Cleaning and seasoning a paella pan?
May 25, 2013 10:54 AM   Subscribe

My wife got a paella pan at a yard sale! Sweet. She is totally looking forward to using it to make seafood-less paella because she's allergic. How can we prep the pan for this?

The carbon steel paella pan was sitting somewhere for years with baked-on food. The initial cleaning released lots of seafood smells. We've been cleaning it with pastes of baking soda and water, and all of the solid junk is gone. But when we wipe it down with water and a paper towel, the towel comes away with rust.

1. How can we remove the rust and seafood residue from the cooking surface without too much expense? Too much expense being the cost of a new nice paella pan. This is the part of the question I'm most concerned about.

2. How can we properly season the carbon steel surface? I'm familiar with cast iron seasoning and the good-natured controversy surrounding which oil to use, and there's a lot of contradictory info on the internet and AskMe (I use flaxseed oil for the cast iron, btw). There's not a whole lot about carbon steel, but what I could find is even more contentious and contradictory. I feel like this is because the stakes are so low and pretty much any good oil works well enough.

I'm really hoping the hive mind can come up with a good solution.
posted by infinitewindow to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1: An extremely coarse steel wool (hardware store status) followed by coarse rock salt being pushed around as an abrasive with a paper towel. You may never get to the bottom of the black but you should be able to get to the bottom of the rust... stop there.

2: As far as seasoning goes, oil is basically oil (the more refined it is, the less it will smoke when you heat it). AskMe link to some of that controversy. I would think that the biggest complication would be fitting a big-assed paella pan in to a heat source...

3: #NomNomNom!
posted by milqman at 11:37 AM on May 25, 2013

Don't mess with seafood allergies. Paella and all its associates are enemies of your wife. This contraption you've purchased used from a garage sale has seafood residue baked in. You can't simply scrub it clean - you need lots of time plus reactions.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:49 AM on May 25, 2013

If she were just a vegetarian I would say follow recommendations to clean it. But if she has an allergy I would steer clear of it - no delicious food is worth the risk of an allergic reaction.
posted by radioamy at 12:06 PM on May 25, 2013

Burn it. Do you have a charcoal BBQ grill? Fire up a big batch of coals, set the pan directly on top of them, and keep an eye on it as it gets insanely hot. The heat will take off the carbon seasoning, but it will also take off everything else. If you don't have a bit of ash in the bottom of the pan when you're done, you didn't burn it hot enough. The goal here is to burn everything down to the bare metal. Let the pan cool, wash with plain water, soap, and a Scotchbrite scrubbie pad, and coat with canola oil.

Alternatively, you could get a couple of heavy-duty Hefty bags and some extra-strength oven cleaner. Spray on the oven cleaner, close the pan up in the bag, and leave it on for an hour or so. Rinse with lots and lots of plain water.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:53 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since you're going to be re-seasoning anyway, just use lots of soap and water - maybe even soaking overnight - along with a bit of steel wool if the scrubby sponge is insufficient. Soap is your best friend to attack the proteins and oils, and the scrubby sponge and/or steel wool will remove any remaining rust.

Then season it with whatever oil and whatever method, and keep in mind it may need to be seasoned two or three times before it really starts to be nonstick.
posted by psycheslamp at 1:14 PM on May 25, 2013

I have a shellfish allergy and I have eaten non-shellfish paella made in a paella pan that was not a dedicated no-shellfish pan (though one that was well-cleaned and seasoned by a cook I know and trust) and have never had a reaction. Your wife's allergy MMV, as with all things.

If it were mine, I'd scrub it with steel wool, then burn the fuck out of it, then wash it, then season it, then use it without hesitation. I've eaten plenty of non-shellfish seafood in restaurants where it's certainly been prepped on surfaces that had been used to prep shellfish; if her allergies are at the more extremely sensitive end of the spectrum, she is probably aware of that by now.
posted by rtha at 2:33 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not a doctor, this isn't medical advice, but seafood allergy is caused by antibodies latching onto specific proteins. At a couple hundred degrees C / (400F) those proteins are going to denature, break down into their constitutive amino acids, and then eventually oxidize completely (aka burn) yielding nothing but ash. There's no magical "seafoodness" that is baked into the pan with repeated use. Get it hot and use it without fear.

Which brings me to my next point: with a large pan it's usually easier to season it in the oven. See these instructions from the cast-iron cookware company Lodge. Basically, once it's scraped out with steel wool, coat with oil, stick upside down in a 400F oven, and let the coating bake on for an hour. You've just killed two birds with one stone, since the pan is seasoned and all the seafood proteins are, literally, toasted.
posted by wnissen at 3:21 PM on May 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I think wnissed and deadmessenger have it right, and I'd just like to add that carbon steel will rust immediately that it's in contact with air - particularly damp air. I can scrub my wok or paella pan until it's shiny and when I mop it out with paper towel, the towel will have reddish stuff on it. It's normal. The trade-off for the work is that your food will have a slightly higher iron content that usual. :)

Just get it mostly dry and then spritz with a little oil - the light non-stick oils are great - and mop out with a paper towel. And you're done. Don't let food sit too long in the pan - it'll make clean-up harder and will discolour the steel (which isn't a problem, just not pretty).
posted by ninazer0 at 5:01 PM on May 25, 2013

Best answer: I'm allergic to shellfish and a nurse and I don't agree with people saying that you can't clean this pan adequately. The concern is well-intentioned but just doesn't make sense.

If you're really nervous, after you get it as clean as you can, cook something in it just for yourself once or twice before you cook for her in it. This isn't homeopathy! Magical shrimp molecules aren't going to adhere to it forever!
posted by latkes at 5:06 PM on May 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

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