Food blogger Shawn Williams explains his love for cast iron pans and shares a few of his favorite recipes.
By Maria Allen
Portrait by Kjeld Mahoney
Food photography and recipes by Shawn Williams
Scituate resident Shawn Williams received his first cast iron pan about 10 years ago, as a hand-me-down.
“It was given to me by my mother and it may have been my grandmother’s,” says Williams, who remembers testing the heavy duty skillet out on his grill. “Being able to use the pan on the grill was an aha moment for me. Cast iron is really great for searing things like steak and the pans are virtually indestructible.”
It was around this time that Williams, a passionate home chef, decided to launch his own recipe blog, KitchenSwagger.com. The website features a collection of restaurant-inspired dishes, creative takes on family favorites, as well as craft cocktails. Williams’ cast iron skillet recipes (of which there are currently 66) quickly became one of the differentiating factors drawing visitors to his website.
So what’s so great about cast iron? Cast iron cookware is a beloved tool of many professional and home chefs. The pans are valued for their durability and versatility (you can use them on a stove or over a campfire), and their ability to distribute and retain heat. “I cook with cast iron a lot. I like that the pans are free of chemicals and that they can be used at much higher temperatures than nonstick pans,” says Williams. “The nonstick capabilities of a seasoned cast iron skillet are also better in the long run.”
Cast iron cookware has a long history, with the oldest cast iron artifacts dating to early 5th century B.C. China. By the late 1800s, cast iron pans had become a staple kitchen tool in most European and American households. The popularity of cast iron waned in the mid-1900s, when lightweight nonstick pans became available, but it never fully went out of style. In fact, cast iron has seen a resurgence in recent years, with fan pages popping up on Facebook and Youtube.
Williams understands the allure. He now owns six cast iron pans, including a 17-inch skillet that weighs a whopping 50 pounds. By day, he works in digital marketing for a financial software company, but in his spare time he finds solace in the kitchen, testing out new recipes for his blog.
“Cooking is therapeutic in a lot of ways,” says Williams. “It allows me to be creative and I really get into a zone and become 100 percent focused.”
Working remotely ever since the pandemic, Williams and his wife Patty decided to move their family to Scituate two years ago, to be closer to her family in Hingham. Spending more time at home has allowed Williams to launch another side project–hazyandhoppy.com–a blog dedicated to homebrewing. His knowledge of food and beer has led Williams to do a few fun collaborations with local breweries like Barrel House Z in Weymouth and Untold Brewing in Scituate. It’s also given him time to up his cast iron recipe game.
And with the holidays approaching, you better believe he’ll be whipping up some of his mother’s famous pumpkin pie–but his will be made in a cast iron skillet, ‘cause that’s how he rolls.
Flank Steak Fajitas
Note: My favorite way to eat tacos or fajitas is with toasted corn tortillas. If you have a gas range, place the tortillas directly on the grates and fire up the burner. Cook on medium-low heat for about 15 seconds per side, flipping with a metal spatula. The edges of the tortilla will start to char and crisp and the center will be soft, warm, and pliable with irresistible flavor. If you’ve run into ripping or tearing corn tortillas, this will remedy this problem and make them much more sturdy. This can also be done with flour tortillas.
1 pound flank or skirt steak
10-12 6-inch flour or corn tortillas
2 red bell peppers, cored and sliced
2 green bell peppers, cored and sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 lime, cut into small wedges
Mexican blend cheese, for topping
Fresh cilantro, for topping
Sour cream, for topping
Flank Steak Marinade
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 lime, juice squeezed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
Ground black pepper, to taste
Optional: 1-2 tablespoons Adobe sauce from canned chipotle peppers (spicy)
Combine all marinade ingredients in a large measuring cup. Whisk and set aside.
Find the natural graining running through the flank steak and slice against the grain into 1/4- inch strips. This is critical for tenderness. Place the steak in a large plastic Ziploc bag or sealed container and pour the marinade over the steak. Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Keep refrigerated and remove 30 minutes prior to cooking.
Combine peppers, onions, oil, paprika, and cumin in a large bowl. Toss to mix.
Heat a dash of oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet. Add peppers and onions and season all over with salt and pepper. Cook until tender and slightly charred on the edges, about 10-15 minutes. Toss every few minutes to mix and prevent burning.
Remove peppers and onions from the skillet and place on a plate. Cover with foil to keep warm.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and add flank steak to the skillet, leaving behind as much of the marinade as possible. Discard and do not reuse. Cook steak, tossing frequently until cooked through and slightly pink in the center. The steak will fully cook in about 5-7 minutes.
Move steak to one side of the skillet and return the peppers and onions to the skillet. Serve immediately with sour cream, cilantro, lime wedges, hot sauce, and warm/toasted tortillas. See the note on toasting tortillas.
Skillet French Toast
Note: This can be made and soaked overnight if you prefer. Fully prepare and place the skillet in the refrigerator and cover with aluminum foil. Let sit for 15-20 minutes on the counter before baking to come up to room temp. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden and slightly crispy.
1 pound (16 oz) French bread baguette, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon, powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Maple syrup for serving
Blueberries for topping (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Slice bread and arrange face up in a greased skillet or baking dish. Pack as tightly as possible with no overlap. You can nearly fit in a 10 inch cast iron skillet if you cut slightly thicker pieces (just under 1.5 inches thick).
Combine whisked egg, milk, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt in a bowl. Whisk to combine and pour evenly over the bread in the skillet. Sprinkle each piece with a little brown sugar.
Let rest for at least 30-60 minutes so the bread can soak everything up. It’s OK if there is egg/milk mixture in the bottom of the skillet. It will continue to soak into the bread as it bakes.
Bake for 40-45 minutes. The tops of the bread slices should be just crispy. Top with powdered sugar, blueberries, and drizzle all over with maple syrup. Serve immediately.
Skillet Pumpkin Pie
Note: This can be made in a standard pie dish as well. Be sure to use a 8-10 inch skillet for best results, a 12 inch skillet will be too large.
1 can (15 ounces) 100 percent
Pure Pumpkin (I use Libby’s)
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 10-inch unbaked pie crust, fully thawed/room temp
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
Whipped cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and clove in a small bowl. Beat eggs in a separate large bowl. Stir in pumpkin purée and sugar-spiced mixture. Slowly stir in evaporated milk, mixing as you go. I like to use a rubber spatula.
Line a greased 8-10 inch cast iron skillet with a pie crust, crimping the outer edges at the top with your thumb and index finger. You may need to fold down the top 1/2 inch. This will also give you extra dough to work with. Pour in the pie mixture.
Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350°F and bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Let cool on the stove top for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.