A cast iron skillet is a wonderful thing to have in your kitchen arsenal. It’s often the tool of choice for restaurant chefs who use it to sear the perfect steak. They’re sturdy and able to withstand high temperatures, and they’re perfect for taking on road trips, where they can do the job of frying pan, roaster, baking dish and campfire pot. This multi-functionality doesn’t mean cast iron a second-rate pan: it can handle high temperatures and it maintains its heat, so it won’t cool down, warp or cook unevenly when your heat source (or the weather) isn’t as predictable as it is at home. As a bonus, cast iron pans actually improve with age and use.
Here are few meals you can whip up in your cast iron, at home or on the road.
To cook a choice cut in steakhouse style, pat your meat dry and shower it with salt and pepper. Slice some mushrooms as you get the pan nice and hot. Add a generous chunk of butter to the pan and cook the mushrooms, sprinkling them with salt, until they soften and start to brown. Transfer them to a plate. Add another chunk of butter to the pan and, when it melts and foams, add the steak. Toss a few thyme leaves or a whole sprig of rosemary into the pan if you have them and cook for about four minutes per side for medium-rare, flipping and basting with butter (tip the pan occasionally to help it pool). Top with the mushrooms.
A wide cast iron skillet is a secret weapon when it comes to pizza, doubling as a deep-dish pizza stone you can get raging hot, guaranteeing a crisp bottom crust. Heat it up while you stretch out your dough, then cook your pizza in the skillet—in the oven, on the grill with the lid closed, or covered over the campfire, which will add a smokiness not unlike pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven.
If you’re looking for a simple, cozy yet outrageously delicious snack for a crowd, make a simple fondue by tossing chunks of brie, fontina, raclette, havarti or other meltable cheese directly into a skillet. Add a peeled garlic clove if you like, and a sprig of thyme if you have one, and drizzle with olive oil. Tuck into the hot coals (or slide onto the grill or into the oven) until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve with crackers or a baguette you’ve wrapped in foil and warmed in the oven or by the fire.
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Cast iron skillets are best known for their breakfast capabilities. French toast and pancakes are always a good idea, and well-seasoned cast iron prevents even fried eggs from sticking. (A tip: pack the dry ingredients for a batch of pancakes or griddle scones in heavy-duty zipper storage bag. Add the water or milk and egg when you’re ready for pancakes, and knead the sealed bag to blend. Cut off a corner to squeeze the batter out into the pan.) If you’re looking for something a bit healthier, cast iron makes the best small-batch granola: cook dry oats, nuts and seeds in a hot skillet with a dab of butter until fragrant, then drizzle with honey or maple syrup and continue to cook, stirring until the syrup is absorbed and the mixture is toasty and starting to clump. Set aside and cool, stirring in some dried fruit if you like.
Any kind of seasonal fruit can be tossed in sugar and baked in a cast iron skillet, topped with granola or a crumble made with 1 cup oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter and a shake of cinnamon, all mashed together with a fork or your fingers. The cast iron will help the juicy fruit bake from the bottom as well as brown on the top, and it’s as delicious in the morning with yogourt as it is with ice cream for dessert.
Julie Van Rosendaal is a cookbook author, food columnist for Eyeopener on CBC Radio in Calgary, and a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail. She also publishes recipes on her own website, Dinner with Julie.
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