Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Griswold Cast Iron Skillet and Osso Buco with Lemons and Olives

When I was in high school, my parents bought a beautiful lodge in West Wardsboro, Vermont – the Green Mountain House – these days it would have been called a rustic bed and breakfast, then it was more like a skiing dormitory.  My dad purchased it with two friends sometime around 1970 but eventually bought them out when their visions inevitably clashed.  There was one thing I loved about the Green Mountain House (besides the barn and adjacent stream, Grout Pond and Fat City) – the 12 inch cast Iron skillet that came with the purchase of the house and which I stole – that plus my lovely Stickley hutch and armloads of old books which, ditto.
As it turned out, stealing from GMH was a good move.  Ending an era, it burned down in May 1979.  But most of the relics we lifted under our parents’ less than watchful gaze, live on.  Sadly, not my 12” skillet which one of my sisters stole  when I moved home in the winter months before my first marriage.
But by then I was convinced shiny Revere ware was the future - not from my mom but from my eccentric ex-mother in law - and I did not protest too much.  It did not take long before Revere ware disappointed and my fascination with the electric wok waned – actually less time than the very abbreviated first marriage.  Right after my divorce and long before I could afford it, I splurged for a Calphalon set after carefully researching the most economical package available – Bloomingdale’s, would you believe it?  I loved my Calphalons. They were not pretty after multiple uses but the 7 quart sauté pan was my go to dream pan for years and I still use the 8 quart stock pot almost daily 20 years later.
Yet cast iron beckoned.  When I learned about the magic of eBay, the first search I undertook was to look for a reasonable facsimile of my lost love – and I found her.  A Griswold 12” cast iron skillet with the extra bonus of a self-basting lid.  It needed work but the internet is a great teacher and, with use, I had a shiny black skillet (and lid) that was as non-stick as Teflon without the sensitive and potentially deadly chemical coating.  It took practice to keep it shiny but not much. A swish of water, dry it and – the secret – spray the tiniest bit of canola oil (Pam or equivalent) and rub it into the skillet with a paper towel.  In the event you do something outrageous causing a sticky burnt-on mess or the skillet is excessively greasy, a shake or two of baking soda will cut right through – rub in a little extra oil afterwards. Or if you were really murderous and left your baby in a sink of water overnight causing copious rust – again, there was still a remedy (pay attention only to the self-cleaning oven method0.
Now, everyone will tell you not to use your cast iron pan for acidic dishes containing tomatoes or lemons.  But if your pan is properly seasoned, a sauce even liberally laced with tomatoes or lemon is not an issue.  Furthermore, most braises start with an awesome sear and there is nothing like cast iron for creating the perfect brown crust.  And the shallow wide skillet is just the right size for the optimal slow braise.
So against all conventional wisdom – here is my favorite unconventional cast iron skillet recipe, Osso Buco with Lemons and Olives . . . (proudly an Editor's Pick at
I will never, ever, pretend to you that Osso Buco is practical for a run of the mill dinner.  Veal shank is very expensive.  But it is a vitually fool-proof great meal and if you shell out the $30 or so for four shanks a couple of times a year (two for dinner, two for awesome weeknight leftovers that totally rock), well – it’s explainable at least.
Now go get yourself a real skillet.

Osso Buco with Lemons and Olives
Serves 44 veal shanks, about 2 inches thick
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green part, rinsed and sliced into half moons
4 good-sized cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
2 lemons, zested and then juiced, preferably Meyer lemons
16-20 large green Sicilian olives, pitted unless you trust your eaters and warn them about pits. If you can't find the large green ones (I think they are called Cerignolas), try with Kalamatas which are easy to find
1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
3 cups veal or chicken stock (if I don't have homemade on hand, I use a veal base from R. L. Schreiber which I think is good for cooking and keeps forever)
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Place flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Dust veal shanks with the seasoned flour.
3.  Add olive oil to a flameproof baking dish with a lid and heat over high heat until almost smoking.
4.  Add the shanks and brown well on all sides. Do not be a scaredy cat - brown well.
5.  Reduce the heat and add the leeks and garlic. Saute for about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and boil about four minutes. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, olives and enough stock so that the veal shanks are almost covered.
6.  Cover pot with lid and bake for 30 minutes. Add rosemary, return to oven covered and bake for an additional hour until veal is tender.
Serve with lemon and leek risotto, maybe with some artichoke hearts - frozen are ok. 
Leftover tip:  Warm leftover osso buco and risotto in a covered casserole at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

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