Suzi's Blog

Cookbook Review: Cast Iron Skillet [Revised Edition]

Cast Iron Skillet

It’s there. Stashed on a back shelf. Hanging on a hook at the far end of the kitchen. Perhaps hidden in a basement. Alone. Abandoned. Probably a little tired, a little dusty, maybe with a touch of red rust somewhere.

I am not going to say “shame on you.” I wish to merely point out that you are missing out on culinary opportunities that are easy to make, immensely satisfying, and just a few moments away from reality.

Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne are cast iron skillet mavens. This book, Cast Iron Skillet, was a best seller in its first edition. Now, it has been revised, extended, made a little more contemporary, and friendly to those who favor veggies on their plate. Now, these changes should not be a surprise: daughter Julie for years was the chef at the Herb Farm Restaurant outside Seattle. There is no better restaurant anywhere. [Suzen and I will never forget the Douglas fir sorbet!]

Mom Sharon has over 30 years as a restaurant consultant and studied under James Beard.

And here these two experts are rolling out more cast iron gems. There’s a need to stop, look, and listen. Oh, to cook and taste and relish, too! A cast iron skillet is a dramatic piece of cooking gear. Have a pan full of chicken or veggies, cooking on high heat, and your kitchen — if not your whole house — will fill with extraordinary aromas. It’s not just the smell of cooking food. It’s the smell of “completely” cooked food in the way that only a cast iron surface can do.

What’s here to cook? Well, on the cover there are those pecan sticky buns, but I should not start with something quite so sweet.

There are chapters here from breakfast to dessert. In each one, you’ll find items that make you want to exercise those muscles and lift up that, I admit, heavy pan.

This is a Seattle-based book, so you know there have to be Dungeness crab recipes:

  • Dungeness Crab and Tillamook Cheddar Soufflé
  • Dungeness Crab Cakes
  • Dungeness Crab Quesadillas

You want “the white meat?” Consider:

  • Chicken Paillards
  • Chicken with Calvados and Cream
  • Chicken with Herbed Dumplings

The other white meat is there, too:

  • Pork Katsu

[I’m urging Suzen to start testing with that recipe because it includes a recipe for making your own Katsu sauce. Never had Katsu? It’s rich sweet and breaded pork. And the sauce is sweet and spicy and sensational on your tongue.]

For side dishes, you can sample from:

  • Sweet Potato Soufflé
  • Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Tart
  • Winter Squash with Cranberries, Hazelnuts and Fried Sage
  • Caramelized Brussels Sprout Hash

And to end the meal:

  • Bread Pudding with Grand Marnier Sauce
  • Caramelized Apple and Gingerbread Cake
  • Old-Fashioned Peach Dumplings

Cast Iron Skillet is an exciting book. With these recipe options, Suzen and I just need a cold winter weekend to test and taste.

Guess what? This weekend will bring the third round of snow in a week for us. So, we are pouring over this lovely book, plotting our meals, and getting ready for a cast iron skillet weekend. Suzen is preparing to add to her inventory of four [2 large, 2 small]. I’m just want to get fresh peaches for those dumplings. In February. Clearly, a trip to Whole Foods is in order.

We’ll let you know the results. Bite by bite.

 

Bulgarian Cast Iron Chicken with Bacon and Sauerkraut

 

“I’M TRYING TO WORK HERE!”  Suzen was vociferous.

“I was just trying to clarify a point about you, Suzi. You are really a Queenie.”

“Brian, for the last time, I am a Brooklyn girl.”

“No, your parents had their home in Queens.”

“I was BORN in a BROOKLYN hospital.”

“Yeah, well that’s a bit like people from Peru or China coming to the US and having their kid here so they can claim US citizenship, for the kid. Your parents were from Queens, you grew up in Queens.”

“I was born in Brooklyn, we soon moved to Brooklyn, Brian.”

“Okay, so I can’t call you a Queen?”

“NO!”

“How about just Princess?”

“I swear to God,” she got up and began moving away. “I’m going to the vet the next husband and …”

The words got lost, overcome by the stamp of her feet. I love to watch Suzen. She is very feminine with a strong stride and lovely shoulders. Perfect hair that bounces as high as her temper. She can get so animated at times. Anger truly becomes her.

Suzen is a Brooklyn girl, I admit. And if New York is the food capital of the world, then Brooklyn poses a serious challenge to Manhattan for food and cuisines. It hurts to say this, but Manhattan can be boring. Brooklyn is exciting. Four or five block of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg or of Clinton Street in Cobble Hill offers more intrigue than that many miles of First or Second Avenue in The Big City.

Brooklyn offers a wondrous array of cuisines from the around the world. Like this chicken recipe from Bulgaria and now documented in the amazing Edible Brooklyn Cookbook. That book features many other treats for you including:

  • Egg Breakfast Tacos
  • Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns
  • Rugela with No Raisins

Actually, that last recipe is just for rugela but I love it because it does not have raisins. I hate raisins and when as a boy I had rugela in Oregon, there were no raisins. Suzen says I’m totally wrong, but what does she know. She’s from Brooklyn.

You may know the many Edible magazine publications. There are dozens of them now: Edible Brooklyn, Edible Manhattan, Edible Hudson Valley, Edible Austin … These are valuable resources for those who love their food local and authentic. Look for your local version at the markets where all those “foodies” tend to gather. Soon you’ll know why. This book form is the first of hopefully many to collect the very best ideas from a neighborhood and assemble them so that Americans can share the brightest gems of our national culinary landscape.

This chicken dish is rich in flavor, moist and abundant with her flavors. We did cheat just a little bit: using Proseco instead of water or chicken stock. While I am not a sauerkraut fan, the transformation here is a miracle. The slow cooking, the spices, the chicken juices — all transform the sauerkraut into a treasure of mild yet bright taste.

This is a dish fit for a Queen. Oh, dear, I can’t say that. Well, then, whatever your city, your heritage, your rank, this disk is for you.

 

Bulgarian Cast Iron Chicken with Bacon and Sauerkraut

 

Servings: 4

 

Ingredients:

 

  • ½ pound slab bacon, diced
  • 1 whole (3—4 pound) chicken, quarter
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
  • vegetable oil, if necessary
  • 2 small sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 pound sauerkraut
  • ½ cup chicken stock or water

 

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Render the fat from the bacon in a large cast-iron skillet or ovenproof pan set over medium heat. Remove the bacon and set aside.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste on all sides, and brown in the bacon fat. Transfer to a plate. Brown the onions in bacon fat, adding a bit of oil if necessary. Add the thyme, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, and paprika, and sauté briefly. Return the bacon to the pan and stir to mix in. Add the sauerkraut to the pan and stir to mix. Arrange the chicken pieces around the top of the pan on top of the sauerkraut and add the stock.

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast the chicken, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, checking the chicken pieces for doneness after 30 minutes. (If the pan begins to dry out, add a bit more stock.) The chicken is cooked when the juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F.

 

Serve the chicken immediately with plenty of sauerkraut and pan juices.

 

Source: Edible Brooklyn: The Cookbook by Rachel Wharton