Inexpensive, easy to find, and endlessly versatile, the cast-iron skillet deserves some respect. Often called the “workhorse” of pots and pans, a cast-iron skillet turns a home cook’s (comfort-food) dreams into reality. And we know how we feel about comfort food these days.
Skillet pizza, oven-roasted chicken, potato hash, seared ribeye … the recipes are endless. But today, we’re narrowing in on the ultimate comfort food, Skillet Mac & Cheese.
Before we get to the recipe, let’s talk about why this particular pan warrants our attention.
Once it gets hot, it stays hot! While some people think a cast-iron pan provides even heat, this isn’t necessarily true. What it is known for, however, is temperature control. Once heated, this pan stays piping hot, making it the perfect vessel for recipes that require high heat, like steak, cornbread, or pan pizza. In fact, make it your go-to pan for any dish that needs a sear or a crispy coating. Fried chicken, anyone?
Once seasoned, a cast-iron skillet requires little maintenance and can last forever. To season your pan, coat all sides with oil and bake in the oven at 350° for 1 hour. This will help retain its non-stick quality. Once seasoned, there’s very little you can do to ruin your pan. In fact, your pan will last so long, you might want to consider leaving it to your favourite child in the will.
It’s easy to clean. We’re often told to avoid washing cast-iron pans with soap. However, a little bit of dish detergent isn’t going to ruin your pan or effect its seasoning. What you shouldn’t do is let your cast-iron skillet soak in water. But a little soap and water to coax off the tough bits? No problem.
It goes from stovetop to oven with ease. Ever accidentally melted the plastic handle off your favourite pan by putting in the oven? That smell stays with you. With a cast-iron pan, you’ll never worry about that again.
You can find cast-iron skillets at Home Depot or Canadian Tire, or you can check out the specialty cast-iron cookware at Knifewear in Inglewood (https://knifewear.com/).
Nothing says comfort like a big bowl of cozy, cheesy, saucy mac & cheese! And who doesn’t love a crispy breadcrumb top? But baked Mac & Cheese often loses its creaminess during the baking process. This recipe, made in a cast-iron pan, gives us the best of both worlds: a crispy breadcrumb top and a creamy, cheesy sauce. This dish was made in a 12” cast iron pan and serves 4.
3cupsuncooked macaroni noodles
2– 2 ¼ cups milk
1 ½cupsmedium or sharp cheddargrated
For the breadcrumb topping:
1cupBread crumbsor Panko crumbs
Preheat oven to 425°
Boil pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain when cooked and set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare breadcrumbs. Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a small fry pan and add breadcrumbs. Add salt and pepper. Fry over medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove from pan, let cool, and toss with ¼ cup parmesan. Set aside.
In your cast-iron pan, melt ¼ cup butter over medium heat.
Once melted, add flour, and stir to make a roux (a foamy/pasty mixture of butter and flour).
Slowly add 2 cups of the milk while whisking, allowing the sauce to heat up, boil, and thicken.
Once your sauce is thick and creamy, reduce heat, and add the cheese. Stir until melted. If your sauce is too thick, add a little more milk (usually ¼ cup will do the trick).
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour cooked pasta into the sauce in the cast-iron pan and stir until blended on low heat.
Sprinkle prepared breadcrumbs on top and place in the oven on top rack for 7 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are brown and crisp.
*If you don’t have pre-made breadcrumbs, make your own. Just take 2 slices of bread and pulse in food processor or blender. No food processor or blender? Toast them and crumble by hand.