Nonstick pans are a godsend for frying eggs and flipping pancakes, and an enameled Dutch oven will never disappoint while cooking soups, stews and sauces. But when it comes to the workhorse of kitchen equipment, nothing beats a well-seasoned cast-iron pan.
Not only is cast-iron cookware relatively inexpensive — a 12-inch classic skillet from Lodge costs less than $30 at Target — it's incredibly versatile. You might think grandma used it just for frying chicken or making cornbread, but you also can roast a chicken or sear a steak in a cast-iron pan, use one to make the fluffiest pancakes, bake a deep-dish pizza or loaf of bread in one, or even panfry a delicate piece of fish.
Properly seasoned, cast-iron pans boast a silky, shiny surface that's naturally nonstick, eliminating the need for added fats. It also retains even, constant heat if the pan has been preheated over medium-high heat on the stovetop or in a 500-degree oven.
Not sold? The cookware also can go directly from the stovetop or oven to the table, and if you take care of it properly, cast-iron lasts for generations, earning it points for sustainability.
Cooking on cast iron might even be good for your health, because a small amount of iron is transferred from the pan to your food to your body every time you use it.
Below, we demonstrate cast-iron cookware's versatility with three fall recipes.
ROASTED MUSHROOM AND BACON DUTCH BABY
The large, fluffy pancake known as the Dutch baby is often made with sweet ingredients for breakfast or dessert. But the one-pan dish also lends itself to savory preparations, and it's the perfect food to make in a properly seasoned cast-iron skillet.
Baked in the oven instead of fried on the stovetop, the pancake is topped with a scrumptious mix of roasted mushroom, crispy bacon and cheddar cheese. Served with a simple green salad, it makes a terrific lunch or light supper.
For a vegetarian dish, simply omit the bacon.
1 pound mixed mushrooms (such as cremini, button or shiitake), sliced
4 slices bacon, sliced
3 large eggs
1 clove garlic, chopped
3/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 ounces cheddar cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Set oven racks in middle and upper positions. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place mushrooms and bacon on a rimmed baking sheet. Place on top rack in oven while preheating, and roast, stirring once, until mushrooms are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet on middle rack and heat 15 minutes.
Place eggs and garlic in a blender. Process on high until frothy, 45 seconds. With blender running, gradually add milk and 2 tablespoons butter; stop blender. Add flour, cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; process 1 minute. Fold in thyme.
Carefully add remaining tablespoon butter to heated skillet and swirl to coat. Immediately add batter. Bake until golden brown and puffed, 14 to 16 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and bake until melted, 3 to 5 minutes.
Top with mushroom mixture, scallions and parsley.
SKILLET SWEET POTATO HASH
This easy breakfast dish is a favorite of Lawrenceville resident Mike Sanders, who has been collecting vintage Griswold cast-iron pans for decades. It's super easy and super nutritious, and comes together in minutes.
If a cast-iron pan is properly seasoned (with a dark, semi-glossy finish and no rust or rough spots) neither the potatoes nor the eggs will stick. He adds a simple garnish of Sriracha sauce to spice things up, and parsley to make it pretty.
This recipe uses three pans, but as Sanders points out, clean up is pretty easy in a cast-iron pan — simply wipe interior surface of the still-warm skillet with paper towels to remove any excess food and oil, then rinse under hot water with a sponge or nonabrasive scrubber.
Olive oil, for pan
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and shredded (about 2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Butter for pan
2 thick slices smoked ham
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Heat a medium cast-iron pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon or two of olive oil, swirling to coat the pan. Once sizzling, add shredded sweet potato in a single layer, season generously with salt and pepper and cook, turning every so often with a spatula, until the potatoes are soft and nicely browned, and you can't make out the individual shreds. Cover, and keep warm while you prepare the eggs.
Heat another pan over medium heat, and then add 1 tablespoon or so of butter. Reduce heat to low, then break 2 eggs into pan. Cover with a lid, and cook until egg white is set, around 3 minutes.
While eggs are cooking, heat a flat skillet over medium heat, then add 2 slices of ham. Pan fry until brown and crispy, about 2-3 minutes per side.
Spoon sweet potatoes onto a plate, then top with fried eggs. Place ham beside hash, and drizzle Sriracha sauce over top. Garnish with chopped parsley, and serve immediately.
— Mike Sanders
PAN-SEARED SAUSAGE WITH APPLES
Fall is apple season, and a favorite pairing for the fruit is sweet Italian sausage. This skillet dish comes together quickly, and is full of wonderful autumn flavor. The choice of apple is key: You need to use a firm variety such as Pink Lady or Gala that will hold up to heat well. (Red and Gold Delicious will get mushy.) Serve with crusty Italian bread and a glass of chianti.
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tart apples, each cored and cut into 8 slices
1/2 red small red cabbage, shredded
4 sweet Italian sausages (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons white wine or Champagne vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples, cut side down, turning occasionally, until apples are golden brown, 5-8 minutes. Add cabbage and continue to cook until cabbage is wilted, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Prick sausages with a fork, then add to skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until sausage is browned and cooked through, 10-12 minutes.
Add wine and vinegar to skillet. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with pan juices spooned over, with some crusty bread for sopping up sauce.
— Adapted from bonappetit.com
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