by Kendra Marshall
Looking back, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that up until five years ago, I owned only one cast-iron skillet, which was sadly underused. I would pull it out occasionally to sear a steak or cook burgers if it was too cold or rainy outside to use the grill, but that’s about it. My husband, tired of replacing scratched nonstick [coated] frying pans every year, suggested many times that we should just use our cast-iron skillet instead. However, I was hesitant to make the switch. With my limited use of that solitary skillet, it just didn’t seem possible to me that I could use cast iron for cooking everything.
It wasn’t until we had our first child that I finally began to give my husband’s suggestion serious consideration. I made a conscious effort to use my skillet more often. I started using it to roast whole chickens, pan-sear chicken breasts, and even bake cornbread. I began looking up tips for cleaning cast-iron pans and learning about the importance of maintaining the seasoning. Yet as my comfort grew, still I could not commit. Would I really be able to use a cast-iron skillet to make a successful omelet, delicate crepes, or flaky fish?
It was then that my husband introduced the idea of searching for some vintage cast-iron pans. He promised that if I had a skillet with a smooth interior, nothing would stick. I agreed to give it a try, so we kept an eye on different online resale sites until we found one. The pan certainly wasn’t ready for use right away, but we searched online for instructions on how to remove the rust and reseason it. Once I cooked with it, I was hooked. That smooth interior made all the difference, providing a true nonstick surface.
But I realized that its prowess in the kitchen was only a part of why I loved it so much. When I was growing up in Williamsburg, Virginia, connections to the past were a huge part of the local culture. I loved the fact that my cast-iron skillet had a history. Suddenly I found myself stopping every time I drove past a yard sale to see if there was any cast iron that I could rescue. My husband and I would regularly check the listings of estates sales and auctions, and many weekends were spent restoring rusty pans to their former glory and researching when and where they were made.
In August 2016, I officially threw away my old, nonstick frying pan, and I’ve never regretted it for a minute. In fact, our meals have become undeniably more diverse and adventurous as I’ve begun to view trying new recipes as a challenge, to prove that I can, in fact, cook anything in cast iron. However, I still remember the year it took me to get to that comfort level, and my goal is always to inspire others to take small steps towards trying something new.
This recipe is ideal for cooks of any experience level. It’s a cozy chicken dinner that cooks up faster than your typical roast chicken thanks to spatchcocking the chicken ahead of time. By removing the backbone, the chicken can lay flat. So, when you sear the breast side before roasting, the result is nice, crispy chicken skin on top. Plus, the subtle smoky elements like adobo, smoked paprika, and fire-roasted tomatoes make this classic Italian dish feel like something new and exciting, while still maintaining the familiar feel of comfort food.