What’s in a number? It’s a question commonly asked when it comes to cast iron, as these symbols—6s, 8s, 10s, and so on—were often inscribed onto the handle or bottom of many an antique pan.
For decades, numbers were staples of these skillets, so much so that new pan companies have started to numerically mark their own, paying tribute to the old practice. Which is one, it turns out, to be as useless today as our most recent Alma. (No offence to either.)
But like any good question, the answer is shrouded in its fair share of myth and controversy.
Chesapeake chef Spike Gjerde shares the key to pan-cooking rockfish.
When Spike Gjerde opened his flagship Woodberry Kitchen in an old mill in northern Baltimore, he knew two things for sure about the future of his farm-to-table restaurant.
Dedicated to hyper-regional sourcing and the culinary heritage of the Chesapeake Bay from day one, “I knew that this trinity of local seafood—oysters, crab, and rockfish—was going to be important for us,” says Gjerde, as famed writer and fellow Baltimore native H.L. Mencken once dubbed the working estuary an “immense protein factory.”
Cast Iron Rockfish “Chesapeake Terroir”
Recipe courtesy of Chef Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, MD; Photo Credit: Eric Vance for Butter Pat Industries
Skin on filet of Chesapeake rockfish, about 2lb (from a 5-6lb fish)
Fish pepper powder
Sunflower or canola oil
1 medium sweet potato, diced
1 cup cooked beans or field (e.g. crowder or black-eyed) peas, cooked
2 cups corn, frozen from last summer
2 tbsp. butter
Generous pinch of minced parsley, thyme, or other herb
Place Butter Pat Skillet in oven and preheat to 500ºF
Place rockfish skin side up on a cutting board. Using the back of a knife, firmly squeegee any moisture out of the skin, then blot dry with a paper towel.
Season skin side with salt; flesh side with salt and fish pepper. Portion fish into desired size filets. Set aside while preparing vegetables.
Remove hot skillet from oven and carefully add a swirl of oil, immediately add sweet potatoes. If potatoes do not sizzle vigorously in oil, place over high heat for a minute or two…add beans and corn, then herbs, season with salt and fish pepper, and toss to combine.
Return to oven. Cook until sweet potatoes are just tender, stir in butter, and spoon onto warmed serving platter. Wipe out hot pan with a paper towel.
Heat skillet over high heat. add oil to a depth of ¼”. VERY carefully place rockfish into skillet skin side down, being cautious not to splatter oil. Return to oven. After 3 minutes, check the fish skin -- it should be brown and crisp. Turn over and cook an additional 3-5 minutes, until just cooked through.
Arrange rockfish over vegetables on platter, and serve -- the sooner the better.