MasterChef’s Cast Iron Pan Challenge asked the top eight contestants to conquer something moms have been mastering on a weekly basis—the art of the one-dish dinner.

By Julie Miltenberger

Guest judge Daphne Oz made it look so simple: She strutted onto the set of MasterChef, and demonstrated to the eight remaining contestants how to make one of her “one pot wonders”: simple chicken thighs in a cast iron pan that she then layered with flavor after flavor.

Photo by Blaine Moats.

Faced with the challenge of creating their own one-potter—and with just an hour on the clock—the contestants got to it…with varying degrees of success. Once the smoke cleared, Bri, Micah and Noah were on the bottom. Bri’s salmon with corn, bacon and carrots was kind of a hot mess (though not hot enough, as the center of the salmon was still raw). Micah was grilled by judge Joe Bastianich on his seemingly too-simple dish—and you could see Bastianich wanting to say, “I warned you!” while tasting. And as anyone who’s made a habit of watching cooking show knows, it’s essentially a mortal sin to attempt something you’ve never made before. That’s what got Noah and his misbegotten Chinese Frittata in hot water. Shari and Dorian did well enough, but were not without missteps.

By far, the three calmest contestants were Nick, Sarah and Subha. Nick stuck to his New England roots, making a Clam Chowder that was just a tad too thick for chef Ramsay. Sarah seemed to hit it out of the park with her steak with red wine reduction and fondant sweet potatoes—a meal she admitted to making for her husband all the time. But Subha was the real star of the night, remaining focused and driven—which isn’t his usual MO—while making his Shrimp Biryani.

Photo courtesy of FOX.

He learned how to make this dish from his sister, so he surely has her to thank since it was the winner. He used the cast iron pan to first brown onions, raisins and cashews and then he added aromatics and built the flavor base for this classic Indian comfort food. He put the dish in the oven briefly to finish things off—and crisp things up—and then cruised to the leader board (and the balcony), while Bri was sent packing. See the recipe that put Subha on top, below.

Photo courtesy of FOX.

Shrimp Biryani

1          lb. shrimp

2          cups basmati rice, rinsed

3          cups hot water, for soaking

2          large yellow onions, sliced

8          oz (1 cup) ghee (clarified butter)

⅓         cup cashews

½         cup golden raisins

2          stick cinnamon

8          whole cloves

1          tsp ground cumin

1          tsp cumin seeds

1          tsp fennel seed

5          whole cardamom pods

2          medium yellow onion, diced

2          jalapeño chiles, diced

4          Roma tomatoes, diced

3          tbsp tomato puree

1          tbsp fresh ginger, minced

1          tbsp minced garlic

            Juice of 1 lime

½         cup plain yogurt

            Salt, to taste

1½       cups boiling water


2          medium cucumbers, finely diced

½         green apple, finely diced

½         red apple, finely diced

4          pitted dates, finely diced

¼          cup finely chopped onion

2          cups plain yogurt

            Juice of 1/2 lime

4          tsp sugar

1          pinch saffron

            Salt and Pepper to taste

1/ Peel and devein shrimp. In a medium-sized bowl, soak basmati rice in 3 cups hot water.

Thinly slice the large yellow onions and add to hot, medium sized cast iron skillet with 1/2 cup ghee, and brown until caramelized. Add cashews and raisins and sauté a bit. Transfer mixture to a bowl.

2/ In same skillet, add your aromatics: cinnamon, clove, cumin (whole and ground), fennel seed and cardamom. Melt 1/2 cup ghee and add diced onions, chilies, tomatoes, and tomato puree and cook down until thick and paste-like.  Mince ginger and garlic and mix with lime juice. Add this mixture to the pan and mix into tomato/onion paste.  Stir in yogurt.

3/ Drain rice and add to skillet mixture along with 11/2 cups boiling water. Simmer until rice is cooked. Stir shrimp into mixture. Return onion/cashew mixture to the skillet and put in 350° oven for 10 to 15 min.

4/ Meanwhile, make Raita by mixing all diced fruit and vegetables with the yogurt.  Add lime juice and sugar and stir. Finally, mix in saffron and add salt and pepper to taste.

5/ Serve Biryani with Raita on the side.

Photo courtesy of FOX.