Conquering the cast iron skillet


The three words that scare me most in life are not heights, airplanes, and death. rather, they are cast iron skillets. I dream, often, about my great-great-great grandmother’s perfectly-seasoned cast iron skillet that has been passed down from generation to generation. I dream, because this is so far from reality. In fact, I’ve never seen any one in my family use one.

I guess it’s similar in the sense that I want to drink sweet tea all day long–without gaining weight–and eat undercooked bacon and flaky, buttermilk biscuits all day long–without gaining weight. Similar, but not exact. Because 90% of the time, I associate cast iron skillets with  love, family, and greasy goodness. The other 10% is pure fear. Was i beaten with one? Did it join forces with my straightener and catch my house on fire? 
My first attempt proved these fears right. It was a Friday night, and we had decided to stay in and cook some steaks on the grill. The problem though, besides not knowing how to grill, was that the propane tank ran out in the middle of the grilling process. Easy fix, I thought. Let me just crank up my culinary-badass notch to high and I’ll sear them on the cast iron skillet. But along with that notch, I also cranked up the stove to high. “It’s all about the sear.” “Make sure the pan is hot enough.” It’s Food Network 101, right? WRONG. Within seconds of putting the steaks down, they turned into the Great Smokies. Smoke billowed out of the pan, up to the ceiling, and straight into the smoke detector. The fire alarm started blaring. Michael started jumping up and down screaming with his hands on his head. I laughed, not knowing what else to do. It just so happens that our smoke detector is at the highest point of our kitchen–probably 18 feet up. Vertically challenged as is, we also don’t own a ladder. So here we were, alarm blaring, Michael buffoon-ing it up in the corner, and me laughing in the other corner. Eventually, after opening every door and window in the house, the alarms subsided. And then, in what turned out to be the planes, trains, and automobiles of cooking, we put the steaks in the oven. And I was told to never use the cast iron skillet again.

I followed that rule…until last night. I had found a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine that I just had to try, so I decided that I was going to conquer my fear once and for all. I had a new confidence, primarily because Michael was still at work, but also because we changed the location of the smoke detector.

The recipe began with cooking the potatoes. I was a little thrown off by the fact that the potatoes were green when i chopped them. Like wtf, was Dr. Seuess writing a sequel, “Green Potatoes and Sausage”. I carried on. But then all the skins started to burn on the bottom. Oh shit. Still, I carried on.
Next was the peppers and onions. The saving grace. Those babies were cooking perfectly, even loosening some of the stuck potato skins. They were so beautiful that I was sad to add the chicken and sausage, for fear that their beauty would be lessened. But no, they meshed together beautifully like Ken and Barbie.
*Side note: When a recipe says to sauté chicken, I automatically add about 49 minutes. I swear Harris Teeter hand selects the slowest-cooking damn chickens out there.

Last came the sauce. At this point, I was adding liquid to the skillet, so I knew I was home free. So I popped the biscuits in the oven, poured myself a glass of wine, and basked in the glorious sight of a successful skillet dish.
Post eating, alas I can say that my fear of the cast iron skillet has been conquered. And I shall prevail in making it the well-seasoned skillet that I can pass on my great-great-great grandchildren. In between that time, here’s to many more “smoke-detectors” going off and fears conquered. Let’s just hope one of us is always laughing.

Spicy Chicken-and-Sausage Hash (from Food & Wine Magazine)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 lb. breakfast sausages, casings removed
One 14.5 oz. can chopped tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. hot sauce
1/2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
Biscuits, for serving

1) In a large cast iron or non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the potatoes and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, 7-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a plate.
2) Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet. Add the onion and the bell peppers, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken and the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and horseradish and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the potatoes until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper and serve with biscuits.