what should I cook in my cast iron pan?
May 1, 2008 10:30 AM   Subscribe

What should I cook with my cast iron skillet?

Due in large part to this question about homefries, I finally bought a cast iron skillet last Christmas. It's a 10" preseasoned Lodge.

So far I've made homefries, hashbrowns, and cornbread. I also know that lots of people make pineapple upsidedown cake in a cast iron pan.

For a couple of months, though, the skillet has been severely neglected. What other foods or recipes take on a new level of awesomeness when prepared in cast iron?

Very few caveats: I hate eggs, and no beef. I'm also sort of looking for things that are exceptionally yummy when cooked in cast iron, like the homefries question, not general stuff like "you can cook anything in it."

What should I make next?
posted by peep to Food & Drink (38 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Fried chicken.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:36 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Well, my vote was going to be for cornbread, but you've already taken that one.

Thought I've not had it in years and years (because I know it is very bad for my insides), bologna is especially good after being fried in a cast iron skillet. Especially the kind you have to slice first.

My tongue is practically jumping from my mouth just thinking about it.
posted by stuboo at 10:39 AM on May 1, 2008

sizzle up some chicken, then peppers and onions, for fajitas.
posted by notsnot at 10:40 AM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Dutch baby! Makes me want to buy a cast iron pan just to try it.
posted by moonshine at 10:40 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Blackberry grunt is a tasty dessert with a funny name.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:40 AM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: I'm thinkin' steak counts as beef.

Asparagus is good in a cast iron pan - toss the asparagus with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and some lemon juice before you put it in the hot pan.

Grilled cheese is also made better when cooked in cast iron (raclette is my favorite cheese for grilled cheese).
posted by foodgeek at 10:47 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bacon, then anything else.. like a fork, a shoe, or a possum. Things cooked in bacon grease in a cast iron pan are delicious.
posted by mbatch at 10:50 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Trout or bass, especially if you’ve caught it yourself.

Bacon cooks well in cast iron. Then you can cook the fish in the bacon grease.
posted by bondcliff at 10:51 AM on May 1, 2008

Seconding dutch baby. My kids would eat it every day.
posted by GuyZero at 10:52 AM on May 1, 2008

Spinach is good sauteed quickly in a skillet with garlic and olive oil (or if you have some and you're feeling decadent, a smidge of duck fat).

DEFINITELY make the pineapple upside-down cake. The one in Rose Levy Beranbaum's (Berenbaum?) The Cake Bible is my favorite ever.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:52 AM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Clicking through to the linked dutch baby recipe, that's about twice the size we usually make in a single batch. Halve that recipe - except the butter - and that's a better single serving size IMO. I find the thinner result has a better texture as well.
posted by GuyZero at 10:53 AM on May 1, 2008

You said you hate eggs, but if you can tolerate them as the binder holding together a bunch of other more flavorful things, then a cast-iron pan (because of its great heat-holding and stovetop-to-oven ability) is the perfect thing to make a big frittata. Saute onions, herbs, garlic, zucchini, etc., add enough eggs to cover and as much cheese as desired, transfer to oven and cook until set. If your aversion to eggs is absolute, then disregard this.
posted by RogerB at 10:54 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Pancakes are also exceptionally good in cast iron, usually after I've cooked bacon in it and wiped it out.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:55 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Seared seafood is also good for an iron skillet. You can absolutely craft up a wonderful ahi tuna steak, for example, on a well heated skillet using just a little canola oil and fresh ground pepper. Serve on a bed of spring greens and par-boiled green beans with a simple lemon vinaigrette. Scallops would work too. Key with seafood on such a hot surface is the "seared" part. We are talking seconds here - less than a minute in most cases. It should be damn near close to sushi. Done right, you get a wonderful glaze, great texture, and a marvelous display.
posted by elendil71 at 10:58 AM on May 1, 2008

Here's a recipe for emperor's pancakes, which you'd have to adjust for the size of the pan, I think. It's a delicious breakfast or dessert, but it does contain a lot of eggs. I usually soak the raisins in rum overnight.
posted by bashos_frog at 11:02 AM on May 1, 2008

Lodge has "assembled some of the best cast iron cooking recipes" here.
posted by dawson at 11:05 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tomato sauce picks up extra iron when cooked in an iron skillet.
posted by calumet43 at 11:08 AM on May 1, 2008

or maybe here, or maybe you have to go to the main site...
posted by dawson at 11:08 AM on May 1, 2008

