As a food and culinary travel columnist, I’m often asked for recommendations on foodie travel destinations. I’ve also become a resource for friends, family, and readers to answer cooking questions. A more recent one was; “How do you season a cast iron skillet? I’ve tried different methods and to no avail; everything sticks! I’ve tried oiling the pans in the oven at 500 degrees for an hour and flipping the pan. I tried it on the stove. Please help!”
My friends at America’s Test Kitchen (www.americastestkitchen.com) sent me the following information from a previous issue of their magazine, Cook’s Illustrated. For everything you wanted to know about caring for your cast iron skillet but were afraid to ask, watch her video https://bit.ly/2zRoh4q.
Steps: “1. Rub the pan with fine steel wool. 2. Wipe off loose dirt and rust with a cloth.3. Place the pan on the stove over medium-low heat and add enough vegetable oil to heavily coat the pan. Heat for 5 minutes or until handle is too hot to touch. Turn off the burner. 4. Add enough salt to form a runny paste. Wear a work glove or gardening glove, scrub with thick paper towels, and hold the pan with a potholder. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until pan is smooth and black. 5. Rinse pan thoroughly with hot water, wipe dry, then coat with a thin film of vegetable oil and wipe off excess oil with paper towels.”
I can almost guarantee that you’re not alone as you try to keep these kitchen workhorses in tip-top shape so all your recipes come out the way they should. If you’re unfamiliar, her PBS television show focuses on culinary education; it’s not one of those reality cooking shows with all the “heated up,” time-based competitions. You will learn cooking techniques to improve your culinary skills.
I like to cook in cast iron pans because they can withstand high heat, especially when frying, searing, or blackening. It also holds heat well and can go from stovetop to oven. With BBQ and camping season on the horizon, it’s the ideal cooking vessel to place on the BBQ or over a campfire. Cornbread and cobbler are easy to bake in cast iron; I find it makes a juicy cornbread. Be careful as the handles get hot.
Cast iron cookware has been around for hundreds of years and was very popular in the early 20th century. Most kitchens had one; They were durable and inexpensive. They fell into disuse in the mid-1960s as Teflon and non-stick pans became fashionable. Grandma’s used cast iron skillets are popular merchandise items and are plentiful at thrift stores. As author Stephen King said, “Sooner or later everything old is new again.” The same is true here. Cooking with cast iron is hot again (no pun intended). Exhibitions of cookware, as well as magazines and cookbooks dedicated to this style of cooking, abound.
If you just want a book on the subject, Cook It In Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes from the One Pan That Dos It All by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen (2015, $29.95) is the one. Before we dive into the recipes, the information at the beginning talks about cast iron discoveries, why a cast iron skillet belongs in every kitchen, evaluating cast iron skillets, the science of seasoning and caring for your cast iron skillet, troubleshooting and busting myths. The Cast Iron Personality Test will help you figure out which skillet is right for you. Each recipe has a heading: “Why this recipe works”. There is useful and interesting information about the preparation of the dish. It’s one of the features I enjoy in America’s Test Kitchen releases.
Now let’s cook with these recipes from the book. For Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookies recipe, visit https://bit.ly/2yfH3QX. Recipes are courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen.
Baked Brie with Honey Apricots
Why this recipe works: Baked brie with jam or fruit — we like dried apricots and honey — is a popular party snack, and with good reason. When the cheese is heated, it magically transforms into a rich, dipable concoction. Baking the cheese in a cast-iron skillet seemed like a breeze; Because the pan holds heat so well, it would keep the cheese in an ideal, luscious, runny state longer than any other pan. For a sweet and creamy flavor in every bite, we reworked the traditional whole loaf brie by cutting off the rind (which doesn’t melt as well) and dicing the cheese. The result? Our honey and apricot mixture was spread evenly over the dish, not just spooned over it. We rounded off the dish with an extra dash of honey and some chopped chives to enhance the sweet and savory flavor profile. Be sure to use a firm, fairly unripe brie for this recipe. Serve with crackers or Melba toast.
¼ cup dried apricots, chopped
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 (8-ounce) wheels of firm brie cheese, rind removed, cheese cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Set the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, microwave the apricots, 2 tablespoons honey, rosemary, salt, and pepper until the apricots are tender and the mixture is fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring halfway through the microwave. Add brie and mix everything.
Place the mixture in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and bake until cheese is melted, 10 to 15 minutes. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey and sprinkle with chives. To serve. For 8 to 10 people.
Spinach and feta frittata
Why this recipe works: Frittatas are similar to omelettes, but are much easier to make: all the ingredients are combined at once, so it takes a lot less hands-on time to cook. For a perfect, tender, flavorful frittata, we started with 10 large eggs mixed with half and half. The water in the dairy helped create steam, so the eggs puffed up and the fat kept the frittata tender. We used the microwave to quickly wilt fresh spinach and then drain it so the frittata doesn’t get soggy. Feta cheese and oregano added a great savory flavor. Active stirring and scraping of the egg mixture during cooking prevented eggs from becoming tough and provided for faster cooking. Shaking the pan helped distribute the eggs properly, and cooking the frittata on the stovetop created a nice browning on the bottom. We then placed the pan on the grill where the high heat helped the frittata rise and set a little more without overcooking the bottom. The cast iron was perfectly at home under the grill, unlike non-stick pans with plastic handles and coatings that shouldn’t be exposed to intense heat. After moving the pan off the grill onto a wire rack, the residual heat from the cast iron helped finish cooking the frittata.
11 ounces (11 cups) baby spinach
10 large eggs
3 tablespoons half and half
salt and pepper
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (¾ cup)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or ¼ teaspoon dried
Set the oven rack 6 inches from the grill element and heat the grill. Cover and microwave the spinach and ½ cup water in a large bowl until the spinach has wilted and reduced in volume by half, about 4 minutes. Remove bowl from microwave and leave covered for 1 minute. Carefully remove the cover to allow the steam to escape and place the spinach in a colander in the sink. Using the back of the rubber spatula, gently press the spinach against the strainer to release excess liquid. Place the spinach on a cutting board and roughly chop. Place the spinach back into the colander and squeeze a second time.
Using a fork, beat eggs, half and half, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl until combined and mixture is pure yellow; do not exaggerate. Stir in ½ cup feta.
Heat a 10 inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the spinach and cook until evenly wilted and glossy, about 2 minutes.
Add the egg mixture, using a heatproof rubber spatula to scrape constantly and firmly along the bottom and sides of the pan until the eggs form a large curd and the spatula leaves a mark on the bottom of the pan, but the eggs are still moist , 1 to 2 minutes. Shake the pan to evenly distribute the eggs. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup of feta and gently press into the eggs with a spatula.
Place pan in oven and grill until center of frittata is puffed up and top just beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes; When you cut them with a paring knife, the eggs should be slightly moist and runny.
Using oven mitts, place the pan on the wire rack and let the frittata rest for 5 minutes. While holding the hot skillet handle, run the spatula around the edge of the skillet to loosen the frittata, then slide the frittata out of the skillet and onto the cutting board. Cut the frittata into pieces and serve warm or at room temperature. For 4 to 6 people.
Stephen Fries is Professor and Hospitality Management Programs Coordinator at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut. He has been a food and culinary travel columnist for 14 years and is the co-founder and host of Worth Tasting, a culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven, CT. Stephen@stephenfries.com For more information, visit stephenfries.com.