Henri goes rugged with his cast-iron skillet
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 copper-core All-Clad frying pan (12-inch, $250), 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 place in Chez Bourride, and Collette and I have been using it for a wide range of main and side dishes, from pancakes and sautéed vegetables to meat and poultry.
I first became intrigued with the possibilities of cast-iron skillets after reading an Esquire magazine article titled “World’s Easiest Dinner,” about a roast chicken developed by chef Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene.
Skeptical at first, I decided to try it, with my skillet that I bought at Collier Hardware (12-inch, $27.99). Just one chicken and salt and pepper at 450 degrees for 45 minutes. Sacre bleu! Delicious!
Of course, in true Henri fashion, I’ve been experimenting with variations on her recipe and have come up with several improvements, including adding sliced carrots during the last 20 minutes and letting them cook in the grease—divine.
Turns out, Henri’s associations with camping aren’t all that farfetched. Lewis and Clark considered their cast-iron Dutch oven one of their most valuable pieces of equipment when they headed west in 1804, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the intrepid explorers cooked prairie fowl much like Henri’s cast-iron chicken. 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.
Important note about cast-iron care and maintenance: A well-maintained skillet will not only last virtually forever, but if treated properly—that is, seasoned—will also 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 pre-seasoned) 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.
Henri’s Cast-Iron Chicken
1 whole chicken
1/2 lb. carrots
3-5 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
Remove giblets from the cavity of the chicken. Wash chicken in cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Coat chicken with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Use twine or light metal wire to tie the legs together at the “knuckle.”
Cut the carrots into rounds (the packaged “baby carrots” also work well) and mince the garlic. Preheat oven to 450. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and the put the chicken in, legs up, and place in oven, timer set for 45 minutes.
After about 20 minutes, pull the skillet from oven, cut the twine, and then add the carrots, with minced garlic on top, into the oil and fat on both sides of the chicken. Return to oven. Cook for another 25 minutes, until food thermometer inserted into thigh reads 175.