By Paul Morrone CFP®, CPA, MSA
I have a lot of cabinets in my kitchen, which sounds like a good thing and is in many ways. Until you realize what is in those cabinets and it becomes a not-so-good thing very quickly. I’ve always said there is an art to simplicity and minimalism. Mastering the concept of not having more than you need takes discipline every day, so that things don’t get out of hand quickly. When I bought my house, I bought it from an individual who had inherited it and I was fortunate that they wanted to sell all the kitchen ‘stuff’ with the house. It was a win-win as they didn’t have to clean out all the cabinets and I didn’t have to spend hundreds at Bed, Bath & Beyond. In addition to what came with the house, of course my parents gave me stuff when I moved and Jill brought nearly a full set of kitchenware with her when she moved in. I don’t know what it all adds up to, but it’s a lot. This got me thinking, what is the one thing I couldn’t live without?
For me, it was a toss-up between my sauté pan and my cast iron skillet. Both are versatile, both are durable and both get used on at least a weekly basis. While I couldn’t live without either, the cast iron skillet definitely has a fun factor that the sauté pan can’t match. You can cook everything in it, and the pan’s patina (the glossy/oily finish that develops) only gets better the more you use it. You can use it in the oven, on the cooktop or on the grill without a fuss and it allows you to sear meat and fish with ease.
Like many, I enjoy a well-cooked steak (not well-done, but well cooked, medium-rare if I can have my preference) and always struggled to get the perfect temperature on a thick rib-eye or NY strip on the grill. Maybe I got distracted and there was a flare up (probably caused by some of the butter that I’ll put on top) that burned the steak or maybe I got impatient and took it off too quickly, but I always felt unsatisfied and that I wasn’t doing such a beautiful piece of meat justice with a hack job on the grill. It always seemed to come out underdone or overdone, never just right. And then one morning I was watching one of the many cooking shows on TV and I saw the chef cook his steak in a cast iron skillet on the grill.
The process was simple, get the pan smoking hot, throw in meat, flip once, let cool and enjoy. The skillet immediately solved my biggest problem of flare-ups and gave me the confidence to keep the meat on the heat for the proper amount of time without overdoing it. Even better is the sear that you get on the outside of the steak that locks in all of the delicious flavor of the meat. The first time I tried it, I made a perfectly cooked medium-rare ribeye that was as good as any restaurant I’ve been too (it didn’t hurt that it was a USDA Prime steak, either). Convinced it was beginner’s luck, I tried it again a week later, this time with a NY Strip. Same result – perfection!