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The Standard Edition Vol.1, No. 5

The Standard Edition Vol.1, No. 5

Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Cast Iron - How Our Humble Medium Had A Hand In Shaping The United States

We know we might be a little biased, but we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, especially coming out of the historic month of July that holds our great nation’s Independence Day: the cast-iron skillet should be on the American flag. 

That’s right—a cast iron. And that’s because the age-old medium played a vital role in the very creation of this nation.

Mississippi chef John Currence shares the cast iron key to a summer fish fry.

Before John Currence became a James Beard Award winning chef for his growing empire of restaurants in Oxford, Mississippi, his first real exposure to the state's unofficial seafood, catfish, was actually across the southern border, in his native Louisiana. 

 

“We grew up riding out to a little place outside of New Orleans called Middendorf’s that’s now been around for almost 90 years,” says Currence. “It’s literally in the middle of a swamp on the side of Interstate 55. When I was a kid, it had a little defunct gas station next door where inside they kept alligators and turtles and all this stuff we’d go and look at while trains were coming and going on a track that ran from New Orleans to Memphis right behind the restaurant. That’s where we’d go and eat catfish and coleslaw and green onions and hush puppies. It was an absolute delight.”

 

 

 

Spicy Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Recipe courtesy of Chef John Currence -- from an upcoming third cookbook; Photo Courtesy of Ed Anderson

The key to making this recipe, which is excellent fried chicken, is keeping the oil at temperature and not overloading the pan. If you’re worried about making a mess in your kitchen, move along. Bottom line is: you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet. If you love fried chicken, no mess is enough to keep you from cooking…

INGREDIENTS

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 quart FULL FAT buttermilk
1/2 cup Texas Pete hot sauce
3 teaspoons cayenne
3 teaspoons salt
3 cups White Lilly all-purpose flour
1 cup Wondra
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
4 tablespoons lard
Vegetable oil for frying

METHOD

  1. Wash chicken thoroughly and trim any excess skin from the thighs. Pat chicken dry and place on a cookie sheet, skin side up in the refrigerator. In the meantime, combine buttermilk, hot sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper in a bowl and blend fully.
  2. Once chicken has finished in the refrigerator, place in buttermilk mix and chill overnight (or at least 2 hours). In a large freezer bag or brown paper grocery bag, combine flours, remaining salt, remaining cayenne, onion power and garlic powder and combine well.
  3. Heat lard and enough oil to go half way up the side of a 12-inch cast iron skillet to 350º. Pull chicken from buttermilk and allow to drain well. Working 2 thighs at a time, dust chicken in flour and set aside.
  4. Fry 4 thighs at a time only, turning every 5 minuets until chicken is golden brown and at an internal temperature of 155º.
  5. Drain on a cooling rack and eat immediately or later on in the evening after you have stayed out too late and not eaten enough...

 

 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Cast Iron

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Cast Iron

How our humble medium had a hand in shaping the United States.

We know we might be a little biased, but we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, especially coming out of the historic month of July that holds our great nation’s Independence Day: the cast-iron skillet should be on the American flag. 

That’s right—a cast iron. And that’s because the age-old medium played a vital role in the very creation of this nation.

A pot cast at the Saugus Iron Works in Massachusetts and carbon dated to about 1647; the oldest iron casting in the New World. A shareholder in the foundry wrote March 15 of that year “we have cast some tuns of pots, likewise mortars, stoves, skillets”.

By the late 17th century, the colonies were riddled with iron foundries, particularly in Maryland and Pennsylvania, where we are headquartered and make our pans, respectively, today. But back then, inside these rustic structures, iron ore was melted down into a form that could later be turned into finished goods, be it by cast or wrought methods, giving birth to the dawn of American manufacturing. Pots, pans, skillets, as well as hardware, tools, and implements, up to shot, cannon, and ship ballasts were all made using American iron, with techniques evolving as colonists became better acquainted with the natural resources of the New World.

By the late 1700s, America had become the main supplier of iron to Great Britain, and bigger yet, the third largest producer in the world, which naturally started to make the monarchy nervous. With commercial trade growing stiffly competitive with other countries, like the Dutch, British Parliament decided to instate a series of acts that would limit colonial independence and growth—perhaps the most important and impactful being the Iron Act of 1750.

