Few pans in my kitchen get a workout quite like my cast iron skillet. This weighty, 10-inch marvel serves as a baking vessel for treats such as Cathy Barrow’s Corn, Bacon and Blueberry Skillet cake, when fresh corn and blueberries flood the Farmers Market. And, year around, I use my cast iron skillet to make one of my family’s favorite weeknight dinners: Chef Andrea Reusing’s versatile and flavorful, Savory Skillet Souffle.
Reusing is the James Beard award-winning chef of Chapel Hill’s Lantern, a destination restaurant that serves Asian-inspired dishes with local Southern ingredients, and the author of Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. I was introduced to her food when she contributed four recipes in May and June 2011 to the Slow Food Fast column that appears in the Wall Street Journal’s Off Duty section. (I’ve written frequently about recipes from that column, here, here, here and here).
Her Asparagus and Ramp Skillet souffle was in frequent rotation throughout asparagus season this year and last. As the seasons changed, and asparagus disappeared from the market, I began making Reusing’s sophisticated and airy take on a egg scramble with whatever I had on hand — English peas, sweet corn, mushrooms, chopped red chard leaves, tender baby leeks — the list goes on.
Recently, I broke the veggie barrier and added leftover hunks of crispy bacon for a savory boost. While I’ll continue to swap seasonal vegetables based on what’s fresh, one ingredient in Reusing’s recipe that I’ll never change is the cheese: I always use a good aged cheddar, which gives this dish sharpness and wonderful creaminess. Our favorites include Cabot Extra Sharp and Quebec Vintage Cheddar, which I buy at C’est Cheese.
In the time that the oven reaches baking temperature — with the cast iron skillet heating inside — you can pull the ingredients for this quick meal together. A few eggs are whisked together with milk. A modest amount of flour, baking powder, giving the skillet souffle lift in the oven, and salt, pepper and cayenne are whisked in next. In our most recent preferred version, I stirred a handful of chopped, cooked bacon, the kernels from one cob of corn (frozen works fine, by the way), and a few diced scallions into the egg mixture (Since I’ve never seen ramps in our local market, I have always substituted scallions). When the oven reaches 425 degrees, pull the skillet out (be careful, it’s crazy hot) and add a knob of butter to the cast iron pan; it’ll melt in no time, sizzling and hissing as it slides around the pan. Pour the egg mixture over the slightly browned butter, scatter about a 1/2 cup of grated cheese across the top of the egg mixture, and bake the souffle for about 20-25 minutes.
It will puff skyward, curling up the edges of the pan, and turn a toasty, golden brown. Bring your skillet to the table so that you can serve crusty wedges of your souffle, with its soft, eggy center, while it’s still steaming hot.
I typically make a hearty side salad while the skillet souffle is baking to serve alongside. In about 45 minutes, you’ve got a beautiful, comforting meal, even on a busy night.
A couple of notes about the recipe. As I mentioned, I substitute scallions for ramps. I also have reduced the amount of salt and cayenne in the recipe, and streamlined a couple of steps, including simply grating the cheddar rather than grating and chopping it into pieces, as Reusing calls for in her recipe. I also use a slightly cooler oven — 425 degrees rather than 475 — primarily because our oven is older, but it doesn’t affect the souffle’s lift.
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- ¾ cup all-purpose white flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- freshly-grated black pepper to taste
- ¼ cup pieces of cooked bacon (2 strips, thick-sliced bacon)
- Corn kernels from one ear corn (or frozen), about ¾ cup
- 3 scallions, white and light green parts, minced
- ½ cup grated aged cheddar cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 10-inch skillet, preferably cast iron, in the oven as it heats.
- Slice bacon into ½-inch pieces and cook in a saute pan on the stove until lightly browned and crisped. Drain pieces on a plate, covered with paper towel. Slice the corn off of the cob, or if you're using frozen, measure ¾ cup of corn and set aside. Grate cheese and set aside; chop scallions and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk eggs for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in milk until well combined.
- Whisk flour, salt, baking powder and cayenne together in a small bowl, then whisk into egg mixture. Whisk until there are no lumps and just combined, about 20-30 seconds. Season batter with black pepper and set aside.
- Stir bacon and vegetables into the batter.
- Using an oven mitt, transfer pan to stovetop, add the butter into the pan and swirl until it's melted. Add the egg batter into the pan and then quickly scatter the cheese across the batter.
- Transfer soufflé to oven's top rack and bake 20-22 minutes, or until golden and voluminous. If top isn't golden brown, broil soufflé for final 2 minutes.
- Serve immediately—the skillet soufflé deflates quickly.