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Cast iron, itís all gravy

I love my cast-iron frying pans.

I have three, ranging in size from 6 to 14 inches wide.

The small one I use for fried eggs or sautťing single servings of garlic and mushrooms in butter to pour over pasta. The medium one, about 10 inches, is perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches, frying bacon, sautťing vegetables and making gravy. The larger one, about 14 inches, is a bit deeper than the others, so when Iím truly daring, I attempt to re-create my grandmotherís fried chicken.

I know that the large one and the small one were Grandmaís. I think I picked up the medium one at a garage sale somewhere.

All of them have been well seasoned with use and have never really been scoured nor washed with soap.

Iíve steamed asparagus in the largest one by laying a thin layer in about a cup of water. Made an upside-down pineapple cake in the medium one. And the eggs just slide out without sticking in any of the pans.

Cornbread just wouldnít be cornbread if it were prepared in anything other than a cast-iron pan.

One of my dadís favorite dishes is chicken fried steak and gravy made in a cast-iron pan. Itís not a heart-healthy choice, so Shari and I only make it for him about once or twice a year.

Start with cubed steak or what was once called ďminute steak,Ē a palm-sized cut of meat that looks like itís been pounded down to about a quarter-inch thick (the reason itís called minute steak is because it only takes a few minutes to fry in a hot pan). Season about a cup and a half of flour with salt and freshly ground pepper, maybe add a bit of garlic powder if you like. Lightly coat a piece of steak on both sides with the flour. Shake most of the flour off, leave a little bit on because you want to make crumbs (for eating as well as for seasoning the gravy).

Heat up about two tablespoons of oil (vegetable or bacon grease) in a medium cast iron pan. When the oil is hot, carefully place the meat in the pan, about four pieces at a time. What youíre looking for is a medium to deep brown color on the meat, about three to five minutes per side.

When done, take the meat out of the pan and place on a couple of paper towels. Scrape most of the crumbs out of the pan and put them with the steak on the paper towels.

Reserve about one tablespoon of grease in the pan. With that, weíll make a roux for gravy.

What follows are inexact measures as I find that making gravy is a personal preference. Some folks like a thick gravy, some thin; some like it made with milk, some with water. My sister Shari adds onions . . . sometimes LOTS of onions . . . that were sautťed in the pan after the steak had been fried.

Youíll have to trust your eye and your own taste buds with this. Just keep in mind that itís just flour and water and oil/grease and if it doesnít turn out the way you like, you can always start again.

Heat up the oil/grease in the pan over medium high. Sprinkle in about one-third cup of flour. Have your choice of liquid (water or milk) handy, starting with about one cup. With a metal whisk, stir the flour as it browns in the pan. Once the flour turns a medium brown color, slowly begin pouring in your liquid, a tablespoon or two at a time, whisking as you go so that lumps donít form. Continue to slowly add liquid until you get the consistency you prefer for your gravy.

Now you have a choice: you can return the fried steak to the pan along with the crumbs or leave it out and serve the gravy on the side. Either way, this is great over rice. Serve it with a simple green salad for a comforting meal.

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