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Farm to Table: Cast Iron Comeback!

Jun 26, 2018 02:25PM ● Published by Kayla Butts

Words by: Justin & Kayla Butts  Photos by: Rachel Benavides

What is your best frying pan? My favorite is our cast iron skillet. I have been cooking with it for years, and it keeps getting better.  

My grandmother has been cooking on her cast iron griddle for the last forty years. Nan makes absolutely perfect pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches. The most calculating attempts of her granddaughters cannot rival Nan’s creations on her old cast iron griddle.      

Cast iron cookware became commonplace after the Civil War when molds were developed to manufacture iron pans on an industrial scale. These new, affordable frying pans revolutionized cooking in America.  

Suddenly, every home featured a high-quality skillet, no more roasting over open fires and losing flavor. A recipe book industry was born to make the most of the new cookware. The quality of meals improved immeasurably for the average American family.

By the early 1900s, the booming market share for cast iron was dominated by the companies Griswold, Wagner, and Lodge. Griswold polished their pans to a smooth finish until this process became too expensive to remain cost-competitive. Those old Griswold polished pans are now heirloom cookware, commanding top dollar from collectors and serious chefs.

After WWII, pans made from aluminum, stainless steel, Teflon, and other innovative materials made cast iron seem old-fashioned. Sales of cast iron skillets plummeted, and Griswold and Wagner went out of business in the 1950s. Only Lodge survived.

The Lodge cast iron pans of today are just as good as the ones from a hundred years ago. (Side note:  Lodge did not pay us to say that. They have no idea who we are!) You can find a perfectly adequate Lodge cast iron pan for less than $20. This inexpensive skillet will cook amazing meals for your family for generations to come.    

Here are three of our favorite recipes to christen your cast iron skillet.  Nothing sears a steak like cast iron. We got these grass-fed steaks from Palo Verde Cattle Company. The beautiful vegetables came from the garden of our dear friends, Mike and Ginette Collins of Rockport. Chicken and rice rises to perfection in a cast iron skillet. Only cast iron can give the chicken such crispy skin while simultaneously imparting so much flavor to rice. The berry crumble is pure heaven.

These dishes are simple, healthy, and easy to prepare. This is comfort food that honors a simpler time when meals brought family together around the table.  

Every meal we prepare in our cast iron skillet is just a little better than the last. Each dish seasons the pan for future meals. In another forty or so years, we might even give my Nan a run for her money.

TIPS:  

  • “Seasoning” cast iron improves the flavor of the food and the non-stick quality of the pan.  The more you cook in your pan, the better it will be seasoned.

  • Season your cast iron pan by heating it to smoking hot, then coating with a layer of oil.  That’s it!

  • Wash cast iron in the sink with soap and water and dry with a towel.  You don’t have to season it after each wash, but definitely season before storing for a long period.   


Skillet Chicken and Rice

Serves 4-6

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour




Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil, plus 2 additional tbsp

1 large onion, sliced

2 sweet peppers, seeded and sliced

1 bone-in whole chicken with skin on, broken down into parts

1 tsp paprika

3/4 tsp cumin

1-2 tsp salt

¼ tsp cayenne

5 sprigs tarragon (or ½ tsp dried tarragon)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup uncooked basmati rice

2 - 2 1/4 cups chicken broth or stock

2 bay leaves

Freshly squeezed lime, to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat large cast iron skillet (recommend 13-15” in diameter) over medium-high heat. Once you are only able to hold your hand over the skillet for less than three seconds, add olive oil, onion and peppers. Cook for about 5 minutes and set onions and peppers aside on a clean plate. Return skillet to heat.

Season chicken with paprika, cumin, cayenne, and salt (to taste). Add additional olive oil to skillet, and cook in batches to avoid crowding. Cook chicken for 6-7 minutes on each side. (Add tarragon at this time if using dried tarragon.) Set chicken aside.

Add garlic and rice to skillet and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add chicken broth to skillet and reduce to low heat. Simmer rice for 10 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. If necessary, add additional broth at this time. Return onion, peppers, and chicken to skillet, along with bay leaves and fresh tarragon. Cover skillet with an ovenproof lid or aluminum foil.

Place skillet in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes until juices from chicken run clear. Squeeze lime over chicken and rice and serve.


Grass-Fed Steak with Summer Vegetables

Serves 2

Prep time: 3 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes




Ingredients:

1-2 lb grass-fed beefsteak (recommend at least 1” in thickness) at room temperature

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 corn cobs with husks removed, sliced horizontally

2 zucchini, sliced into spears

4 tbsp butter

4 cloves garlic

Chimichurri sauce (see below)

Directions:

Prepare chimichurri sauce (see below).

Preheat seasoned cast iron skillet on high heat. Season steak liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook steak for about four minutes on each side for medium rare. Sprinkle salt and pepper over vegetables and add them to the pan while steak cooks, turning frequently to prevent burning.

Remove steak and allow to rest for about ten minutes. Continue to cook vegetables until tender and lightly charred on all sides. Set vegetables aside and reduce heat to low. Add butter and garlic to skillet, scraping bottom of pan to release flavorful bits.

To serve, drizzle steak with garlic butter and a spoonful of chimichurri sauce.


 Chimichurri

Serves 2

Prep time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

1 bunch fresh parsley (about 2 ounces)

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

4 garlic cloves

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp red pepper flakes

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

In a blender or food processor, pulse parsley, vinegar, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes until smooth. With the blender on, add olive oil in a slow, steady stream until well incorporated. Let flavors meld for 20 minutes before serving. Chimichurri will keep in an airtight container for one week.



Berry Skillet Crumble

Serves 6

Prep time: 3 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes




Ingredients:

2 pints fresh berries (we used raspberries)

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp all-purpose flour

Juice of 1 lemon

Topping:

½ cup flour

½ cup rolled oats

½ cup brown sugar

4 tbsp butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine topping ingredients with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture forms pea-sized crumbles.

Heat two small cast iron skillets (recommend 6-inch diameter) over medium heat. Add 1 pint of berries to each skillet and stir in sugar, flour, and lemon until well blended. Stir occasionally and cook until berries have reduced and a sauce has formed (about 5-7 minutes). Spoon topping onto both berry mixtures and bake for 10-15 minutes until the crust is a nice golden brown. Best served warm, right out of the skillet.


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