10 Things to Know About Cast Iron Skillets

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This potato-raisin bread spiral, made in a cast-iron skillet, is a nod to the old Irish fruit pan breads. The potato keeps the bread moist and flavorful for days and raisins add a natural sweetness. Lucy Schaly/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

I for one love my cast iron skillet. The uses are exponential, but making sure it’s seasoned properly is a skill by itself. Whether you’re cooking chicken or baking dessert, there are some key things to know. Read the article by Arthi Subramaniam below to find out.

“Anne Byrn’s black Griswold has been a workhorse in her kitchen. She has fried bacon, cooked pancakes, seared salmon and baked Southern-style cornbread in the 12-inch cast-iron skillet umpteen times.

When she moved from Atlanta to Nashville, so did the skillet. It even made a trip to and from England. But she never praised it or really appreciated its versatility. Then she made a pound cake in her well-seasoned skillet, and she actually fell in love with it.

It was not until her 14th cookbook that the New York Times-bestselling author turned to skillets. She particularly wanted to feature recipes that are not often associated with cast-iron cookware. But with it came an anxiety for “The Cake Mix Doctor.”

“I thought people were going to expect me to have a cake recipe, and I had no idea if it was going to work,” the Nashville resident said in a phone interview.

The only way to test it, she said, was with a pound cake as it has minimal ingredients. So she baked one with butter and heavy cream, and it was a success. The cake baked to a glorious height with a crispy, cookie-like top and popped out of the skillet beautifully. When she sliced into the cake, she found it had the most even texture.

“I remember thinking that there was something about the skillet that insulates the cake and made sure that the oven didn’t overcook it. It acted as a buffer,” Byrn said.

Her on-and-off again relationship with her skillet became a full-blown love affair. She started making more cakes such as ones with blueberries and prunes. For a brown sugar birthday cake, she even prepared a caramel icing in the skillet.

Fascinated by its construction, she wanted to know more. The beautiful project became her latest book, “Skillet Love: From Steak to Cake” (Grand Central Publishing, October 2019).

She said one of the best parts of cooking with a skillet is that it locks in and seals big and bold flavors when roasting vegetables and searing fish and steak. She advocates it for rookies, skilled cooks and anyone who wants to perfect baking bread, make a better steak or cook fish over an open fire.

“I also like it for its healthfulness,” she said. “We often think how great it is for frying food but it is perfect for roasting and it does not need too much oil. Plus, it releases small amounts of iron into the food, especially when something acidic like tomatoes and lemons are cooked. And that’s a good thing for women in particular.”

Here are some of Byrn’s other discoveries about what and how to cook in a cast-iron skillet and why the food tastes so good:

Size matters
The top part of the skillet flares out. So if you can have only one skillet, make sure it is a 12-inch because essentially it has a 10-inch cooking surface. If you cook with a 10-inch skillet, the cooking surface is only 8 inches and that is rather small for roasting vegetables. If there is not enough of a surface area, the vegetables will be steamed and not roasted.

Eggs? Fuhgeddaboudit
You would think it is easy to make eggs in a skillet, but it’s not. To cook or fry eggs successfully, the pan needs to be very well-seasoned (coated with baked oil). That means you shouldn’t try it in a brand new skillet or one that is in the process of being seasoned.

Cast-iron skillets are not designed for scrambling eggs because they will stick unless a ghastly amount of fat is used. Eggs need to be scrambled on low heat so they are tender, soft and have those big curds. This is not what the skillet is about — it wants heat blasted.

Hear, hear, sear
A cast-iron skillet is a steak’s BFF. It can withstand high heat and helps to distribute that heat evenly. As a result, it yields a perfect brown crust that seals in the meat’s juices. Even a cheap skillet can do this job well. Be sure to use a dry seasoning; save wet marinades for other types of cooking. Start out by adding very little oil to a very hot skillet. Season the meat with salt and pepper and let it sit for several minutes undisturbed. You will end up with a beauty.

Like a wok, sort of
A wok is the go-to pan for stir-frying. But if you don’t have one, a cast-iron skillet could do the trick. Stir-fries come out best when the heat is cranked up, and a skillet can do that. Unlike a wok, it is harder to lift to toss the ingredients. The main thing is to keep the food moving, so a deep skillet is best to keep the ingredients from falling out. Cook vegetables, aromatics and meats in separate stages and set them aside. Finally, add them all back together with the sauce.

Go nuts dry roasting
Trust your eyes and not your nose when dry roasting nuts, stirring constantly if you are working on a stovetop. If you’re using an oven, leave the light on and keep an eye on them. When the nuts start to turn color, they are done; they will continue to cook even after they’re removed from the skillet. Don’t wait for the nuts to be fully browned.

Roast the inoffensive way
Heat a skillet first before adding oil, especially when roasting Brussels sprouts. They will get a better sear and turn out sweeter. The oil acts as a barrier at first and prevents vegetables from sticking to the skillet. Later, it helps to sear them.

To make crispy potatoes, coat them well with olive oil and be sure not to overcrowd the skillet. Potatoes need a lot of surface area to get the proper color and flavor.

Eggplants, squashes and peppers are not fussy nor do they take time to roast. However, they too need good surface area.

Sun-drenched summer tomatoes, tossed with olive oil, do not need to be placed in an even layer. The high heat will help the tomatoes burst and add a jammy taste.

Fried and true
Fried chicken and cast-iron skillets are inseparable, because frying is all about oil and heat. Keep the skillet well-seasoned to maintain a natural nonstick surface. But frying chicken in a shallow skillet can also create a mess. So pan-fry the bird by first cooking the meat skin-side down in the oil, undisturbed, for a few minutes until the skin is deeply brown. Then cook the other side until it’s browned, too. After browning all pieces, pour off the oil, place the skillet in the oven and bake until the chicken has cooked through.

Joy of baking
A skillet can do it all, from cakes and pies to crumbles and cobblers. It especially loves fruits. When they cook, the juices and natural sugars caramelize and that’s what brings out the flavor. Crusts and crumble toppings also come out nice and crunchy because of the fat in them. A skillet is perfect for coffee cakes, sticky buns and other sweet rolls, too.

Thrill of grilling
Don’t place a cherished, passed-down skillet on the outdoor grill and ruin it. To keep it from cracking, always place the skillet on a gas grill first and then turn on the gas. The skillet will slowly heat up as the grill does. When it’s time to cook meat or fish, lubricate the pan with a little bit of oil to create a barrier between the food and iron.

Sassy sauces
After cooking meats and vegetables, make use of the heat that’s left in the skillet to make a va-va-voom sauce. After cooking a steak, add some red wine to the juices left behind and scrape. Then add some capers or shallots or both, a dab of Dijon mustard and whisk in some butter. You will end up with a delicious red wine sauce.”

You can find the original article, here.