A cast-iron skillet might seem like a throwback tool from a bygone era of cooking, but this single pan can help any cook make some of the tastiest dishes ever. The best feature that this pan brings to any cook’s repertoire is its ability to go easily from stovetop to oven to table, minimizing fuss and clean-up time.
In addition, this solid metal pan assures an even distribution of heat while cooking. That means it’s a favorite for some best recipes that feature seared meat or fish. Cast-iron skillets get hot quickly and retain that heat. A cast-iron skillet also works perfectly as a baking pan, making it a versatile addition to any kitchen.
There’s nothing easier (or tastier) in the morning than a frittata. The glorious thing about this dish is that it works well with any type of vegetables or cheese on hand. Feel free to improvise with what looks best at the farmer’s market or what’s left over from last night’s dinner. Another good thing about this dish is that leftover slices can be saved and reheated in the microwave for breakfast again tomorrow.
Bacon, Veggie, and Cheese Frittata
Serves 4, Temperature 450 degrees
4 slices bacon
1/2 green pepper
1 cup leftover veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, or whatever is on hand)
6 oz cheddar cheese
6 large eggs
3 oz heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon (tsp) each of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper
Like an omelet, feel free to improvise, adding more or less of the ingredients to the frittata, as desired. Except for eggs and heavy cream, all other items are optional. However, if eliminating bacon, add a few tablespoons of butter or oil to the pan first.
1. Cook bacon till crisp. Remove bacon, but leave bacon grease in pan.
2. Add thinly sliced onion and green pepper to pan, along with leftover veggies, and cook till translucent. When done, add crumbled bacon and cheese to the cast-iron skillet.
3. Mix eggs and cream, along with spices, in a bowl. Add to pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes on stovetop, then transfer to oven for another 15-20 minutes. Slice and serve. Yummy!
One of the benefits of a cast-iron skillet is that the iron in the pan can enhance the iron in the foods cooked within it. Such is the case with tomatoes in particular. As an extra benefit, the charring lends a smoky flavor to the tomatoes.
Charred Tomato and Chicken Tacos
Makes 12 tacos
1 pound plum tomatoes, cored
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
1 1/2 cups onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons (Tbsp) lime juice
2 Tbsp cilantro
12 warmed corn tortillas
Reduced fat sour cream to taste
1. Heat cast-iron skillet until very hot. Place tomatoes in pan, and sear on all sides, about 10 minutes, turning with tongs. Transfer to plate to cool, then squeeze out seeds. Chop remaining pulp and skin, set aside.
2. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil to skillet, and heat till very hot. Brown chicken about 5 minutes, after seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Reduce heat in cast iron skillet (to medium), and add remaining olive oil and onions, stirring to soften about 5 minutes. Add jalapeno and garlic, and cook another minute. Add lime juice, chicken, and tomatoes back to pan until cooked.
4. Spoon mixture into warm tortillas and add sour cream, chopped cilantro, and scallions (as well as additional lime juice, if desired) to taste.
This is one of the easiest and most tasty dishes to make in a cast-iron skillet. Remember, the fresher the scallops and leeks, the better the overall taste. Each flavor really stands out in this dish.
Scallops with Ribbons of Leek
1 1/2 pounds of sea scallops
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium leeks (use only white and light green parts), cut into quarters lengthwise
2 Tbsp pesto (optional)
1 lemon, cut into wedges (optional)
1. Rinse scallops, then pat dry with paper towel. Season with half of salt and pepper.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat, add scallops, and cook through until browned on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from skillet, and set aside.
3. Wipe out pan, and add remaining olive oil. Add leaks, and toss in skillet. Cover and heat through until soft, about 10 minutes, seasoning with remaining salt and pepper.
4. Add scallops back to pan and warm thoroughly. Add pesto or lemon to top, if desired. Bon appetit!
Breads and desserts
Cornbread is a perennial favorite to make in a cast-iron skillet, and Rachael Ray’s variation (using bacon and scallions) puts a tasty twist on a traditional dish. Even (heaven forbid) boxed cornbread tastes better baked in the oven in a cast-iron skillet.
Rachael Ray’s Bacon-Scallion Cornbread
Serves 8, Temperature 425 degrees
1 cup flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
3 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup buttermilk
4 slices bacon
1 bunch scallions
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1. Preheat oven. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and pepper.
2. In small bowl, whisk eggs and buttermilk.
3. In cast-iron skillet, cook bacon till brown but not crisp. Stir in chopped scallions (whites only) and butter. Cook till scallions soften, about 3 minutes.
4. Combine the buttermilk and egg mixture with the dry ingredients of step one. Add chopped green scallion sections into the mix. Stir in cooked mixture from step 3, leaving some fat in the skillet.
5. Immediately pour batter mix from step 4 into the skillet and place in oven for about 20 minutes. Use toothpick to test when done. Cool for 5 minutes, slice and serve. Enjoy!
There are many variations on apple cake for the cast-iron skillet, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of them. This one is from the chef known as Pioneer Woman, but the cake is still as elegant as ever, and wouldn’t go amiss with some fresh whipped creme or a dollop of homemade cinnamon ice cream on top.
Serves 8, Temperature 375 degrees
1 3/4 stick of butter
3/4 cup sugar
4-5 Granny Smith apples, cored and peeled, cut into 6 slices each
for cake batter:
1 stick butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and peeled, finely chopped
1. Melt the 1 3/4 sticks of sugar in the cast-iron skillet. When melted, add the sugar, but keep flame low to avoid burning. Add apple slices, and try not to leave any gaps between them, if possible. Cook on low while making cake batter.
2. In bowl, with an electric mixer, beat 1 stick butter and 2/3 cup sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Then add sour cream.
3. In another bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon). Add these to the mix of step 2 gradually. When fully combined, stir in finely chopped apple.
4. Remove cast-iron skillet from heat, gently spoon in cake batter over the apples in the pan, spreading evenly. Bake 20-25 minutes in oven, till brown and bubbly. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes, then invert onto cake plate, and serve warm. Delicious!
With a little bit of experience, any cook can make these — and many other — tasty recipes using a cast-iron skillet.