Until recently, my cast-iron skillet was used exclusively for cornbread. It’s how my mom taught me to make it—she melted butter in it, letting it brown and bubble, then she poured the cornbread batter over it. She had other cast iron skillet recipes, I'm sure, but aside from her rich and crisp cornbread, I never really understood the skillet’s superiority to simple pans. That changed when I discovered Skillet Love by Anne Byrn. As the subtitle declares, From Steak to Cake: More than 150 Recipes in One Cast-Iron Pan, I gravitated toward the idea of one pan = 150-plus recipes. Byrn even writes herself, “I was made for efficiency in the kitchen.”
The book dives into the mystique surrounding the skillet. Byrn breaks down the ten essential uses for a skillet, from pan sauces to grilling. She then outlines the right ways to care for a skillet, whether that’s treating it with heat, scrubbing with salt, or (as Byrn occasionally admits to doing) washing with a mild dish soap. I opted for the salt method, pouring kosher salt into the base of the skillet, letting it sit in the hot oven, and then wiping clean with a paper towel.
Cast iron, it turns out, also has its share of health benefits. Bryn explain that a well-seasoned skillet doesn’t need a lot of fat to cook food (think of it like a nonstick pan without the PFOA chemicals). It didn’t stop me from using butter or olive oil. But the crisp, touchable crust and decadent interior of everything cooked in the skillet far surpassed the ability of my light weight convection pans.
A ripping hot oven is necessary for bread baking, but putting the dough in contact with hot objects—pie weights, pizza stone, inside a dutch oven—is what develops that deeply browned crust. Byrn recommends nestling the pizza dough (which you can buy from the store) in the interior of the skillet, which crisps the bottom and all the edges as the cheesy interior turns bubbly and gooey. The toppings are choose-your-own-adventure style, but Byrn’s methodology is worth exact replication.
Confession: I’m slightly scared of cooking meat. Growing up, I watched how my mom deep cleaned the kitchen whenever she prepared chicken, and I quickly learned that I could bypass the laborious process by avoiding meats all together. This lifestyle worked for a while—until my boyfriend discovered I had never cooked a steak. The night he insisted we have a steak dinner of my own making, I turned to Skillet Love to coach me through. I learned that with enough butter, aromatics, and a great skillet, you’re minutes away from a steak dinner that makes you feel like you stepped into Mad Men. Byrn’s reverse-sear method is genius for thicker cuts. Oven-cooking it reaches the desired doneness before finishing the steak with a quick sear over stovetop to caramelize the exterior.
A skillet cake is a beautiful thing—the edges get crisp while the interior stays moist and luscious. After I impulse-bought a container of ricotta, I happened on this recipe. The addition of blueberries makes it a stellar summer baking project, but Byrn’s riff with cranberries and orange zest caught my interest. “The beauty of a versatile recipe is that it changes with the seasons,” she explains. My current seasonal bounty is fig forward, so I made this recipe using figs instead of blueberries. Their jammy sweetness perfectly balanced the tangy ricotta, which—while a fine dessert—was even better for breakfast with coffee.