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There’s a good reason why we only sell one cookbook—Samin Nosrat’s breakout hit Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat—in our store: no other book has had such a huge impact on our own home cooking. We recently caught up with the Bay Area-based author to hear her takes on cast iron (see our Q&A below, then check out Samin’s recipe for schnitzel-like pan-fried chicken). But first, Field Company founders Chris and Stephen Muscarella share their personal connection to this monumental cookbook.

“At Field Company, we believe deeply in the value of skills, time, and use—both in the cookware we make and the recipes we use them to cook. When you start learning any skill, it’s helpful to just practice the form or the recipe that has been handed down from the expert. But the joy of skills is not found in memorization or replication—it’s being able to take things, improvise, and make them your own. Getting there takes some time and practice—and ultimately being able to connect your own intuition to underlying principles. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a remarkable book because it shines a light on so many things around cooking that you may have felt some intuition about but have never been able to articulate. Samin is a brilliant natural teacher who lays out the principles of good cooking with her own joy in a way that’s accessible to anyone—and that joy will make its way into your own kitchen.” —CM

“Before Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, I was a hit or miss cook. I historically came at cooking from an eater’s perspective—I cook to eat something tasty. Samin illuminated principles that revealed where my experimentation was going right and where I was consistently wrong. Now I no longer cook in fear that all of my work is not going to lead to deliciousness. And knowing the principles makes the cooking that much more enjoyable. Her book literally changed my relationship to food and cooking by an order of magnitude.” —SM

Photo: Smeeta Mahanti

When did you start using cast iron cookware?

My family used thin aluminum and nonstick pans—Iranians love their nonstick for making tahdig—so I didn’t cross paths with cast iron cookware until I started working at Chez Panisse in 2000. All the cooks would talk up cast iron and thumb their noses at Teflon. At first I didn’t know what all the fuss was about, but by the time I joined the kitchen staff I understood that it took real skills to cook in and care for cast iron.

What was the first piece of iron that you owned?

Back then I lived in the crappiest of apartments with a couple of other college kids, one of whom was Mexican American. She had a cast iron comal that was typically used for cooking tortillas, but we used it for everything—I had no money and was thrilled we had a cast iron anything. So I put some of the things I was learning from the restaurant to use at home. One of the first things I cooked in our comal was chicken under a brick, which I eventually adapted for the Conveyor Belt Chicken recipe in my cookbook. At Chez Panisse we used two cast iron skillets to press the chicken, but at home I used a brick. Comals are basically flat, so it was a challenge to keep all the rendered fat inside the pan!

What else did you learn about cast iron while cooking in restaurants?

I learned that restaurants give you a skewed sense of reality. I had to reteach myself how to cook when I stopped working in restaurants after 12 years. I was used to cooking over powerful gas stoves, and using beautiful vintage skillets that had never seen a drop of water or a speck of rust. The Chez Panisse cooking staff cared so deeply about our pans, and we’d carefully rub them down daily with salt.

1) I don’t always take the best care of my pans and they’re just fine.
2) The extra work you put into cleaning and seasoning cast iron really pays off in the long run.

A completely dry cleaning method? How does that work?

We’d heat a dirty pan, pour a cup or two of salt inside, then scrub the crap out of it until it was clean, then discard the salt. But holy cow we wasted a LOT of salt, which was too pricey for me to do at home.

What’s your seasoning and care routine like at home?

First of all, I know some people are intimidated by cast iron, but let me tell you couple things that might help: 1) I don’t always take the best care of my pans and they’re just fine. 2) The extra work you put into cleaning and seasoning cast iron really pays off in the long run.

At home I heat up a little bit of water in a dirty pan and let that simmer. Then I use a metal scrubby until I get all the gunk off. Then I dry the pan over a burner; I live in a relatively humid area so I have to dry the crap out of it. Sometimes I get a little rust in my skillets, but I just wipe it out and move on my with my life.

