Force me to choose one pot or pan from the sprawls of my kitchen gadgetry and I will reach for a skillet. You can make just about anything in a skillet. You can fry eggs, roast meats, simmer risotto.
You can sear, crisp and sauté. While a skillet may not be as stew-loving as a Dutch oven or possess a pressure cooker’s rapid-fire power to tenderizing meats and beans, it’s a tool of many talents.
Ask Daniel Shumski, author of a new cookbook titled “Will It Skillet?” (Workman Publishing, $14.95). He’s compiled a diverse collection of recipes for our trusty cast-iron skillets. The book showcases everything from monkey pretzel bread to paella to spiced apple funnel cakes. So “yes” would be the answer to the question posed in the book’s title.
Your skillet can take you from breakfast to lunch to dinner to late-night movie popcorn, so it’s worth the small amount of TLC it requires. Shumski details the steps involved in seasoning an aging cast-iron skillet. Because I purchased my cast-iron pans new, I’ve found that proper cleaning has kept it in top shape.
Shumski suggests using a mix of coarse salt and a few drops of water as a natural abrasive to scrub the pan. Tougher food remnants can be scoured off (gently, please) with a plastic scraper or a chain mail scrubber, a small pad made of linked stainless steel ringlets, he suggests. But while a little splash of soap won’t destroy your pan, it’s better to skip the soap.
“Not because the skies will darken and a chasm will open beneath your feet, but because it’s just not necessary,” writes Shumski, who notes the other tools (salt, scrubbers) will do the trick.
The final step of cleaning a cast-iron pan is perhaps the most important one: Dry your skillet well, add a few drops of neutral oil into the pan and use a paper towel to spread out the oil. The idea is not to apply a thick coat of oil, but a sheen.
Now that your pan is ready, put it to use in these recipes.
RECIPES and text excerpted from “Will it Skillet” by Daniel Shumski (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2017.
“The bright red of the tomato-pepper sauce and the rich yellow of the egg yolks are an invitation to dive into the skillet,” writes Shumski.
“This dish appears to have its origins in North Africa or the Middle East. And, of course, there are people who have known about shakshuka for a good long time. But shakshuka has experienced a recent burst in popularity, and I have a theory that could just explain that: It combines familiar and accessible ingredients...
“There’s a reluctance sometimes to cook with tomatoes in cast iron—the idea being that their acid eats away at the seasoning or the dish takes on a metallic taste. That may be a danger if your tomatoes are in the skillet for hours. Fortunately, this dish is ready in much less time.”
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1⁄4 cups diced white or yellow onion (about 1 medium-size onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1⁄2 cups diced green or red bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, for garnish
Cooked rice or couscous, or sliced baguette, for serving (optional)
Make the dish
1. Preheat the skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the olive oil, then add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
2. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes with their juice, the tomato paste, a pinch of chili powder, the cumin, and the paprika. Stir until well mixed. Let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced slightly, about 10 minutes. Add the black pepper, then taste to check for seasoning and add salt and chili powder as necessary. Be cautious with both; once they’re in the dish, there’s no getting them back out.
4. Crack the eggs over the tomato mixture, spacing them evenly. Turn the heat to medium low and loosely cover the skillet with aluminum foil or a lid left slightly ajar. Allow to simmer until the tomatoes have reduced a bit more and the eggs are cooked, about 10 minutes.
5. Uncover the skillet, remove from the heat, and transfer it to a rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve hot, on its own, atop rice or couscous, or accompanied by slices of baguette. Leftovers can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 2 days.
“Originally cooked over an open flame in a shallow pan, this dish from Spain’s Valencia region fits right into your skillet,” writes Shumski about this recipe.
“Skillet paella takes advantage of cast iron’s versatility. It starts on the stovetop and finishes in the oven, which means the last 30 minutes or so don’t require you to hover over the dish and leaves you free to enjoy, say, a traditional Spanish beverage such as sangria, or the drink of your choice.”
Seafood Paella ingredients
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Pinch of whole saffron threads (optional; see Notes)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-size white or yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1⁄2 cups Arborio rice (see Notes)
1 medium-size plum tomato, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound raw scallops and/or peeled shrimp and/or squid, cut into 1-inch chunks
Chopped fresh parsley and lemon wedges, for garnish
Make the dish
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F with one rack in the middle.
2. In the skillet over medium heat, warm up about 1/2 cup of the broth to about 120°F (the temperature of hot tap water) for about 2 minutes. In a small bowl, mix the tomato paste with the warm broth and saffron. Allow the mixture to stand. (This allows the color and flavor of the saffron to be more evenly distributed when it’s added to the rest of the broth and the rice. If you’re not using the saffron, don’t skip this step; it also helps the tomato paste disperse evenly in the skillet.)
