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Savor the simplicity of Toast with Olive Oil and Tomato, because you just can’t achieve that perfect oil-toasted crust in a toaster. For Homemade Corn Tortillas, no special equipment required—use the pan to flatten and cook them. (Then serve your tortillas with Single-Skillet Carnitas or Charred Tomato Salsa—or make Chilaquiles.) Take popcorn to another level with clarified butter. Enjoy a Spinach and Feta Dip that stays warm from the residual heat of the pan. Plus pastas that come together in one skillet—no separate boiling required; perfectly charred roasted vegetables; beautiful breads and pizzas; and luscious desserts from a giant chocolate chip cookie to the sophisticated Layered Crepe Torte with Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Jam.
Includes detailed information on buying, seasoning, and caring for your cast-iron skillet—and turning it into a nonstick kitchen workhorse.
My thanks to those who bought my first book and made possible this second book. Those who read and supported the succession of blogs I did before that will always have my gratitude; following a story with no discernible middle or foreseeable conclusion isn't for the faint of heart or attention span. (Say what you will about my books, but at least you know when they will end.) Thank you to my editor, Megan Nicolay, for the inspiration and to my agent, Stacey Glick, for the encouragement. I am also very grateful for the efforts of Selina Meere, Jessica Wiener, Lauren Southard, Chloe Puton, Rachael Mt. Pleasant, Beth Levy, Anne Kerman, Jean–Marc Troadec, Barbara Peragine, Doug Wolff, and the rest of the team at Workman Publishing, who have been known to work miracles. To Kerrie Ahern and the small cadre who tested these recipes, thank you for your perseverance and your dedication to saving me from myself. Finally, my mom's feedback has always been valuable—she taught me how to drive, for example, and then continued to provide feedback on my driving for many years afterward—but her comments on the recipes in this book were particularly helpful and made them that much better.
Before You Begin
Choosing Your Skillet
Seasoning Your Skillet
Cleaning Your Skillet
Salvaging Cast Iron
Before we dive into the recipes, let's consider a few tips, techniques, and strategies. Maybe you've heard about "seasoning" cast iron and you get the idea it's something you should do. But what is it exactly? You're in luck! I will answer that question. Maybe you're wondering what shape and size your skillet should be. That is here, too.
I also delve into ingredients. Is a cup of flour always the same? Does the size of the eggs you use matter? Butter is butter and yeast is yeast, right? One-word answers: No, yes, no, and no. Now allow me a few more words and I'll lay it all out for you.
Choosing Your Skillet
What's So Special About Cast Iron?
If you're not accustomed to cooking with cast iron, you should be aware of some of its unique properties.
First, let's talk heat. Cast iron is a relatively poor heat conductor compared to, say, aluminum. This means that the heat will travel relatively slowly and perhaps unevenly through a cast-iron skillet, especially as it begins to warm. That said, it stores heat very well, so it will take longer to cool down than other materials.
Next, there's the brute strength of cast iron. It is possible to crack it. Leaving it empty on the stovetop over high heat could cause this to happen eventually, but here's the thing: I cannot confirm this from personal experience, because in my decades of using cast iron, this has never happened to me. You're more likely to hurt something (or, I suppose, someone—be careful!) with a cast-iron skillet than you are to damage the skillet itself.
Cast iron also holds incredible value. The racks of cookware stores are lined with pots and pans, some of which cost an astonishing amount of money and are far less versatile than cast iron. Is there a place for them? Maybe. If pressed, I will admit that I do own cookware beyond my cast-iron skillet. And yet what do I reach for most consistently? What has held up the best? What was among the least expensive pieces? My cast-iron skillet. (Well, skillets—I have six.)
The recipes in this book were developed and tested using 10-inch skillets, as measured from outer rim to outer rim. A small variation shouldn't cause a problem, but beyond that the volume of the skillet can change quite a bit. Consider that a skillet 10 inches in diameter with a depth of 2 inches has a volume of about 10 cups, while a 12-inch skillet with the same depth has a volume of about 14 cups. That's a 40 percent increase, which means those 2 inches make a big difference. That difference, in turn, will have a big impact on cooking time and temperature. Some things—stir-fries, crepes, grilled cheese—will be forgiving of the size difference. Other things—cakes, muffins, pizza—will either not fit properly or require a different baking time or temperature—or some combination of both. The bottom line: For best results, stick to a 10-inch skillet at first; the experimentation can follow.
