Dutch ovens are probably one of the most neglected pieces of cookware available. They also produce some of the tastiest dishes of American cuisine. Warm, satisfying comfort food is what you can expect to enjoy when cooking with a Dutch oven. While these treasures of heavy duty, hearty cooking remain somewhat forgotten by the everyday household, their capabilities should not go underappreciated.
What is a Dutch oven?
Traditional Dutch ovens are made of cast iron and are preferred by cooks who enjoy meals with a slight smoky flavor. They are also excellent heat conductors and retain their warmth throughout the cooking process.
Most Dutch ovens feature a lid, a handle and three or four legs on the bottom. While the lid and handle are necessary, legs are an added benefit and offer stability and balance to the oven.
A Little Bit of History
It was an Englishman by the name of Abraham Darby who in the early 1700’s introduced the Dutch oven to England and its American colonies after spending some time in Holland researching the manufacturing process of this piece of cookware.
Dutch ovens were among the most important cooking tools for pioneers. Their innovative design allowed coals to be piled on top of the oven, as well as underneath, providing the same temperatures and ability to cook evenly as a standard oven, even for people moving across the Wild West in covered wagons.
Do I Need to be Camping to Use a Dutch Oven?
Dutch oven cooking is popular with campers and other outdoorsmen today, because it is a simple way to cook a vast array of foods when electric ovens and gas ranges are unavailable. Everything from full roasts to piping hot biscuits can be whipped up over the hot coals of a campfire with one of these ovens.
However, Dutch oven cooking is not only for intrepid explorers anymore. A good sized Dutch oven for indoor cooking is a flexible and practical cooking tool for any kitchen. The large size of these ovens makes it easy to cook a roast, whip up a batch of stew, or to use them as a deep fryer.
Aluminum or Cast Iron?
Aluminum ovens can be used the same way in which cast iron ovens are used; that is, they can withstand being set atop open fires or inside barbeques. However, they do not spread heat as evenly, and can make food taste bland and chalky in contrast to the slightly smoky flavor that a cast iron Dutch oven will produce. The main benefit of aluminum ovens is that they weigh less and are therefore easier to handle.
The Benefits of Dutch Ovens
For outdoor entertaining, Dutch ovens are a unique and delicious way to give your guests something to remember. Roasts, quiches, breads and scrumptious casseroles are easy to create with these timeless cooking tools. Why have another boring barbeque when you can cook an entire meal within the warm pot of a Dutch oven?
Larger cookware takes up a lot of room in a kitchen. That’s why it’s useful to have a single piece that can perform a variety of different tasks: roasting, frying, baking, simmering, steaming, and poaching can be easily achieved in a single pot.
Not only is a Dutch oven a great size for cooking, but it also makes meat that is incredibly moist and tender. Even cuts of meat that are typically on the tough side will fall off the bone when you use this time-tested cookware.
Seasoning Your Dutch Oven
If you have a cast iron Dutch oven then you will need to care for it like any other piece of cast iron cookware. This means that you will need to season it to protect it from rust and provide a non-stick coating for cooking. Note that this won’t apply if you have a cast iron Dutch oven that is coated in enamel or you have purchased your Dutch oven pre-seasoned.
1. