Salute to the Skillet

Southerners have a special affinity for their cast-iron skillets. Many are heirlooms with slick patinas seasoned with decades of chicken-frying and cornbread-baking. Others are modern adaptions designed to tap into our memory banks just like Grandma’s did.

I know this sentiment well, and so does Anne Byrn, my longtime friend and former colleague at the AJC where we both once held the title of food editor. Even now, with more than a dozen cookbooks to her credit — including the New York Times bestseller “The Cake Mix Doctor” and its sequels — her tool of choice for everyday meals in Nashville is still the 12-inch Griswold skillet she bought decades ago at an Atlanta estate sale.

Photo: For the AJC

Yet much as she appreciated the way it seared salmon steaks on busy weeknights and griddled pancakes on Saturday mornings, she didn’t think much about its potential beyond that until she poured her favorite pound cake batter into it on a whim. She was astounded by the result.

“The cake rose to a glorious height. The crust on top was golden and crackly, and the interior was even and smooth,” she writes in the introduction to her newest cookbook. “In that instant, I fell in love. Yes, in love with my skillet.”

RELATED: Anne Byrn investigates the hummingbird cake

In “Skillet Love: From Steak to Cake: More Than 150 Recipes in One Cast-Iron Pan” (Grand Central Publishing, $30), Byrn helps us understand why food cooked in cast iron tastes so good, and how we can capitalize on its capabilities. She walks us through 10 great techniques for using our skillets, from dry-roasting nuts to caramelizing onions, before moving on to the recipes — all tested with one 12-inch skillet, with tips for adapting to a smaller one if that’s all you’ve got.

Mixed in with classics like Country-Fried Steak and Georgia Burnt Caramel Cake are more contemporary creations such the ones I made for two terrific healthy dinners: Skillet-Seared Shrimp with Lemon-Basil Potlikker, and Picadillo Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa. I’d make either again, and save room for that skillet-sized Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie heaped with ice cream beckoning me in the Sweets chapter.

I thought my own trusty cast-iron skillet and I knew each other well. Clearly our relationship has just begun.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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