Manufacturers often assign a number to indicate the size of the skillet, but that number should not be confused with the measurement in inches. In many cases, for instance, a No. 8 skillet is about 10 inches across.
Shape and Materials
When it comes to skillet shape, it's useful to have handles on two sides. An empty cast-iron skillet is heavy enough. When it's full of food, having an extra spot to grab on to is handy—particularly when dealing with something hot from the oven.
The skillet should be all cast iron—no wooden handles or plastic knobs or anything else that won't withstand high heat.
The Bottom Line
The recipes in this book were developed for and tested in 10-inch cast-iron skillets. Some recipes are more flexible than others. While using a skillet of another size or material may work in certain cases, it may also affect recipe results.
Seasoning Your Skillet
Here, seasoning doesn't mean salt and pepper. Think seasoned in the sense of "experienced." You're building up resistance in your skillet, keeping it impervious to the foods that pass through, and—ultimately—getting it so slick that an egg won't stick to it. This happens because fats used in the skillet break down and reorganize at very high heat to form an excellent nonstick coating. This process is not instant! (More on this in a bit.)
Many new skillets are sold preseasoned—that is, they come from the manufacturer with the beginnings of a nonstick patina. Buying a skillet preseasoned is a head start, but it's still just a start. Proper use and care of the skillet will build up an even more resilient finish over time. And in the end, there's no substitute for that time.
If you notice your once-trusty skillet has lost its nonstick powers, you may need to reseason the skillet (see Salvaging Cast Iron).
How to Season
Here's the basic process for seasoning a skillet.
• Warm the skillet slightly over low heat, remove it from the heat, then cover it very lightly with oil or fat (see Choosing a Seasoning Fat). Use a paper towel to spread a few drops evenly across the skillet, including the handle and the bottom. The coating of oil—about a teaspoon or so in total—should be all but imperceptible. In other words, it probably won't look like there's oil on the skillet, but there is. That's the right amount of oil.
• Put the skillet in an oven preheated to 500°F for an hour until the oil is baked on. (If the temperature is too low, the oil will turn into a sticky coating.) It will probably throw off some smoke. That's part of the plan. Smoking oil is not good for cooking but is just what you're looking for when seasoning the skillet. Once the hour has passed, turn off the oven, and leave the skillet to cool inside.
• Repeat this seasoning process as necessary—perhaps a few times when you first acquire a skillet, and then maybe a handful of times a year thereafter, especially if you notice the coating has uneven, rough, or sticky spots.
Choosing a Seasoning Fat
As to which fat is best for seasoning the skillet, volumes have been written and internet arguments have raged. Bacon fat is fairly traditional, but often not the easiest thing to come by. Flaxseed oil is often recommended; in my experience, it does produce a very nice sheen, but it's hardly the only oil worth using.
Bottom line: Stick to a neutral-flavored oil such as canola, peanut, or corn oil or vegetable shortening. Avoid fats such as olive oil and flavorful nut oils.
One shortcut to a well-seasoned skillet is having someone else do the work for you. If you pick up a used skillet at a thrift store or a yard sale, it may have already built up excellent seasoning from years or decades of use. A good used skillet can be worth its (considerable) weight in gold.
Then there are the not-so-good secondhand skillets, the ones that have been mishandled or unloved. Don't ignore these. A little oil, heat, and care can once again make them productive members of society (see Salvaging Cast Iron).
Sometimes the coating on the skillet can turn slightly sticky. This is usually because the seasoning oil was applied too thickly, the oven temperature used to season it was too low, or the baking time was too short.
The seasoning process cannot be rushed! Using more oil does not speed the seasoning process or make the skillet more stick-resistant. It just leads to a sticky or uneven surface.
Likewise, being timid with the oven temperature avoids some of the smoke that seasoning can generate, but it also fails to create the magic necessary for a satisfactory finish. A longer baking time can't compensate for a lower temperature and a higher temperature doesn't mean you can shave time off the process.
In any case, if your seasoning is sticky, all is not lost. Scrub off the sticky layer and start over with the seasoning process (see Salvaging Cast Iron).
Cleaning Your Skillet
Here's the overview: Start with a warm skillet. Use hot water or a loose paste of coarse salt and water to tackle any food left in the skillet. If bits still cling to the skillet, move on to gentle scrubbing with something a little abrasive. Even when your skillet is clean, though, it will still be wet. Dry it over low heat or in an oven on a low setting. Then apply a thin coating of oil to the still-warm skillet. You're done.
