Steaming with a Cast Iron Skillet

Steaming is often a maligned cooking technique, associated with bland spa food and limp fish fillets. But while we love the power of direct-heat cooking—and nothing beats cast iron at this—you can strategically employ some steam to your cooking without sacrificing flavor, so long as you have a cast iron lid to fit your pan.

We love using steam to finish cooking an ingredient that’s first been seared in a hot skillet, such as these Brussels sprouts topped with a honey-butter glaze and crunchy dukkah. This sear-and-steam technique works with all sorts of vegetables (especially broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans), as well as chicken and fish.

Photo: Lauren V. Allen

Steam is also essential for cooking rice, whether it’s a classic rice pilaf or the more-adventurous, bronze-domed tahdig.

If you swap water out for another steam source, you can cook and flavor at the same time, as in our cider-steamed mussels.

Photo: Lauren V. Allen

But our favorite steamy hack is saved for eggs. The next time you fry an egg, sprinkle the skillet with a few drops of water, then cover the pan. The hot, moist air will set the whites from above, while the hot skillet crisps the egg from below.

Photo: Lauren V. Allen

The History of Self-Basting Lids

Any tight-fitting lid will trap the steam produced when food or liquid is heated, but the cast iron cookware designers of the early 1900s devised an ingenious solution to harness the power of steam: the self-basting lid. Many cast iron lids — including the Field No.8 Lid — include a cast pattern on the underside; the ridges, waves or points create raised textures where condensed moisture will collect and drip down to the cooking surface, where it effectively bastes proteins.