10 Smart Cooks on the Recipe That Made Them Love the Cast Iron Skillet
We've sung the cast iron skillet's praises so many times here at Kitchn that we probably sound like a broken record. So how about a little reinforcement from the choir? In this case, the choir is a group of smart, seasoned home cooks who also keep their trusty skillet within arm's reach to churn out easy and delicious meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Here are the 10 recipes that made them fall hard for the cast iron skillet and that they still turn to time and time again.
I could eat roast chicken any day, any time, but Thomas Keller's simple roast chicken recipe is some kind of magic. My Puerto Rican family would never, I mean never, cook any kind of meat without adobo or sazón seasoning. Using only salt and pepper, as this recipe does, would have seemed absurd. But, having cooked this chicken as directed at least two-dozen times, I cosign. The bird comes out moist on the inside, with perfectly crisped, salty skin, and pairs well with any side dish. It's cooked on a high temperature, so I find my cast iron skillet works best. And it simultaneously seasons my pan and makes everything else I cook taste extra delicious.
The recipe I make in my cast iron skillet regularly is a variation on beans and greens. I love how well the cast iron skillet works for the quick method of soaking beans. I do the whole thing in the skillet, cooking the beans and draining them first, and then setting them aside while I cook everything else, and finally tossing it all together! I also use sausage instead of bacon and just toss one ingredient in after another without draining anything. Since I often use chicken sausage, the grease factor is not too high.
3. Fried Eggs
I love my larger cast iron skillet for searing meats, but I keep a smaller (eight- to 10-inch) one around specifically for making crispy, lacy-edged fried eggs every morning. The oil gets super hot so when you pour in the eggs, it causes the edges to curl up and the bottom to get perfectly browned. Since the bottom will cook so fast, spooning hot oil over the middle helps the whites cook through while still keeping a runny yolk.
When searing meat or veg, I alternate between my cast iron skillet and my ridged cast iron grill pan. The former provides an even, brown crust, and the latter gives the look of grill marks, which is way nice on a thick sirloin or rib-eye. If I'm not reverse searing in my cast iron, then I'm most likely using Mark Bittman's seared steak recipe, which makes for a perfect steak every time. His technique brings dinner together in under 10 minutes, if you don't count the time you let the steak rest before and after the roast.
I wouldn't say this recipe made me love my skillet; I grew up in a household where a skillet was used every day, so I always loved and appreciated it. This recipe takes me back to the collard greens my family prepares at home in Georgia, so tender, smoky, and full of soul!
I hope this isn't clichéd from a Southern cook, but cornbread really is the thing I make most often in my skillet. (I have a skillet that's used exclusively for cornbread.) This is one of my signature recipes and I'm proud that it reflects my Appalachian roots, a region where cornbread is our daily bread.
A simple frittata was the dish that completely changed my relationship with my cast iron skillet. For years I was oblivious to just how truly versatile cast iron skillets are, and I reserved mine for roast chicken, seared meat, and bacon. The thought of using it to cook eggs felt foreign, and I was sure I'd be in for a mess that would take forever to clean. But that frittata slipped right out because, as I now know, well-seasoned cast iron is the most wonderful nonstick cookware. It was also the gateway recipe that taught me I can (and now do) cook anything in a cast iron skillet.
When I first bought a cast iron skillet, I used it primarily to bake cornbread and cookies. But it wasn't until I began charring vegetables in the screaming-hot skillet that I began to fall totally in love with the pan. These Brussels sprouts are a fantastic place to start.
9. Eggs and Breakfast Cobbler
I grew up with cast iron cookware as the usual, and, without hyperbole, I can say that there usually is at least one cast iron piece on my stove. It could be the small round pan that holds two eggs perfectly or a workhorse skillet I reach for nightly (or daily, for a breakfast cobbler), or the raw cast oven I use for bread. A tava — a flat cast iron round used in Indian cooking — is essential for chapatis and tortillas, or I'll use an inverted skillet as a cover and make naan.
Something wonderful happens when you cook carrots in hot cast iron. The natural sugars caramelize, creating a simple and delicious vegetable dish that I want to eat again and again.