Thos. Jefferson in describing cast iron from one of Virginia’s many ironworks operating in the late 1700s “The toughness of the cast iron of Ross's and Zane's furnaces is very remarkable. Pots and other utensils, cast thinner than usual, of this iron, may be safely thrown into, or out of the wagons in which they are transported.”

This policy restricted the construction of new furnaces and forges, as well as the manufacture of finished goods, ultimately keeping the colonies dependent upon their motherland. Suddenly, colonial iron could only be exported to England, where it would be turned into an array of products and then sent back across the Atlantic and sold around the world.

Of course, in true patriotic fashion, the colonists decided to ignore these restrictions, which some say ignited the first spark of resentment toward the British Empire that would lead to the American Revolution.

“The iron we dig from our mountains, we have just the liberty to make into bars, but farther we must not go,” complained one Philadelphia merchant in a letter to Benjamin Franklin in 1765, nearly a decade before he would lead the first Continental Congress. “We must neither slit it nor plate it, nor must we convert it to steel, though ’tis a truth well known, that we cannot have steel from England fit for use. Nay, though England admits of steel being imported from Germany, she will not suffer it to be made in her Colonies.”

Nassawango Iron Furnace erected by the Maryland Iron Company. One of the first blast furnaces in the US near Snow Hill on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Recognized as a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. Photo courtesy of furnacetown.org

On July 4, 1776, more than 10 percent of the signatures on the Declaration of Independence came from metal casters, and throughout the Revolutionary War, those same colonial foundries would go on to supply cannons and ammunition to the Continental Army. Later, too, cast-iron artillery would be used to protect Fort McHenry from British invasion in the War of 1812—a battle that would Francis Scott Key to pen our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It would appear in the Mexican and Civil Wars, as well, and, eventually, in the Industrial Age of the mid to late 1800s, it would play a pivotal part in the establishment of U.S. railroads and westward expansion.

Many foundries thrived in latter half of the 19th century—a time when some of those same workers would also transition into America’s next great metal industry, steel, and the Industrial Revolution—and a few even lived on well into the 20th century. Though a relative youngster, our own foundry dates back to the 1950s.

Looking back, looking ahead, we like to think they carry the torch.

Or better yet, the flag.

 

 

The Standard Edition Vol. 1, No. 4

The Standard Edition Vol. 1, No. 4

 

 

Legs And All

When the calendar flips and the mercury climbs, the brief season of spring brings forward a thousand fleeting treasures of the Chesapeake Bay. It is a time of emergence, then abundance, and before we know it, the ephemeral.
 
Blink, and you miss it. Warm days, a cool breeze. The arrival of the osprey, blooms on the dogwood tree, that first flush of wildflowers and the rippling whiff of honeysuckle, all before we’re overwhelmed by the plentitude and potency of summer. And by the eve of June, when winter already feels like another lifetime, this fruitful feeling reaches its greatest zenith on the Chesapeake with the flight of the soft-shell crab.

 

Texas chef John Tesar shares the secret to cooking a perfect steak. 

John Tesar got his first taste of perfectly-cooked steak at the age of 10 in an old-school American chophouse by the name of Part I in Key Gardens, Queens.

Growing up in New York, his dad was a banker, and according to John, one of his clients was the mob.

“It was a weird, Goodfellas time,” he says today. “Dad knew everybody, and this was like the he-man place to hang out. One Friday night, he took the family out to dinner there, and to this day, I’ll never forget the taste of a steak done under a broiler like that."

 

 

John Tesar's Cast Iron Skillet Steak

I don't know when cooking a steak became so complicated. When I was growing up -- and this is probably true for you, too -- we didn't need to have charcoal or wood chunks or lighter fluid or a hibachi or a Big Green Egg to cook a steak, much less a sous vide machine and a water circulator. You didn't have to own a backyard or blacken your hands or dispose of dusty ashes. All you needed was a big steel pan, some oil, salt, and a piece of good meat. Some of the best steaks I ever ate were cooked this way -- where the beefiest flavor and the deepest crust depended mainly on a good pan, a strong burner, and an honest piece of meat. I like to call this method Back to the Pan because it encourages people to not get too fussy about steak.

Pick up Chef John Tesar's Cookbook, Knife: Texas Steakhouse Meals At Home.