Rich in Iron

My niece Maggie pointedly reminded me recently, “Aunt, you didn’t make fried chicken for us last winter when you were here.” The rest remained unstated, thereby allowing me to reach my own conclusion as to expectations.

There is nothing magical about my fried chicken, I assure you. I simply put flour, salt and pepper, and a hearty pinch of cayenne pepper into a bag, toss the chicken into the bag, shake it all about, and fry it to a golden brown in a mixture of vegetable oil and butter. I then place the chicken into the oven to finish cooking for about an hour. The result – hopefully – is very tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken that truly sticks to your fingers.

The thing is, no one else wants to make it. Why? It’s a frigging messy job, and there’s no two ways around it. As the chicken fries, the grease pops and snaps, getting all over the stove, the floor, the microwave, and if I’m particularly unlucky, my arms. Flour ends up all over the place. An apron is a requirement unless I’m wearing clothes I care nothing about.

Furthermore, I find that as I get older and more forgetful, it is not unusual for me to forget to put the chicken into the flour. The last couple of times that I fried chicken, Bec was my overseer: Kris, I don’t think you put that chicken into the flour, did you? Probably not. So I dig it out of the grease and put it into the flour. Ina Garten doesn’t have these kinds of problems. (As if Ina Garten would fry a chicken for Jeffrey.) But remember, she has staff. Bec is my staff.

When we started spending entire winters in AZ, I had to decide what things I needed here – the operative word being needed, and not wanted. I have a storage room full of things I wanted in Denver that have been used once or twice and now gather dust. This home is too small for those kinds of shenanigans. The Kitchen Aid standing mixer was one; cast iron pans were another.

At first, I got by with my small 10-inch Lodge pan (always Lodge; I’m a fan). But the first time I invited our AZ family for fried chicken, it became abundantly clear that I needed a larger pan. I have a 12-inch Lodge cast iron frying pan in Denver and it didn’t take long before I had one here as well…..

I don’t use it much, and it takes up precious space. Still, in my humble opinion, certain things need to be cooked in cast iron, and chicken is one of them. And when you fry two chickens plus extra dark meat, you need a big pan. Or you will spend hours frying chicken, and that’s not fun.

Country western singer and Food Network chef Trisha Yearwood gives newlyweds a cast iron pan as a wedding gift. That might work in the south, but I’m pretty sure some of my friends would have looked puzzled at such a gift, preferring 600 thread count sheets instead. But I did make sure Court had a Lodge cast iron pan, and I noticed in our recent visit that it was sitting out on his stove, so I think he uses it.

If the cast iron pan is properly seasoned, food doesn’t really stick to it, and clean-up is pretty easy. To season a cast iron pan – both when you first get it and then on an ongoing basis as it is needed – you rub the inside with vegetable oil and place the pan in a 325 degree oven for an hour or so. Shut off the oven, and allow the pan to cool inside the oven before removing it and wiping it with a paper towel or cloth.

I was always told not to use soap to clean a cast iron skillet. In fact, many people insist that you should only use paper towels, salt, and elbow grease. Personally, here’s how I clean my cast iron pan: wait until it is cool; remove as much food and grease as you can with a paper towel; add some hot water and let it sit for a few minutes. Not too long, mind you. Use a scrub pad without soap to clean the bottom and sides of the pan; dry it completely with a paper towel or cloth. Sit it out on your stove overnight, or until such time as you can convince someone else to put it away for you as it is HEAVY AS CAN BE!

Because cast iron maintains an even heat for so long, I read recently that it is one of the best ways to make a homemade pizza. Preheat the pan for a very long time. Make your pizza crust. Carefully (and I’m not entirely sure how this could be managed, perhaps with a pizza peel) place your crust in the pan. Add your ingredients and bake in a hot oven. Voila. I’m going to try it sometime.

By the way, this blog post is NOT sponsored by Lodge!

8 thoughts on “Rich in Iron

  1. I have a confession. I just don’t like using my cast iron pan. Bj and I have had many discussions about that and I’ve told him he can have mine when I do. And it will be like new!

  2. Try this one sometime, it is really great. I make it all the time.

    Cast Iron Calzone
    2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 pound of hot Italian sausage
    4 ounces of slice pepperoni – quartered
    2 garlic cloves – minced
    2 (1-lb) balls of pizza dough
    1-1/2 pound mozzarella cheese – shredded
    2 table spoons chopped fresh basil
    1 teaspoon of pepper
    1 cup marinara sauce (pizza sauce of choice) more for serving
    1 large egg, lightly beaten with 2 table spoon of water

    1. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat to 450 degrees.
    2. Cook sausage and pepperoni until no longer pink – 5 to 7 minutes
    3. Stir in garlic and cook for about 30 seconds
    4. Drain meat and set aside
    5. Make dough, and roll out to cover the iron skillet. Roll out two separate pieces, one for the top and one for the bottom.
    6. Place the bottom piece of dough into the skillet over hanging on all sides.
    7. Sprinkle 2 cups of cheese over the dough
    8. Place the meat mixture on top of the cheese.
    9. Place another cup of the cheese on top of the meat.
    10. Spread a cup of the pizza sauce on top of that layer.
    11. Place the rest of the cheese on top of the everything.
    12. Sprinkle the basil and pepper over the top.
    13. Brush the overhanging dough with some egg wash.
    14. Place the other piece of dough on top. Trim both layers to about ½ inch around the skillet.
    15. Seal the edges of the crust firmly together. Egg wash the entire top.
    16. Cut eight 1-inch vents in the top of the dough in a circular pattern.
    17. Bake for 30 minutes rotating the skillets about ½ way through.
    18. Transfer skillet from oven to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes.

    Serve with extra pizza sauce for dipping or to spread on top.

  3. LOL! My husband loves fried chicken but I hate making it because it splatters grease. However, I have been thinking about getting two more cast iron skillets (one for meat and one for veggies) to up my iron. I currently have one dedicated to making flour tortillas. BTW – I gave my son and his wife one for their shower gift (along with a silicone handle – bc it can get HOT!) he loved it!

    What temp do you set the oven on? I would be willing to try this method (at least once) 😀 AND the pizza….

    • I bake the chicken at 350 for an hour. The article said to preheat the pan for TWO HOURS for the pizza. Crazy, at least while we’re here in AZ. It’s a good idea to have more than on3 pan because an article I read noted that cast iron absorbs flavors so if you fry chicken and then make a peach cobbler in the same pan, the chicken flavor will come through.

  4. I definitely need to get a cast iron lid like yours down the line…I’m sick of cleaning up all the frying splatters! I have a short video on my site for fried chicken tenders if you want to check it out.

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