Let's take a closer look at the process.
It all starts with water. Before you go scrubbing, scratching, scouring, or scraping, start with a rinse to soften anything stuck to the skillet and wash away any loose food. It's true that storing a wet skillet can encourage rust, but that's a far cry from saying that you shouldn't get a skillet wet. Of course you should get the skillet wet! Just make sure that it's well dried afterward (see Put It Away Dry and Coated in Oil).
Salt, especially coarse salt, is a fantastic natural abrasive, one that deploys just enough scrubbing power without the risk of going overboard. Mixed with just a tiny bit of water—a few drops will often suffice—it turns into a paste capable of dispatching stubborn food remnants before disintegrating into something that can be rinsed away with the unwanted bits.
Available in bunches at the dollar store, these lightweight scouring tools are a godsend. They have just enough substance to attack stuck-on bits, and it's impossible to scratch the seasoning of the skillet with the plastic. Rinse them thoroughly to get out the bits of food that will inevitably get caught in the webbing. I've also had good luck running mine through the dishwasher, although nothing priced at 99¢ for five is made to be durable. (For something much more long-lasting, see the next entry.)
Chain Mail Scrubber
In a class by itself for its durability, this is a reusable cleaning implement with some of the same benefits of the plastic scrubber. I resisted picking up one of these for years—did I need another scrubber in my kitchen?—but when it arrived, it was love at first scrub. We're talking about an eight-inch square of small metal chain links. (Although I do enjoy the thought of a full-body chain mail suit, it's probably—no, definitely—overkill for the task at hand.) The rounded metal of the links is just right for getting rid of any stubborn bits of food, while still going relatively easy on the coating of the skillet. One caveat: Scrubbing too hard may ding the skillet's seasoning in places, so start gently and ramp up slowly.
Stalwarts warn forcefully against ever using soap on cast iron. It will damage the seasoning! It will ruin the skillet! It's a crime against cast iron! Bad things will happen! Some of those things are probably true, to a degree. A lot of soap or a very harsh soap will probably do some damage. For me, the bottom line is that, indeed, you should not use soap to clean the skillet. Not because the skies will darken and a chasm will open beneath your feet, but because it's just not necessary. Use the other methods described here and you won't need to use soap. The companion truth to this is that if some soap does happen to meet your cast iron—say, you have a particularly rowdy party and people go off the rails doing the dishes—it'll be just fine. Rinse it off. Dry the skillet. Apply a light coating of oil. Carry on.
Not the Dishwasher
Don't put your cast iron in the dishwasher. It's not top-rack safe. It's not bottom-rack safe. It's a terrible idea.
Put It Away Dry and Coated in Oil
Always put away the skillet dry. To dry the skillet, put it over medium heat on the stovetop, or in a warm oven if it happens to be on, for a few minutes. Once the skillet is dry, remove it from the heat and apply a thin coating of oil: just a few drops spread out with a paper towel. (Heating the skillet to dry it warms the oil and makes it easier to spread thinly, but as an alternative, you can dry the skillet by wiping it with a paper towel and then apply the oil.) Once your skillet builds up a good level of seasoning, you may be able to skip applying a thin coating of oil each time.
Salvaging Cast Iron
Occasionally, cast iron loses its luster. Rust may creep in. We're not looking to assign blame here, but I'll assume it wasn't your fault. Your head was turned. You were out of town. At worst, you were distracted from utter devotion to your cast-iron skillet by something that happened in life—like, you know, life. Or maybe you've found a piece of vintage cast iron. It is not cracked or damaged beyond repair, but it is in need of some love.
Here's the good news: Where there is rust, there is still hope. Remove the rusted areas with a scouring pad. It's okay to use something harsher than you would ordinarily use, such as steel wool, because you will be rebuilding the skillet's seasoning. Wash the skillet with mild soap and water. As with the steel wool, a little soap is okay in this instance, too, because you will be rehabilitating the skillet later. Dry the skillet thoroughly and then start reseasoning it. Expect that it might take a few rounds of seasoning to return the skillet to good working order. And, as with many skillets, it could be a work in progress for a bit.
Part of the beauty of a skillet made solely of cast iron is that it is equally comfortable atop the stove and in the oven. In either place, the handle of the skillet can get very hot. When you're cooking with the skillet, it's best to approach the skillet assuming that it is hot enough to burn you.
