Henri embraces cast-iron-skillet cooking
Henri has recently become quite enamored—indeed rather fanatical about—a culinary accessory that he had long scorned: the cast-iron skillet. While he still very much cherishes his elegant three-ply All-Clad frying pan (12-inch, $150-$200), its sensuous handle like a poem in the hand, he had always associated cast iron with such unexplainably barbaric pursuits as camping (sleeping outside? Near dirt? Perissez the thought!).
But the cast-iron skillet has found a new place in Chez Bourride, and Collette and I have been using it for a wide range of main and side dishes, from pancakes to sautéed vegetables to meat and poultry.
I first became intrigued with the possibilities of cast-iron skillets after reading a recent Esquire magazine article titled “World’s Easiest Dinner,” a roast chicken developed by chef Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene. How easy? One, preheat oven to 450. Two, set a 3.5-5 lb. chicken in cast-iron skillet. Three, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Four, cook for about 45 minutes (or to about 175-degree internal temperature).
Skeptical at first, I decided to try it, picking up a skillet at Collier Kitchen Supply (12-inch, about $28). Sacre bleu! Delicious!
Confession: In true Henri fashion, try as I might, I simply could not follow the recipe exactly and made four or five slits in the skin at the breast and leg and pushed in garlic slices. I also threw some sliced carrots in alongside about 15 minutes before the chicken was done, letting them cook in the grease—divine.
Turns out, Henri’s associations with camping aren’t all that farfetched. According to holidaycook.com, Lewis and Clark considered their cast-iron Dutch oven one of their most valuable pieces of equipment when they headed west in 1804. Some 15 years earlier, Mary Ball Washington (President Washington’s mother) included her cast-iron skillet in her will. Lodge Logic (the brand that Collier carries) was founded in 1896.
My dear sister has become attached to cast iron as well, and one recent Sunday morning used ours to bake a delicious German apple pancake (from Anna Thomas’ The Vegetarian Epicure), which she paired with a delightful Veuve Clicquot Champagne.
German apple pancake
3 large eggs
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 lb. tart green apples
1 tablespoon melted butter
Water or apple juice
Powdered cinnamon and nutmeg
Preheat oven to 450. Beat together eggs, milk, flour and salt until smooth. Melt butter in 12-inch cast-iron skillet, pour in batter, and set in oven. After 15 minutes, lower to 350. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until pancake is light brown and crisp. (Note: If pancake puffs up in large bubbles, pierce with fork or skewer.)
While pancake is baking, peel and thinly slice the apples and fry in butter and spices, adding water or juice if needed to keep from drying out—about 10 minutes until tender but not mushy.
Remove pancake from oven, slide onto platter, and add filling to one side, then fold over (like a taco), and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve immediately, with melted butter and/or maple syrup.
Important note about care and maintenance: A well-maintained cast-iron skillet will not only last virtually forever, but if treated properly—that is, seasoned—will remain about as “nonstick” as any Teflon or other coated pan. Basic Internet searches reveal a wide range of impassioned instructions on seasoning your pan. Most agree, though, that a new skillet (if not preseasoned) should be seasoned before use by rubbing the inside with lard or bacon grease (cooking oil for vegetarians) and placing it in the oven at 250-300 for 15 minutes, pouring out the excess grease, and baking for another couple of hours. Some recommend repeating three or four times. After cooking, clean your skillet in hot water (never leave it to soak), dry immediately and thoroughly, coat again with grease or oil, and place back in hot oven or on stove for 15 minutes. Store with paper towel inside to capture moisture.