Tag Archives: iron skillet

Everything you need to know about your cast iron skillet.

Lodge Iron Skillet

The iron skillet is one of the most valuable tools in your kitchen and probably the one you take most for granted.

After a lovely dinner at the home of a friend, a few of us walked into his kitchen to freshen our wine and talk a little shop. One of the dishes that stuck in everyone’s mind was the fabulous gnocchi that he prepared in his favorite cast iron skillet.

Read: An easy recipe for gnocchi sausage, tomatoes in a skillet

I’ve cooked with skillets before, but this dish – so simple and tasty – was really something else. I was also impressed by the way he so matter-of-factly talked about how skillets were great for cooking anything where an oven and proper distribution of heat was needed.  But, of course, some are better suited than others to go from stove top to oven.

I’m talking about the good old cast iron skillet. While the shiny copper-bottomed stainless-steel pans are very pretty to look at – your most valuable pan in the kitchen sits there, blackened and heavy. You can cook a whole chicken, a batch of cinnamon rolls, caramelize onions, even your favorite pan pizza in one!  My favorite dish to prepare in my iron skillet is crispy skinned salmon filets.  You can serve them with any favorite side dish as they basically cook themselves.

Unless your recipe calls for a ‘cold’ skillet (like my salmon does), cooking goes better if the cast iron skillet is preheated before adding ingredients.

The most crucial aspect to cooking with an iron skillet is cleaning and proper storage. It only takes a bit of care, and you’ll be able to hold on to it forever. One of my chef friends favorite skillets (yes, he has several) was passed down from his grandfather. I have another friend who has a photo from the 1930s where his hand-me-down skillet was used over a potbelly stove.

Don’t have an iron skillet? I recommend that you consider the same 12-inch cast iron skillet I have. See it in my latest video.

Start it off right by seasoning the pan even if it says it’s pre-seasoned.  When you heat oil in a cast iron pan over high heat the oil molecules bond with the surface of the pan. The end result is that your skillet will become basically non-stick. Use a neutral (no strong flavor) oil with a high smoke point (the oil won’t smoke and burn). Recommended oils: vegetable, corn, canola or grapeseed.

Use a paper towel or kitchen towel and rub your pan all over with a very light coat of oil.  Place it upside down in a preheated 500-deg F oven. You may want to lay some aluminum foil under the pan to catch anything that might drip.

After about an hour, the pan should emerge with a matte dark finish.  Let it cool on the stove top and coat with another light coating of oil before storing. Each time you cook, the resulting fat and oils that accumulate in the pan adds another layer of seasoning. You can re-season your skillet when it starts to look dry or dull or if you can’t remember the last time you used it.

Being blackened doesn’t mean you don’t have to clean it. By all means: keep it clean!  If you don’t remove those burnt crispy bits from the pan, they will create an irregular surface, and your pan won’t be non-stick anymore.

While the skillet is still warm wipe the cooking surface with paper towels to remove the leftover bits of food and oil. Rinse under hot running water and if necessary scrub the pan with a drop of dish soap and a nonmetal brush or nonabrasive scrub pad.  Thoroughly dry your cleaned skillet and set it over a low flame on your stove for only a minute or so to help it dry it off completely. Pour about ½ teaspoon of neutral oil into the center of the pan.  Using a paper towel lightly coat the interior surface with the oil.  Wipe the surface with the oiled paper towel until it looks dark and smooth and no oil residue is left.  Your workhorse is ready to be put away awaiting your next cooking project!

One bit of caution: never ever let your skillet soak in water, and absolutely do not place it in dishwater or a dishwasher. If you ever spot rust, do not fear. Use a bit of coarse Kosher Salt to form a paste and a green scrubby to remove all the rust and then season it thoroughly before storing.

Most of all, find some recipes to cook in your skillet and make some wonderful food memories.

Kitchen Tool Upgrades to Take You to The Next Level

My list of handy ‘next level’ kitchen tools so you’re not caught without “the right tool for the right job.”

There’s an old saying about using “the right tool for the right job.” It isn’t just about odd jobs around the house – it’s about EVERY job – the right tool makes whatever the job is so much easier and that includes the tools in your kitchen.  When it comes to making sure you have the right tools, there’s no difference between fixing a leaky faucet and cooking up a lovely dinner for guests.

This is my list of handy ‘next level’ kitchen tools. None of these ideas are expensive – almost all are under $35. But having these tools around the kitchen could make all the difference between a fun cooking adventure or enduring what could become an unnecessarily difficult kitchen experience.

Read: The 10 Essential Tools for Beginner Cooks

My goal is to help you avoid the situation where you’ve already started a recipe and suddenly you realize that the simple task of grating Parmesan cheese is not going as planned. Or, you need the wine opened for your pot roast and that old handy wine opener (the one you’ve had since college) suddenly jams. Some of these items you know you’ve talked about replacing the last time you reached for them. A few of them you don’t think about until the day you need them.