Things that go especially well: fried pork, crepes, burgers (besides beef, lamb, turkey, & veggie), and pancakes (cornmeal pancakes highly recommended)
posted by zippy at 11:12 AM on May 1, 2008

Anytime I have to saute onions I use a cast-iron pan. For some reason they come out better than in a non-stick skillet. Another way of looking at your cast-iron pan is to ask what you shouldn't cook in it (acidic foods like tomatoes) because the more you use it, the better the seasoning develops and that makes it more non-stick. Many people I know have switched to cast-iron almost exclusively, in part because of health concerns about non-stick coatings. By the way, there are cast-iron recipe cookbooks out there.
posted by conrad53 at 11:22 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know you said you didn't want the answer of "everything," but really that's the right answer. Except for things with a lot of volume (say, boiling pasta), or some other special things, almost anything can be cooked in your little cast iron pan. You can bake in it (10" diameter is a good size for pies, and remember that pies can be sweet or savory, so you could fry up chicken one night in the pan, and then the next night make chicken pot pie with the leftovers, using that same pan), fry in it, cook up things like sauces and reductions and so one.

Even, as long as the amounts are small enough to not overflow the pan, things like arroz con pollo can be made in a basic cast iron pan (you will want a lid that fits (a dinner plate can sometimes work) or adjust the water volume to account for the extra that will boil off).

A lot of the recipes in Bittman's Minimalist books can be made in a cast iron pan (sometimes with a saucepan, as well), like his basic pasta sauces for example. Or chicken/gamehen under a brick. Or cook up some bacon, onions, and mushrooms, clean the pan, and make quiche in the pan. Or a frittata if you don't want to make a crust. Or tortilla española if you have potatoes you want to use up. Fish can be broiled, pan-fried, or sautéed in that pan, too. Or you could make a really tasty coconut milk curry. Use the pan to heat up tortillas next time you make burritos. And on and on and on.

Honestly, this question is only a hair less broad than "what can I cook on my stove?" The cast iron pan is such a basic kitchen utensil that the more interesting question becomes "what can't I cook it?" -- there are definitely a set of things that can't be done in a cast iron pan, and a longer list of things that can be done in one, but are really better done in some other way. But mostly, if it needs cooking and the volume is not so large as to need a bigger pan, you can cook it in a cast iron pan, even if a better or easier way might exist.
posted by Forktine at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Pizza. You don't need a fancy-pants pizza stone because you can use your cast iron pan (though the pizzas won't be very big in a 10" pan). Turn the oven to 500F, stick your pan in to heat up, and prepare your pizza on a piece of cardboard (cornmeal underneath will keep it from sticking). Once the pan is nice and hot, slip your pizza into it and stick it back in the oven until it looks done (~8 minutes). The direct contact between the dough and the large hot mass of your pan will give you a very yummy crust.
posted by ssg at 11:30 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Bisquick strawberry shortcake. Whip up the box recipe for Bisquick biscuits, only don't shape the dough into biscuits. Instead, plop it into a lightly greased cast-iron pan, make sure the dough reaches to the sides of the pans, and bake until it's lightly browned on top. Top with strawberries which you have sliced and sprinkled with sugar, early enough so that they are sloshing around in juice by the time you want your shortcake, and some homemade non-sweet whipped cream.

Good, good, good. Every time I make this people talk about my "famous strawberry shortcake" and beg for the recipe. It's just Bisquick! The pan helps make it extra yummy.
posted by Miko at 11:31 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Pretty much the only reason I'd ever get a cast iron skillet is to cook steak on.

But, you can make some excellent peach cobbler on it, too. The paella suggestion is an excellent one, too.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:32 AM on May 1, 2008

I'm absolutely astounded no-one has mentioned Tarte Tatine. It's supposed to be made in a cast iron pan!
posted by LN at 11:37 AM on May 1, 2008

Meat. Pork chops, lamb chops, chicken, anything. The best part is the brown drippings you'll get and can then turn into gravy. Mmmm. Gravy.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:58 AM on May 1, 2008

I love this Bittman fish recipe -- it's in our regular dinner rotation. We use catfish. Sometimes I brush the fish with sriracha first. Sometimes I use onions, sometimes I use shallots, sometimes I throw in some grated ginger, etc.

