Try a Healthy Southern-style Cast-Iron Chicken Dinner
Instead of deep-frying chicken as his family did growing up, this cook sears it with Southern spices and adds veggies for a one-pot meal
Article, recipe, and photos by Marrekus and Krysten Wilkes, Cooks with Soul
Growing up in the southern United States, I’ve been exposed to some of America’s best classic recipes, including fried chicken, one of the most highly regarded dishes in many Southern households. As a child, my grandmother made the best fried chicken ever. It was usually on a Sunday, after spending the day at church. I’d walk into the kitchen and see an assembly line of flour, buttermilk, and spices, and a huge cast-iron skillet with lard in it. The smell of fried chicken kept my siblings and me running back to the kitchen to see if dinner was ready, only to be met by Grandmother who would redirect us back outside to play until it was time. As I got older, my grandmother and mom let me in the kitchen where I finally learned to master the best Southern fried chicken.
These days my cooking style is different from my mom’s and my grandmother’s, and I love to try different cooking techniques. For instance, now that I’m in my 30s and have a wife and kids to cook for, I try to be more health-conscious about what I prepare and how I prepare it. My wife is from the West Coast, and she inspires me to incorporate seasonal produce and make casual recipes that are lighter and healthier.
We are also a blended family with six kids in the house, and chicken is definitely a household favorite. The biggest debate is whether we are doing dark meat or white meat, and bone-in or boneless. While I prefer dark meat bone-in, my wife and kids love boneless chicken breast, so we take turns picking what we’re going to cook.
This Cast-Iron Skillet Chicken and Vegetables Dinner recipe combines our love of chicken with our desire to eat healthier alternatives. It’s a simple dish that is practical and quick enough to make on busy weeknights. It also only requires one pot, so whoever is on dish-duty for the night is always happy about that!
For this recipe, I chose to use chicken thighs because they are tender, juicy, and full of flavor. However, you can also use bone-in chicken breasts if you prefer white meat. Potatoes and carrots are hearty, healthy, and kid-friendly; plus they’re easy to find year-round.
Cooking this entire meal in a single skillet allows you time to do other things like hang out with your kids or spend some quality time with your spouse or partner.
When you’re seasoning the chicken before cooking you can add in your own flavors, like lemon, rosemary, and thyme, or use a teaspoon of your choice of spice rub when you add the salt and pepper. My wife loves to use the leftover chicken in her salad and freezes any leftover vegetables to use later in soups.
How to cook chicken in a cast-iron skillet
If cast-iron cooking seems intimidating, there are a few tricks for success to make this healthy Southern chicken dinner.
• Preheat the skillet. Key is getting the skillet scorching hot. Because cast-iron doesn’t heat as evenly as nonstick or stainless steel, you should always preheat the skillet before adding the food. If you try to cook the chicken while the skillet is cold, it will stick.
• Start by searing the chicken. To make this recipe, we sear the chicken in the hot skillet before adding any vegetables. This not only adds a layer of flavor and texture to the chicken skin, but it also helps to seal in moisture, leaving you with tender, juicy meat.
• Remove the chicken and brown the vegetables. Next, we sauté the potatoes and carrots in the skillet to enhance their flavor. The heat from the cast-iron causes the sugars in the vegetables to caramelize, and that’s where the magic happens.
• Finish in the oven. After setting the chicken on top of the vegetables, we finish the dish off in the oven so the chicken will cook evenly through to the center and the vegetables will roast further.
• What if you don’t have cast-iron? Cast-iron is my skillet of choice for this recipe, but if you do not have a cast-iron skillet, you can also use a tri-ply stainless steel skillet or another type of ovenproof frying pan. To prevent sticking, we recommend using more oil in the skillet if you are not using cast-iron.
Once the dish is done, you can serve the meal right away – just be careful because cast-iron holds heat very well.
Nothing will ever truly replace fried chicken in my heart and soul, but the rich, earthy flavor of the vegetables and tender, juicy texture of the chicken in this dish definitely give me a lot to love, and it’s a real crowd-pleaser.
If you are craving the flavor and aroma of a delicious fried chicken dinner but desire a healthier alternative, then you can’t go wrong with this Cast-Iron Skillet Chicken and Vegetables Dinner recipe.
So many ways to love chicken
Traditional fried chicken, grilled chicken, and dozens of ways with baked chicken? We’re only getting started.