I am actually a recent convert to the gospel of the cast iron skillet. Mr. McDoogal was insistent that we put it on our wedding registry earlier this year. (I didn’t see why we needed yet another pan, let alone one that I needed to use both hands to lift.) So recent a convert am I that I just made my first dish this week. And I consider my conversion complete.
First, some background. Cast iron is an older kind of cookware ““ these pieces predate stainless pans, Teflon, and Pam. If you have one that someone from the generations before passed down to you, consider it a treasure. Cooking with cast iron is a centuries-old tradition, and for good reason.
The benefit of using cast iron cookware is that they transfer heat more evenly than traditional pots and pans. Thanks to science, cast iron skillets also can withstand high temperatures better than other kinds of cookware. This adds versatility ““ they can be used on the stovetop and then plopped right into the oven. It was this routine that I used to my advantage in my first dish (see below).
If you buy a new cast iron skillet new, instead of inheriting one, check if it is pre-seasoned (it probably is). If not, you’ll need to “season” it, which seems to involve smearing it with Crisco and then baking it. Also, these pieces need to be washed by hand and without a Brillo-like metal scouring pad (UPDATE: Please see lostinbybox’s comment for cleaning tips!). Since cast iron retains heat so well, you may end up using a lower heat setting on the stovetop than you are used to, so pay attention the first few times you use it.
One last warning: the handle gets hot, so keep your oven mitts or an adorable handle mitt nearby.
Now, on to the recipe! This comes from my favorite book ever, Joy of Cooking. This doesn’t actually require a cast iron skillet; your existing pan may be able to make the trip from stovetop to oven. Just be sure to check beforehand.
Baked brown rice with mushrooms
Preheat the oven to 350°. Heat in a cast iron skillet (or other stovetop-to-oven casserole or pan) over medium-high heat:
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
Add and cook, sitting, until the mushrooms are lightly browned:
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped mushrooms
½ cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, finely copped
Add and stir until coated:
1 cup brown rice
2 ¼ cups chicken or vegetable broth
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Bring to a boil. Cover, transfer to the oven, and bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes before serving.
Photo credit: castironchatter.com