Iron, Fe, atomic element number 26, is one pretty amazing element when compare to others listed in the table of elements. It is the second most common metal on earth and the most widely used because it is so strong and cost effective. It also makes up much of the Earth’s core and is not surprisingly, the fourth most comment element in the Earth’s crust. About 0.004 percent of the total weight of any given human is made up of iron which is found in virtually every cell in the human body. We can’t live without iron ,it helps our cells to oxidize food via iron-rich enzymes called cytochromes.
Iron, for all its practicality, comes from one of the most spectacular and violent processes in the universe, a supernova. A star spends its life fusing hydrogen into helium. As the star ages, it starts to fuse elements that are heavier, leading up to iron. Once iron is created, all hell breaks loose galactically speaking, and things go south very quickly. Since the star’s core is unable to maintain equilibrium, it rapidly collapses in on itself, casting off its gaseous shell nearly instantly, sparking a supernova and sending off all that useful iron out into the universe, some of it that made it all the way to Planet Earth.
Pretty clear that one of us got a really good grade in college astronomy despite having very little physics to fall back on. Take that Sheldon Cooper. But anyway, enough chemistry for one day. A cast iron skillet is a wonderous tool for any cook. I found mine for just $16 in an antique store in Salinas, California. My partner was off playing golf with his old Army buddies (the original American snipers by the way) as part of a 30 year reunion so I was at loose ends, trying to decide how to extricate myself gracefully from a job that I’d wanted to leave since the day I’d arrived. I also trying to decide what direction to take my career in next. I was therefore wandering around thrift and antique stores in Salinas, California, letting ideas flow while pondering my choices when I happened upon my culinary muse. Cast iron skillets are not inexpensive, I’d been hunting around for one for some time and had not found anything cheaper than $40 when I spied this little gem. It had clearly been loved and used but was well seasoned and had been cared for. I could only imagine the meals it had brought fourth and the love it had help to share around the dinner table. I bought it on the spot and save for the times I’ve placed it in the oven to either re-season or cook something, it has hardly ever left my stove top.
Cooking with cast iron was a revelation for me. Not only did it maintain even heat at incredibly high temperatures but it opened up all sorts of culinary possibilities. I’ve baked scores of flaky, heavenly biscuits in that skillet, sautéed every vegetable to crispy perfection on this planet and flipped more burgers for Bob than I can count. I’ve even baked a buttery, bubbling sweet blueberry cobbler or three in that skillet. Nearly every meal I make uses that skillet in some form or another, probably why it holds the preferred position on my stove top.
I’ve also had more than a few ah-ha moments cooking with that skillet. I figured out that I wanted to do a startup as my next career move while making Bob’s burgers with that skillet. A move that I will never regret even though the startup closed after a year because of lack of continued funding (something that is very commonplace in Silicon Valley). Even so, it was a great career move as it gave me the courage I needed to strike out and try new things. I even conceived of this blog while making my favorite pasta dish mostly from leftovers found in my fridge. They all landed in that skillet like the idea for this blog.
What can I say, things just come to me when I am cooking with cast iron.
I have a very pricy set of pots and pans, bought on sale yes, but expensive and designed to last a long time. But nothing I have comes close to that cast iron skillet. The iron in it came from one of the most explosive and violent reactions we know about and yet it is now formed into something solid and predictable and endlessly useful, my very own cast iron skillet. They last forever, unless you believe in things like grief-stricken dragons who act out by melting iron thrones. Yeah Queen, like millions of fans, I saw the ending of GoT and am still disappointed that nobody got a happy ending, least of all a sole, surviving dragon.
But I digress. Everyone needs a cast iron skillet in their kitchen. It’s the one tool you can count on to do exactly what it is supposed to do for as long as you are around to wield it. Perhaps wield is the wrong word, I’ve clearly been watching too much GoT.