A comal is a pan of sorts that is used for cooking a variety of items. It is made of cast iron and is very heavy. When you cook with it you don't move it at all, like you might with a wok or a regular light-weight pan. It can come in round shapes or in longer, oblong shapes. You can even find large, rectangular varieties that will fit over two burners on a standard stovetop. The comal has a slightly rough surface unlike a non-stick or stainless steel pan.
When to use a Comal
A comal is perfect for grilling carne asada (red meats) and vegetables(similar to how they serve fajitas in American restaurants like Chili's and El Torito.) The comal adds flavor to whatever you're cooking, whereas it's non-stick counterparts offer no additional flavors. It is also the utensil of choice for cooking tortillas on. You can also use one to quickly re-heat tortillas as well. A comal is versatile because you can use it on the stove, in the oven or even on a grill. Just be careful because they get very hot and you will need to use a kitchen rag or potholders if you need to move it during the cooking process.
How to Prepare the Comal (seasoning)
When you get a new comal, you don't want to use it without "seasoning" it first. "Seasoning" is very simple, first you want to wash the pan with warm soapy water and dry it thoroughly. Then lightly coat the pan with vegetable oil or shortening, it will prevent the comal from developing rust spots if it comes in contact with water. Place the comal in a hot oven, at least 350 degrees and bake it for one hour. Remove it, let it cool then wipe off excess residue. Re-apply the oil then heat for an additional hour, turn the oven off and then let it cool in the oven overnight. Wipe off any residues and your comal is now ready for use.
Cleaning and Care of a Comal
Never put a comal in the dishwasher! After cooking with it, simply wipe down the surface with a rag or a sponge. Use a spatula to scrape off any excess food. If necessary, wash the comal in warm soapy water, but make sure to thoroughly dry it immediately to prevent rust. Every once in a while, rub oil on the surface to keep it well seasoned. The more you use a comal, the more flavor it will impart to your food, so use it often. Let the comal change temperatures slowly, do not expose a hot comal to cold temperateures such as cold water, until it has cooled on it's own. If it does develop a crack, it is best to discard it. If it gets rusty, scrub it with steel wool until the rust is removed, rinse thorougly and repeat seasoning instructions above.
Where to get a Comal
If you have any Latin markets in your area, they will most likely stock at least one or two varieties of comales. If you have any trouble finding them you can always order online.