In his new cookbook, Daniel Shumski tests the limits of the most important piece of Western cookware, the cast-iron skillet.
Whether on the trail, in the ranch house, or the home kitchen, the cast-iron skillet is indispensable to Western cookery. Its history is long, just about as long as the lifespan of the culinary equipment, which makes it a treasured heirloom. And, when properly cared for, the cast-iron skillet only improves with age.
In Will It Skillet?: 53 Irresistible & Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Cast Iron Skillet (Workman, April 2017), Daniel Shumski, who previously authored Will It Waffle?, delivers fresh, unexpected, ingenious, and delightful meals in this new take on one-pan cooking. Easily moved from stovetop to oven, the beloved cast-iron skillet offers endless options. Each recipe is flavorful and innovative — from a beautifully simple toast with olive and tomato (because you can’t achieve the perfect crust in a toaster), a steak with cider and shallot sauce, a mixed-fruit tart (see recipes below) taken to another level, and even pastas, including mac and cheese and lasagna, that come together in one skillet — no separate boiling required.
There are easy recipes for weeknight meals, sumptuous appetizers and dinner ideas for special occasions, vegetarian entrees, delectable breakfast dishes, and luscious desserts. Plus, detailed information on buying, seasoning and caring for your cast iron, along with tips on how to develop your own skillet recipes. From the classic to the surprising, Will It Skillet? has it covered.
Cowboys & Indians: You have traveled the world and written for some of the best media outlets out there. Can you give us a little background on how you started out as a food and travel writer and went on to write two cookbooks, the latest, being Will It Skillet?
Daniel Shumski: Food has always been super important to me. Even when I was traveling for myself, I was always thinking about and researching where my next meal was going to come from. I have a background in news journalism and at some point I was ... I think the delicate term for it is “between jobs” ... and fortunately I was able to turn something that had always been a personal interest into a more full-time pursuit.
C&I: A cast-iron skillet is a prized possession and essential tool for open-fire cooking cowboy-style to the heirloom passed down from one home cook to another. What’s so special about cast-iron skillets?
Shumski: Well, I think you’re actually getting at what’s so special about cast-iron skillets right there: There are so few pieces of cookware that are as revered and treasured as a cast-iron skillet. And it might be one of the few things that’s as comfortable in a high-end restaurant kitchen as over an open fire. You just can’t say that about too many things.
C&I: What are some of the most common mistakes home cooks make when it comes to using a cast-iron skillet, and what are the common fixes?
Shumski: The most common mistake might be limiting the cast-iron skillet to a few traditional roles, say corn bread or bacon. Don’t get me wrong. There is not a thing wrong with corn bread or bacon. But one of the reasons I wrote Will It Skillet? was to show that the cast-iron skillet deserves a prominent place in the kitchen and is way more versatile than people might think! So, sure, corn bread. But what about chocolate cake too, you know?
C&I: In the book you mention that rust doesn’t mean the end for the skillet. But how long after removing the rust can you use the skillet?
Shumski: Cast iron can bounce back quickly! Once the rust is off and you’ve re-seasoned the skillet, you’re ready to go again.
C&I: You write that cooking an egg is the real test of a skillet’s seasoning. What does it take to get that quality of seasoning? Is there a certain period of time?
Shumski: There’s no one set period of time that it can take to develop the skillet’s nonstick patina. But the key here is that the cast-iron skillet rewards use. So apart from the seasoning you may do initially, just using the skillet is helping to develop its non-stick properties.
C&I: What won’t skillet?
Shumski: Hmm. Ice cream? Smoothies? It’s a pretty short list, and that’s what jumps to mind.
C&I: Is there anything that surprised you during the research and writing of the book?
Shumski: There are two things that surprised me. One was just how versatile the cast-iron skillet is. Maybe we tend to think of it more for savory things? And there are plenty of savory recipes in the book. But there are also dessert and sweet breakfast recipes like the big berry muffin and the crepes with raspberries and mascarpone. The second thing that surprised me — and maybe it shouldn’t really have surprised me — was how many people I heard from when I was working on the book who have stories and histories attached to their cast-iron skillet. It’s a whole community out there of cast-iron people! It’s great.
C&I: What do you make in your skillets?
Shumski: Oh, man. The list is long. It’s pretty much my default cooking implement, so there’s not much I wouldn’t make in there. Can I just tell you the latest thing I made in there? It’s so simple and it’s so good. It’s the first recipe in the book: toast with olive oil and tomato. I know that toasters exist, trust me. But what makes this so great is that the bread gets so crunchy and golden-brown with that olive oil, it’s so much richer than ordinary toast and no more difficult. I could basically make that on endless loop and be happy. And pretty much have!
C&I: What’s next for you?
Shumski: Ah, right. What’s next? Well, I’m really lucky in that when something grabs my attention, I get to spend a lot of time with it and help people learn about it. And lately what I’ve been into is the Instant Pot. Have you heard about this thing? It’s this rock-star appliance that does pressure-cooking, slow-cooking, steaming, sautéing. It makes rice. It makes yogurt. So I’ve been immersed in that, and there’ll be a book on that coming out in the fall.
Will It Skillet?: 53 Irresistible and Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Cast-Iron Skillet by Daniel Shumski is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
Photography: Courtesy Workman Publishing