One of my pandemic projects was taking old cast iron pans I bought at flea markets—Wagners and Griswolds and the like—and stripping them all the way down to rebuild their seasoning from scratch.

How did you do that?

I watched some videos on the Internet, used some lye and citric acid to strip away the seasoning, then reseasoned them in the oven. I also did a deep dive on the best seasoning oils, but at the end I just used canola because that’s what I had. I did not do a perfect job of seasoning those skillets, but I learned a lot.

Like what?

Use as little oil as possible. I learned that I only needed the tiniest amount; any more would just get messy.

I once posted a photo me cooking tomato sauce and people freaked. Not a big deal! Chill out!

Any other cast iron myths that you’d like to bust?

Don’t worry so much about acidic ingredients. Unless you’re simmering a tomato or vinegar sauce for hours, it’s going to be fine. I once posted a photo me cooking tomato sauce and people freaked. Not a big deal! Chill out!

What types of cast iron cookware do you use most often at home?

I have a mix of vintage and new skillets that I switch up and move around. I usually keep a Field No.12 Skillet on my stovetop….but I’m looking at it right now and realizing I forgot to clean it last time I used it, so it’s in slightly icky condition. Oops. I have a bunch of other Field Skillets hanging on my pot rack, and I store other cast iron in my oven, which helps to keep them from getting rusty.

Tell us more about your vintage skillets.

There’s a guy who sells vintage iron at the Oakland farmer’s market, so I’ve come home with an old Griswold, which I love because it’s so light, and a square Wagner skillet that I use to make cornbread. I really love my Field Skillets because they have the same qualities as my vintage pans: a nice smooth surface and light weight. It’s like you can get a new Field Skillet and turn it into a family heirloom.

When do you reach for a cast iron in your everyday home cooking?

Every time I’m searing or browning meat. There’s no other style of cookware I’ve found that delivers an equivalent level of browning. I also use cast iron whenever I want to stew or braise something that’s not super acidic. Almost any recipe that begins with onions I start in a cast iron pan. And pretty much anytime I know I’m going to start a dish on the stove and finish it in the oven. So that’s a lot of time! Any time I find myself without cast iron as a cooking option, I really miss it.

What about outdoors? Do you use cast iron around the grill

A ton. I like using cast iron skillets as a gentler cooking surface when I don’t need to cook something directly over the flame—kind of like a side burner. A couple years back I cooked a whole Thanksgiving over a fire for a Bon Appetit story. We built ovens and grills out of cinderblocks and used cast iron over everything, like a portable cooktop.

One of my favorite ways to use a cast iron skillet on the grill is to fill it with potatoes and hang a chicken over, so the fat dripping down from the slowly cooking chicken gets absorbed by the potatoes. And I should point out that my “grill” is just a cast iron grill grate over a couple of cinderblocks. That’s how deeply I am committed to cooking over cast iron. When I’m grilling, my food is either touching a cast iron pan or cast iron grilling grates.

How do you feel about grill pans?

Nope. Not into them, because in general I’m not into grill marks. What’s the point? The key is to get everything brown and rendered, and grill marks mean you only got halfway there.

Do you do much baking in cast iron?

I love baking in cast iron. The first thing I baked was cornbread at Chez Panisse, and I’ll never make cornbread in anything else. Why would you want cornbread that doesn’t have beautiful golden crust? It’s a travesty! I also use it for sweet and savory pies for the same reason, and I’ve made many a delicious deep-dish pizza in cast iron.

Cast iron Dutch ovens are the best for baking bread. It blew my mind that the Dutch oven were the original ovens. The first pies were baked in Dutch ovens. I was like, holy crap, these things I think of as stew pots are where people baked for a years and years. It’s bananas to me that their design basically hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.

We can’t wait for your next book. What can you tell us about it at this point?

It’s called Happy Cooking and Eating. It’s about the food I make at home, recipes that make me happy—and hopefully will make you happy, too.

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