Quintessential to the country kitchen, an iron skillet is good for more than fried chicken and cornbread. Iron skillets can reach high temperatures and retain heat for quite a while, two traits that take your cuisine places a nonstick pan can’t, and no item goes from stove top to oven like an iron skillet.
If you don’t already own one of these beauties, find one at a kitchenware store, flea market, or ask Mom to pass one on to you. Once you’re an “iron chef,” you can enjoy the advantages of this heavyweight workhorse. Here are a few tricks.
Condition a Skillet
Season a new or out-of-condition skillet by covering the bottom with a generous layer of kosher salt. Add a half-inch of vegetable or canola oil, and warm on the stove until the oil gets smoky. Pour out the oil and salt, then rub the skillet with a brush or paper towels.
Many cooks overlook the iron skillet for stir-fries, but its flat surface and moderate height make it a wok alternative. Toss in some beef or chicken strips, broccoli and pepper. If your pan is well-seasoned, and the heat is low and stable, you can simmer in hoisin, Schezwan, or other starchy sauces without trouble.
Forget fusions in favor of a thick, pan-seared steak. Start with a good cut that is just below room temperature, and salt both sides. Open the windows and turn on the exhaust fan because searing can be smoky. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Coat the skillet with a thin layer of olive oil and turn the heat to high. When the skillet is hot (a drop of water should sizzle manically), sear both sides for about 30 seconds. Put the pan into the oven for two minutes, flip, and cook for another two minutes. Add a minute per side for a medium steak.