3. Turn the heat to medium high, add the olive oil to the skillet, and allow it to heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s softened, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until it turns shiny, about 2 minutes.
5. Taking care because the skillet is hot (and the liquid may bubble and spit), add all of the broth to the skillet, including the warmed broth with the saffron, followed by the tomato.
6. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stir, then taste to check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as necessary.
7. Stir in the seafood, then place the skillet in the oven.
8. Bake until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.
9. Remove the skillet from the oven and serve the paella hot, garnished with parsley and lemon wedges. Leftovers can be refrigerated in a covered container for 1 day.
• Saffron is expensive, yes, but also irreplaceable—and note how little is required. A small vial will carry you through quite a few recipes. What you’re buying are the hand-harvested stigmas of a crocus flower, which lends not only a bright yellow color to the dish but also an almost sweet, floral background note that might be compared very roughly to a cup of Earl Grey tea. It can be added to rice dishes, stews, and soups.
• Arborio rice is not the traditional rice for paella—but neither is a cast-iron skillet the traditional vessel. Arborio does share an important trait with the bomba variety of rice typically used, in that it will stay distinct and not turn to mush, even as it absorbs the liquid around it.
MIXED FRUIT GALETTE
“The free-form tart dough envelops just about any fruit, while the skillet takes care of collecting any juices that might run out,” writes the author. “It’s often baked on a baking sheet, but using the skillet instead means any runoff from the fruit won’t collect on the bottom of your oven. In fact, it can be brushed back on top of the fruit as a glaze, along with any butter that escapes from the pastry.”
Mixed Fruit Galette ingredients
For the crust:
1 1⁄4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for dusting
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1⁄4 cup ice water, plus more if needed
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
For the filling:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 1⁄2 cups mixed fresh berries (strawberries sliced if large), chopped peaches, and/or apricots pitted and cut in half
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
• Ice water is important! It’s worth putting a few ice cubes in a glass of cold water and measuring the water from there.
To make the dish
1. Make the crust: In a food processor or a large bowl, combine the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until crumbs form and no large chunks of butter remain, or use your fingers to pinch the butter into smaller, flour-coated chunks. You can also use a fork to mash smaller pieces of butter against the side of the bowl to break them up.
2. If using a food processor, transfer the mixture to a large bowl. In a small bowl or measuring cup, use a fork to mix together the ice water and 1 of the egg yolks. Evenly sprinkle that liquid over the flour-and-butter mixture. Gather it together with your hands, gently massaging it to distribute the moisture. Press the dough together with your hands until large clumps hold together. Avoid overmixing, and don’t worry if every last bit of flour isn’t incorporated; a bit of loose flour around the edges is okay. Add up to 1 teaspoon additional ice water at a time if the mixture is too dry to come together.
3. Place the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap about 18 inches long. Wrap the dough and press it together to form a cohesive mass. Pat it into a disk and refrigerate it for 15 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°F with one rack in the middle.
5. Make the filling: In a large bowl (you can use the same bowl used for the pastry), combine the cornstarch, granulated sugar, and salt. Add the fruit and toss until coated.
6. Dust a work surface with flour. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, and dust the top of the dough with flour. Use a rolling pin to press the dough into a rough circle about 11 inches in diameter. Uneven edges are perfectly okay.
7. Using your hands, carefully transfer the pastry to the skillet. (It may be easier if you fold it in half first and then unfold it in the skillet; make sure the top is lightly dusted with flour so the dough won’t stick to itself.) Once in the skillet, the pastry can run up along the edges at first; it will be folded down later. If the pastry tears, gently press it back together with your fingertips. Use a few drops of ice water as glue if necessary.
8. Using a slotted spoon, place the filling in the center of the pastry, leaving behind any juices in the bowl and allowing a border of about 2 inches of pastry (including any dough running up the sides). Fold the pastry edges toward the center, just covering the edge of the fruit. The center of the galette should not be covered with pastry, and the edges will be uneven. Beat together the remaining egg yolk and the tablespoon of water, lightly brush the pastry with this egg wash, then lightly sprinkle the pastry with the granulated sugar.
9. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the pastry is golden and the fruit is bubbly, about 35 minutes.
10. Remove the skillet from the oven and transfer it to a rack to cool until warm but not hot, about 45 minutes. Any melted butter or fruit juices pooled along the edges can be carefully brushed on top of the fruit. This is optional.
11. Slice the galette into wedges and dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be stored for 1 day at room temperature in the skillet, covered loosely with plastic wrap. Slices can be frozen in a zip-top freezer bag for up to 3 months.