I prefer silicone mitts to cloth. Any mitt is better than none, but cloth mitts can pose risks when even a little wet. The water transfers the heat from the skillet to your skin—which is not ideal, to say the least.
One tip: If you're working on the stovetop and the skillet is still hot, get in the habit of leaving the mitt on the handle.
Spatula (Plastic or Metal)
The skillet's seasoning is durable, but sometimes even a seasoned skillet feels a little vulnerable, you know? Scratches from a metal spatula are nothing that can't be fixed with time and attention, but going easy on a newly seasoned skillet with a plastic spatula is probably a good idea, at least at first. Once the seasoning has improved, feel free to use metal utensils. In fact, a metal utensil may help smooth out some rough spots in a skillet with a very thick layer of seasoning.
Not every surface can handle the heat of the cast-iron skillet right off the stovetop or out of the oven. It helps to have a landing spot handy for the skillet, whether in the form of a countertop you know is safe for the hot skillet or a trivet designed to take the heat. Trivets are also useful for serving. They can protect your table from scratches and the heat of a warm skillet. Silicone and wood trivets are both good options.
Trivets and stovetops can be useful as immediate landing spots for a hot skillet. But for cooling, it's best to use a wire rack so that air can circulate around the whole skillet. Look for one made of just metal. Plastic and plastic coatings may suffer under the high temperature of a hot skillet.
Ingredients and Measurement
There are so many variables in cooking and baking (the temperature in the room, the calibration of the oven, the power of the stovetop burners); it's good to control the ones we can. A lot of this means carefully selecting and measuring ingredients. I'm almost rolling my eyes at myself now, because I know how this might sound. ("It's not enough that the guy wrote the recipe? He has to write a whole section about how to measure flour, for crying out loud?")
I write this not so much to lay down the law (I won't be popping out of your cupboard to chastise you on your flour measurement or lurking in your refrigerator to read your butter labels) but to establish a common language and a starting point. If you want to start out on the best footing, or you find things not working out to your liking, these are some of the things to consider.
Flour measurement is tricky because it can vary tremendously. It would be a lot easier if we just weighed it, but scales aren't in every kitchen and cup measurements are still very much the standard in the United States. A cup of flour can weigh 4 ounces, 5 ounces, or more, depending on how it's measured. (That's a 25 percent difference in just a single ingredient!) The flour in these recipes was measured using the scoop-and-sweep method. What does this mean? It means the measuring cup is dipped in the flour until overflowing, then the excess flour is leveled off with a knife run straight across the top of the cup, with the excess falling back into the flour container.
The recipes in this book call for large eggs. Medium-size or extra-large eggs can run 10 percent bigger or smaller. This may not have much bearing on a recipe with just one egg, but the impact of different size eggs starts to multiply when more are called for in a recipe.
For my money, there is nothing better than salted butter for finishing and serving a dish, but when it comes to baking and cooking, salted butter introduces an unwelcome variable: Salt content can vary. This may not only affect the taste of the finished product—it would, of course, be more or less salty—but in recipes that involve yeast it could make a difference in how much the dough rises, since salt helps keep yeast in check and regulates rising.
The recipes in this book call for instant dry yeast, which not only acts quickly but is less fussy in that it can be added directly to dry ingredients. Active dry yeast, on the other hand, typically must first be added to wet ingredients to rehydrate before it's combined with other ingredients.
Baking Powder and Baking Soda
This might sound like a notion that exists only within the pages of cookbooks, but it's true: Baking powder does not last forever. I mean, it's a room-temperature powder, so it doesn't spoil or disintegrate. But it stops working. And here's the crazy part: It may be as soon as six months after opening that it becomes less effective. Have you ever kept baking powder longer than six months? Of course you have. Fortunately, there's an easy way to see if your baking powder still packs a punch: Drop a big pinch in a bowl and follow it with a splash of boiling water. It should bubble vigorously. If it doesn't, it's time for new baking powder. Regardless, I make a habit of replacing mine every year on my birthday. You might consider doing the same. (Use your own birthday, though—easier to remember.)
Baking soda generally has a longer shelf life, but because it's inexpensive, it can be replaced along with the baking powder. The contents of the old box need not be wasted. I demote it to stove-scrubbing duty: Just mix a little water until it forms a paste and use it to remove baked-on gunk.
- On Sale
- Apr 4, 2017
- Page Count
- 216 pages
- Workman Publishing Company