This is why I urge all cooks, whether you’re a new or inexperienced cook or are very comfortable in the kitchen, to be proactive about all your tools. You don’t know the pain until the simple tool you need is either missing or broken!

Here’s the easy part about all of this—it doesn’t take much to upgrade the standard tools in your kitchen—you just have to remember to do it. And, I’m here to help:

A good citrus squeezer. Seriously, this is the one everyone forgets. Remember, you just can’t get as much juice out of the lemon or lime using only your hands.

A two-step Waiter’s Corkscrew. This is a pro tool, used by waiters everywhere and will make getting the bottle of wine open that much easier.

A good quality microplane. You’ll never have to mince garlic or ginger with a knife ever again.  And, this tool is perfect for Parmesan cheese!

A sturdy dough or bench scraper. Bakers use it to scrape the dough off the counter, but here’s the thing—it’s actually perfect for transferring chopped anything (meat or veggie) into pots and pans without picking up the cutting board.

An insert rack for your pan. If you ever plan to fry anything and want to keep it crispy, get a cooling rack that fits your sheet pan.  Air can flow underneath your fried items and keep them crispy – they don’t sit in the oil from the fryer.

A set of nesting mixing bowls. Stainless or glass, because everyone needs mixing bowls, right?

A cast iron skillet – 10-12”.  This will become your favorite skillet in the kitchen.  Nothing sears meats better and it can go from stovetop into the oven with no worries.

REAL kitchen shears. Not scissors you also use for cutting paper. You want shears that can cut through chicken bones AND that sheet pan pizza you just made. Important feature—make sure you get the ones you can easily take apart for thorough cleaning.

A serrated bread knife. The thing is, this is not just for bread but also any hard-skinned vegetables like Squash – AND tomatoes (perfect for any thin-skinned soft fruit because it won’t tear the skin!)

A paring knife. Small and sharp, for the little cutting jobs that require precision.

Read: The Essential 5 Must Have Knives for your Kitchen

A fish spatula. Characterized by the extra-long part that does the scraping or picking up. Usually made of thin stainless steel.  This one is not only for fish but for just about anything that needs a little extra flexibility to pick up the food in one piece.

A stainless ladle. This is for that pot of chili you’re going to make on Sunday or the favorite soup for dinner.

Watch my video to see these tools and get the feel of the way they work. And remember—maybe you already have some of these tools. But, check them out and make sure they’re ready for your next cooking adventure.

Defining the 10 Essential Tools for Beginner Cooks

What you need to know about the top 10 essential tools for your kitchen.

A client of mine just bought a second home near a lake. She faced the same problem all cooks face when stocking a new kitchen – what are the basics necessary to prepare meals for her and her family?  What are the absolute essential kitchen tools?

One of my favorite websites, Bon Appetit, posted an article titled 10 Essential Tools for Beginner Cooks. Here are my notes on the ‘Essential 10’.

The first item is a 10” stainless steel skillet. “Stainless steel” because you don’t want anything that will chip, stain, or break. Personally speaking, ‘non-stick’ surfaces are a ‘non-starter’ for the “essential” list because this will be your workhorse tool. Nothing against ‘non-stick’ (I have a small one for my morning eggs) but they do need a bit of extra care to protect them from scratches. Cast iron is another favorite, but these also require some careful cleaning and regular seasoning. As with many of these “essentials,” it’s all about personal preference.

Next is a good chef’s knife. You can do most of your kitchen chores with this one knife–so make it the first one you buy before you add other knives. Your biggest consideration is the length of the blade. For me, the 8-inch blade is a nice size but, you may prefer the 10-inch. There’s really no formula for which one is better. It’s personal preference—how it feels in your hand, balance and how long of a blade you’re comfortable working with. You should also consider getting a honing steel to sharpen your knife each time you use it—a dull knife is one of the most dangerous things to have around the kitchen.

Read: The Essential 5 Must Have Knives for your Kitchen

There’s always a lot of chatter about cutting boards, myself included. There are two things to think about: food safety and utility. I know people who swear that their glass cutting boards help them permanently solve the food safety issue (you can sanitize them). They also last longer than wood, bamboo, or plastic. But a glass cutting board will dull your knives faster than you can read this sentence. Actually, glass can ruin your chef’s knife.

