Friday, 9 November 2012

The Ribbed Skillet: Bane Or Boon?

Do you possess a ribbed skillet? Yes? Have you made friends with it yet?
I happen to have one. And it took me a while until I figured out how to use it properly. About three or four times, to be precise.
We bought such a ribbed skillet from Le Creuset after we relocated to the Western Cape. We were staying in a guest house until our new home was vacated and we could move in. The cookware at the guest house was of doubtful quality and buckled, so cooking became a drudgery. Also, all our cookware were stored with the rest of the furniture, so we simply couldn't get hold of it and had to make another plan. Luckily we found a Le Creuset outlet close to us and were able to at least make living bearable by cooking proper food.
One of the characteristics of this skillet is that it needs to be on the hot to very hot side to work properly. This we found out by trial and error. In addition, it is not necessary to use oil or a marinade with the meat. Marinade will burn or scorch at the temperatures required for the proper grilling of the cut.
I recently decided to grill some steaks as part of my continued competency in the use of the skillet. The specific cut I bought had bones in it. I like to think it is part of the thick rib meat just at the end of the rib cage, but my butcher sold it as club steak. I liked the idea of meat on the bone, as this makes for interesting side effects. The meat tends to receive less heat close to the bone, making the even grilling slightly more adventurous. The cuts I selected were of even thickness. This is important, as an uneven cut will always cook to well-done stage at the thin end before the rest is even medium rare. Something to bear in mind when shopping for a cut to barbecue or grill in the skillet.
The meat was taken out of the vacuum package and left to rest and breathe outside for ten minutes or so. These cuts are claimed to be matured and they certainly looked the part. The meat had a slight grey colour just out of the package, turning a more healthy red as it breathed.
The meat was accompanied by mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and some sweet carrots.
The skillet was heated on the largest burner on the gas hob, the setting at about three-quarters full. You don't want to have hot spots in the skillet, you want an even heat distribution, slightly on the hot side. The meat was placed on the fat side first, standing the two steaks on end and leaning them against each other. This gets the fat in the pan and out of the meat. Also something to lubricate your skillet. Some will say that this is not very healthy, but it works and the only fat on the meat is on the outside. You may cut it off on your plate if you don't want it. You will ingest some fat due to the grilling in the skillet, but that little bit won't kill you, I believe.
When the fat has a nice brown colour the meat is turned down on the flat side for normal grilling. There should be a moderate amount of fat smoke around, so do use your cooker hood extractor, else you may get in trouble with the rest of the household. The meat may be turned every two minutes or so. If there is hardly any smoke from the fat, the skillet may be too cold and the gas flame needs to be turned up. Too much smoke and the gas gets turned lower. You may remove the skillet from the hob if it gets too hot. Mind the handle, it also gets hot. Use a dry towel or glove.
Give the skillet time to cool slightly, then put it back on the burner. The thickness of the cast iron skillet makes for a wonderful heat retention and it does not really play roller coaster with the temperature.
The test for the steaks being done is of course to make a small cut in the steak and pull it open to see what it looks like inside. I normally turn the steaks a couple of times until they are nice and brown on the outside, then make a small cut for inspection. This is where your expertise lies. You need to judge the state of cooking by the colour of the outside. Another sign would be that there is juice seeping out of the top of the meat. This is a clear indication that the meat is getting drier and that the inside is now past boiling point. Remove the meat from the skillet at that stage. It is always a good idea to then let the meat rest for at least ten minutes before serving. You may heat the meat again by briefly putting it back in the skillet. I seasoned these steaks with our standard braai salt, nothing very organic, just the normal braai stuff.
After the steaks were removed from the skillet, the fresh asparagus sprouts went in. These were fried in the juices left over from the steaks. They scorch a little where they touch the ribbing in the skillet, but otherwise they turn a very nice bright green. At this point they are removed from the skillet, else they overcook and go limp.
In the meantime I peeled the potatoes and cut them into medium thick slices. This helps to cook fast. A drip tray over the saucepan contained the julienne'd carrots for steaming. The lid of the saucepan went over it all. The saucepan is also a cast iron one from the Le Creuset series. Nice heat retention and a fast heat-up cycle. And you use the lowest setting on the smallest burner on the hob to do the job once the saucepan has heated up.
The carrots were removed from the steamer and transferred to another dish where I added some brown sugar. This was nuked in the microwave to melt the sugar and get it close to caramel.
The potatoes were mashed, along with some cream and a dollop of milk. Add salt and black pepper to taste and a finger bunch of chives as garnish, chopped coarsely, to round off the mash.
Add a glass of a full-bodied red wine and Voila!, you have a nice quick meal.
This is how I made friends with my skillet. You did you do?

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

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