Easy Eats: Skillet Savvy

All-in-one dinners make mealtimes a breeze for busy families.

People talk a lot these days about downsizing when it comes to homes. But how about downsizing your dinner preparations?

All-in-one skillet dinners represent the perfect answer. For busy families, these meals are hearty, simple to cook, and leave fewer dishes to wash.

The first step, of course, is to choose the right skillet. You’ll get the best results from a good quality, heavy-duty skillet that distributes the heat so food cooks evenly. For most people, that means either stainless steel or nonstick.

Stainless-steel skillets have the advantage of safely going from stovetop to oven, plus food browns better in them. The best ones have layers of aluminum or copper sandwiched between the stainless steel to better conduct heat.

However, many of us love our nonstick pans because they’re so easy to clean. The recent controversy over the chemicals used to make nonstick coatings may have caused some of us to wonder if our old pans are safe to use. You may need a new pan if the coating in your favorite nonstick skillet is scratched or showing other signs of wear or chipping, Here are some points to consider:

Older vs. newer nonstick coatings: There have been concerns over the environmental and health effects of older nonstick coatings, particularly because of the chemicals (specifically PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid) used to make them. Older coatings also were more likely to flake or chip off during cooking, introducing those chemicals into your food. Recently, some companies have begun offering PFOA-free coatings. Companies also say that the latest nonstick coatings are more reliably fused to the pan, so they’re less likely to wear off.

Handle with care: The nonstick coating needs to be treated gently, both during cooking and cleaning. Never expose your pan to high heat, manufacturers warn, and many advise adding a little oil before preheating. Don’t use abrasive scrubbers or steel wool because they can scratch or damage the coating. Similarly, use wooden or plastic utensils instead of metal when stirring ingredients in your nonstick pan. Finally, if you stack your pans in the cupboard, put a paper towel inside each nonstick skillet to protect the coating.

Whichever skillet you choose, the following recipes will help you get an all-in-one dinner on the table in not much more than 30 minutes.

SKILLET CHICKEN AND VEGETABLES

Flavorful chicken thighs plus a variety of vegetables and small potatoes make this a healthy, well-rounded dish that can be prepared in a hurry. This has been a family mainstay in our house for a long time.

  • 4 chicken thighs with skin and bones, about 1 ½ pounds
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt (such as Montreal Chicken Seasoning or other poultry seasoning of your choice)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • ¾ pound small red- or white-skinned potatoes, halved
  • 1 small bell pepper (green, red, or yellow), stem, ribs, and seeds removed, cut into small chunks
  • 2 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • Chopped fresh parsley, optional, for garnish

Sprinkle chicken on all sides with paprika, seasoned salt, and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sauté until brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Add potatoes, bell pepper, carrots, and mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.

Sprinkle vegetables with flour and stir to coat. Slowly stir in broth and wine; bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Return chicken thighs and any juices on the plates to skillet; bring to boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with
parsley, if desired, and serve.

Serves 4.

BEEF BULGOGI

This is Korea’s version of barbecued beef, and it always gets raves. It’s usually eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves, but you can also serve it over rice. It was adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast (Clarkson Potter, 2007).

  • 1 ½ pounds rib-eye steak, trimmed of excess fat
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hot chile sesame oil (or make your own by adding a dash of red pepper flakes to 1 tablespoon sesame oil)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated, peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 large red onion, halved and cut lengthwise into 1-inch wedges
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced into ½-inch strips
  • 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small head Boston lettuce, separated into leaves, or substitute baby romaine leaves (or serve with hot steamed rice)

To make the beef easier to slice, place it in the freezer (for about 20 minutes) while you prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger. Place the onions and peppers in a small bowl; toss with half the soy marinade.

Remove beef from freezer and slice diagonally (across the grain) into 1⁄8-inch-thick strips. Toss the steak in the remaining marinade; let stand 15 minutes.

Heat 2 teaspoons of the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil over high heat. Cook half the meat, turning often, until browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Cook the remaining meat.

Return the first batch and any accumulated juices to the pan; add the onion mixture. Cook, tossing, until heat­ed through, about 1 minute. To serve, roll up the beef in lettuce leaves or serve over hot steamed rice.

Serves 4.

TORTA DI PASTA

I met Giada De Laurentiis in 2005 when she was on a book tour for her first cookbook, Everyday Italian (Clarkson Potter, 2005), and asked her to recommend a quick dinner to feed a picky teen. This was her suggestion. Although the name means “pie made of pasta,” it’s really a great way to use up leftover spaghetti or to whip up a vegetarian one-dish meal with only a few ingredients. Plus, it tastes good warm or at room temperature.

  • 8 ounces dried spaghetti or leftover cooked pasta
  • ½ cup drained, oil-packed minced sun-dried tomatoes
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¾ freshly grated fontina cheese
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

If using dried pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain. In a large bowl, toss the spaghetti with the sun-dried tomatoes, and then set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, Parmesan and fontina cheese, salt, and pepper to blend. Add the egg mixture to the cooled spaghetti mixture, and toss to coat.

Preheat the broiler. In a 9½-inch diameter, ovenproof nonstick skillet, melt the butter and oil over medium heat. Transfer the spaghetti mixture to the skillet, pressing to form an even layer. Cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and broil until the top is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Let the torta cool in the skillet to warm or room temperature, then invert onto a platter. Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 4.

Candy Sagon is a former food writer at The Washington Post.

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