When I suddenly became a serious home chef/cook again some four years ago, I suddenly started viewing my kitchen as a playground again of toys that I had forgotten I had. Just as some people obsess about tools for the home or books or whatever, like many people my new go-to retail store was Sur La Table, The Spanish Table, and kitchen outlet stores. Weird.
One of the cooking tools I quickly found absolutely useful was my single cast iron skillet, but in all the reading I had done, so many chefs recommended having some non-stick skillets in the toolbox, so to speak. I went ahead and bought myself a Scanpan (non-stick) from Sur la Table and it has proven fairly utilitarian, simply by virtue of its handy size (8-9″) and perfect for cooking for two.
Don’t get me wrong, it works nicely, allows for a nice sear (which many non-stick can’t do…or well) and I probably use it once a week, or twice. But here’s the thing: even if you assiduously keep the surface clean and unscratched, its a tool that will eventually get worn down and need to be replaced.
Now…cast iron cookery? If you use it properly, they can be just as non-stick as a non-stick cooking skillet and can last your entire life–you can give them to your children to inherit. That non-stick? Give it five years more or less and the law of diminishing cooking quality will kick in.
I currently possess six different cast iron pieces of cookware. I have the one we have had for years which still serves me well and in the past few months, I’ve bought three new cast iron skillets–one little 6″, a medium size 10″, and a huge, weighty, needs-two-strong-arms-to-move 13″ monster. About a year ago I saw a listing on craigslist of a woman getting rid of her cookware–she had a big ol’ cast iron pot with lid and handle that she was letting go for only $10. Couldn’t pass that up!
One of my favorite skillets is the little 6″ I picked up when in Petaluma last summer while touring cheese creameries in Marin. Its so cute and great to make tiny frittatas, tortilla de Espanola, or just baked eggs. Very versatile.
If I had to choose one as my most reliable workhorse, it would be a toss between my big 10″ or my 13″incher. I try to eschew putting acidic foods in these as they can reduce the patina that these skillets develop, so tomato-based dishes are only rarely put into these pots (though if there are only a couple of tomatoes in the dish or a small can of crushed toms, I might choose to allow my cast iron skillets to bear the brunt.
The skillet I’ve had the longest is the 12″ puppy which is probably the most versatile–as a matter of fact right now it’s cooking up a big serving of mujaddara, a Lebanese standard dish which will get its own blog entry next.
So now, with about six different cast iron skillets, I’m pretty much covered. I do have one other skillet, a grill skillet which allows me to grill on the stovetop. I hardly use it these days, but occasionally.
I also have a Spanish plancha which, when laid on the stovetop, covers two burners and is great for grilling. Except that our damned overhead hood is hardly worth two shakes of a damn–so when I use it my wife gets all squirrelly about how it stinks up the house, getting her clothes to smell like restaurant food. Hey, that doesn’t sound so bad to me, but then, I don’t have to wear them,