The advantage here is that you can go from stovetop to oven. You can do easy braised dishes this way, too, by searing the meat in the hot pan then adding cooking liquid and transferring to the oven. (Once it gets hot, I don't braise in the oven anymore -- I sear meat on the skillet then transfer to a crockpot with liquid, spices, etc. so that I don't heat up the whole kitchen.)
posted by desuetude at 12:30 PM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Seconding foodgeek on roasting asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper in the pan. I have two cast iron pans, inherited from my great-grandmother, and they are literally THE ONLY pans I use. Period. (Plus two enameled cast-iron pots, Le Creuset-style but not-Le Creuset).

I love making mac and cheese from scratch in mine -- good crunchy crust. Caramelized onions. You name it, I cook it in there.

Now, since no one's mentioned it yet -- are you taking good care of your pan between uses if you're not using it every day? Not washing it with soap, making sure it's oiled and seasoned, etc? A properly seasoned cast iron pan is a joy, one that isn't is... well... not.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:30 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lemon-Pepper Chicken

2 - 4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 - 2 eggs
1/2 - 1 cup milk
dash of hot sauce
1 1/2 - 3 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 - 4 tablespoons lemon-pepper seasoning
4 - 8 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons margarine

(Note: I really never measure, so these are guestimates.)

Wash and dry chicken. Beat eggs with milk and hot sauce in a bowl large enough to hold all the chicken. Put chicken in milk/egg mixture and let soak for 10 minutes. Mix breadcrumbs and lemon-pepper seasoning in separate bowl.

Heat margarine in cast iron skillet on high. Dip chicken into breadcrumb mixture and saute until nicely brown on one side. Add 1/2 the lemon juice, and a little bit of water. Cover, simmer for about 10 minutes.

Uncover. Turn heat back up to high. Add more margarine if necessary. Turn chicken and saute until brown. Add remaining lemon juice, more water, and cover. Turn heat down to simmer until chicken is no longer pink in the center. Use the "gravy" that is created from breadcrumb mix and margarine over rice.

IMPORTANT CRITICAL NOTE! NEVER EVER USE SOAP IN YOUR CAST IRON SKILLET! It removes the seasoning, and destroys it. Use salt as an abrasive to scrub off stubborn bits. NEVER SOAK YOUR PAN. Most stuck on foods can be removed with hot water and a little salt. Rub it with a light coating of oil in between uses, and it will be your favorite piece of kitchen equipment.

Trust me. I still have the pans my dad (Army Mess Sargent) bought in 1946. They are legacy cookware. My daughter will inherit them when I go to the big Cooking School in the Sky.
posted by Corky at 1:04 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by DB Cooper at 1:20 PM on May 1, 2008

Ooh! Fried okra! Cut the okra (keep it dry -- don't let it touch water) and toss with polenta or stone-ground cornmeal. You can do an egg wash if you want, but you don't have to. Then, fry.

Fried corn is really good too. Cut the kernels off of several ears of fresh sweet corn. Fry up some onions and garlic. Throw in the corn, some jalapeno, and red bell pepper. Cook on medium-high heat until the corn starts to brown. Some dried thyme is a nice addition as well.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:24 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ooooh, oooh! Pick me, pick me!

I discovered this recipe not too long ago. Great for lazy cooks like me. Buy a bag of carnitas (pork shoulder chunks) - I buy it at Wal-Mart for around $3-$4 in their meat section.

Pre-heat oven to 200. Throw meat in cast iron skillet. Salt and pepper meat liberally. Stick in oven. Live your life for 4-6 hours (depending on how thick the chunks are). Come back to kitchen. Sniff. Groan with anticipation. Pork chunks carmelize and brown nicely, crisp on the outside, tender and joooshy on the inside.

Heaven. And really, it's as simple as that. You can chunk up and shred meat and serve it Mexican style with some salsa and tortillas. I just steam up veggies and serve it with white rice.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:08 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Yum! I've marked everything I plan to make. Thanks!
posted by peep at 7:53 PM on May 1, 2008

The pita bread in Rose Levy Berenbaum's Bread Bible is excellent, and uses a cast iron skillet. I bet tortillas would be good too.
posted by lemonwheel at 9:24 PM on May 1, 2008

Awesome question! I was just thinking the same thing!
posted by madh at 11:24 PM on May 1, 2008

refried beans
posted by canoehead at 7:24 PM on May 3, 2008

Response by poster: Tiny follow up. It's been HOT so I haven't done much stove cooking, but I have used the pan to roast asparagus as suggested by foodgeek. Fresh local asparagus, really fat spears. I cooked them for about 6 minutes, although a few of the larger pieces could have used a few more minutes.

They were nicely browned, and tasted WONDERFUL. Very smoky.
posted by peep at 10:58 AM on May 16, 2008

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