So, what’s the perfect cutting board in my kitchen? A good hardwood (walnut, hickory, oak). If you want to preserve your knife and don’t care that you’ll have to replace your board often, softer woods like cypress are great. Good wood boards are perhaps 2” thick, so they don’t warp when they get wet. A Bamboo board—which is a nice compromise between hardwood and softwoods—will be about ¾” thick. As for the food safety issue, you should have a separate board for vegetables and another for animal proteins—you don’t want to cross contaminate. That’s where plastic cutting boards come in. You can stick them in the dishwasher and they’re cheap to replace when they warp, start to chip or get heavily scratched.  By the way, never stick your wood or bamboo board in a dishwasher.

Read: Don’t Take Your Cutting Board for Granted!

You need a 5 to 8-quart heavy stockpot. You will use this for boiling pasta, blanching veggies, and cooking up batches of your favorite chili or soup recipes. You want a heavy-bottomed one so that the heat is distributed evenly. Make sure that the lid is tight fitting.

It may seem obvious, but you’ll want a large cooking spoon—wood or stainless steel. I have several. Stainless is durable but can scratch some surfaces. Replace wood spoons as often as you replace wood cutting boards.

People sometimes forget how important it is to have a good set of measuring spoons and measuring cups. I like metal ones—they’re sturdy, and they retain their shape after years of use. You’ll find sets with eight or more different spoons and cups. Go for the simplicity of the basic four. In spoons, that’s one-tablespoon, one-teaspoon, half-teaspoon, and quarter-teaspoon. In cups, you’ll want one-cup, half-cup, one-third cup, and quarter-cup. Any more than that is just clutter.

That leads me to your basic liquid measuring cup. Glass is fabulous—but get one that’s tempered glass, so it doesn’t shatter the moment you put boiling liquid into it. Forget the one cup size because you already have that in your set of measuring tools. Go straight for the 2-cup and then add a 4-cup later.

You’ll want a rimmed sheet tray. Emphasis on “rimmed”—I like the ones with taller rims that are about half-inch tall. You’ll use this for roasting and baking.

A veggie peeler is definitely an essential. There are all kinds of designs but, I love my Y-peeler. It’s faster than a swivel peeler, easier to handle, and so cheap that when it finally gets dull, you can just replace it.

Lastly, a set of fine-mesh sieves. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that you can do all with big mesh colanders. Big mesh is suitable for draining big veggies, but not very useful otherwise. No plastic, it can become warped if you put hot liquid in it. You want a thin-rimmed metal sieve. Some come with plastic handles—but the simplicity of all metal is better. I say “set” because you’ll want perhaps three sizes. One should be about 6” in diameter that will double as a spider in the kitchen for scooping out blanched veggies, pasta, rinsing beans or grains, draining stock and sauces. I also use that one for poaching eggs.

That’s my “essential 10”—check out my video so you can see them for yourself.

You may think of other tools like saucepans, spatulas, whisks, and a slotted spoon. But if you’re a beginner, don’t clutter up your kitchen with all the accessories. Take it one step at a time. Learn your tools, and you’ll have more fun. I promise!

Easy Recipe for Gnocchi with Sausage and Tomatoes in a Skillet

Gnocchi on your Favorite Skillet

Food Memory in the Making: All you need is your favorite skillet.

This recipe for gnocchi on a skillet is so quick and easy. The big plus is that it looks beautiful on the plate – color in the dish is always important as we eat with our eyes.  It reminds me of a favorite food memory – the first time I ever tasted Gnocchi – they were so soft and delicate.  I found this recipe on a fabulous website, thekitchn.com, in a list called “23 Romantic Recipes” that appeared earlier this week.  One of the best things about this recipe is that you can use store-bought gnocchi. And if you already have a skillet, you’re good to go! Gnocchi is a dough dumpling that is usually made from a coarse, purified wheat that’s also used in pasta and couscous, among other things. Add in just about any type of Italian sausage you like. And as for me, the spicier the better! The recipe also suggests finishing with grated fresh Parmesan cheese. You can do that, it’s not necessary if you’d rather not have cheese, but trust me it adds a wonderful taste to the dish. This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 9 ounces (about 3 links) cooked chicken sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 to 2 ounces fresh basil, julienned (1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed)

Preparation

  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the gnocchi for 2 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Heat a 10-inch or larger cast iron skillet over medium heat with a light drizzle of olive oil. Add the sausage and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Push the sausage into a pile at the edge of the skillet and turn the heat up to high.
  3. When the skillet is quite hot, add the tomatoes, skin down, crowding them in if necessary. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they are blistered, then stir in with the sausage. Cook for 2 more minutes, until both tomatoes and sausage are slightly browned. Stir in gnocchi and cook just until all is combined, but the tomatoes have not broken down into sauce.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Cooking tip: a cast iron skillet is preferred only because it will give you the best color and sear to the sausage and tomatoes but any skillet will work as long as it does NOT have a non-stick coating.  That will interfere with the browning.