on)(trout, sea bass, tilapia, branzino, etc...)
- Kosher or Sea Salt (enough to completely encompass each of the fishies, figure on several cups worth)
- Herbs of your choice
- cast iron pan (big enough to lay the fish in)
Rinse and pat dry the fish. Heat the coals or turn on your gas BBQ to medium high. (temp. we are aiming for is about 400-425º F when the lid is closed)
Put a layer of salt in the pan@ 1/4" thick. Lay down a few herbs or bay leaves the place the fish in the pan. Leave the fish separated so the salt can eventually completely encompass each fish.
Stuff some more herbs in each of the fishes cavities. Cover the fish with a thick layer (@ 1/4") of salt, leaving the head and tail slightly exposed (makes cracking the crust easier later.)
Place pan in the BBQ, close the lid and roast. Times will vary depending on the size of your fish *See Notes
Remove the cast iron pan from the BBQ (remember to use a mitt!), let it rest for a bit, then crack the crust away from the fish and serve. You can serve it still in the pan and everyone can pick at it, or else remove it completely and plate the fish, it's up to you. Serve with side roasted potatoes too! (which can be roasted in cast iron as well!)