This is my skillet. Sure, I have lots of others pots – small saute pans, sauciers, stock pots, paella pans, a beloved Dutch oven, griddles, you name it. But this big cast-iron skillet is the absolute workhorse in my kitchen. I’ve had it for at least 20 years, and I’d say it has been the central figure in thousands of meals.
This 12-inch skillet has pride of place in my kitchen. All of the other pots gets hung up, but this one lives on my stove, ready to leap into action when I am. I’m a big believer in mise-en-place, but there are also plenty of meals where the first thing I do is heat up the skillet, the second thing I do is break down some vegetables, and the third thing is figure out what the heck I’m making.
My cast iron skillet is versatile. It bakes pancakes or cornbread, sears tofu, makes incomparable home-fries, simmers refried beans, fries eggs or fritters, marries pasta to condiment, caramelizes onions, and a hundred other tasks.
Sure, my skillet has its flaws. Cast iron is heavy, for one thing. You can’t toss vegetables in it, they have to be flipped with a spatula. And it has to be mostly scraped, then lightly washed with little or no soap and re-heated to dry. It loves to have a little hot-oil massage after a long day. (Me too.)
It doesn’t really heat that evenly – kind of a rumor with cast iron, the truth is there are definite hot spots. I don’t use it for tomato sauces or anything really acidic because supposedly they will darken – and it doesn’t really feel like the right pan for that anyhow.
To some folks, it might not look purty enough. Uninitiated city slickers might think I’m going to fry them up some opossum. (And I will, as soon as someone invents soypossum.)
But in spite of the idiosyncracies, I love my skillet. It is every bit as non-stick as a coated pan, but without any unpleasant chemicals. You can use normal metal utensils in it, which makes me happy. I like silicone tools for some things, but not for turning food – the edges aren’t thin enough to get underneath without mauling the product.
It gets really freaking hot, and holds heat for a long time. It doesn’t cool down when I put food in it. It has a nice big surface that lets me get a seriously browned surface on a lot of food at once. (In case you missed the news: browned = flavor.)
Cast iron is seriously indestructible. There are no rivets or welds or coatings to fail. In the absolute worst case, every few years if something gets severely burned on, I might have to scrape it hard, use a little Kosher salt as an abrasive, and re-season it in the oven. Then it is good as new. I’ll be able to pass this skillet on to one of my children, and hope they get as much pleasure in cooking with it as I do.
Most importantly, my skillet and I understand each other. I know without even thinking about it when my skillet is preheated, when it is crowded, whether a desired crust is developing or unwanted burning is incipient. That level of comfort and confidence is priceless to me. Whatever I make in that pan, I feel it has a leg up on being delicious.
So what about you? Do you have a favorite pot, knife or other utensil that feels like an extension of your body? That you really miss when you cook in another kitchen? That is your go-to guy when the going gets rough? Talk to me. And if you need a skillet to have and to hold, this is the one to get: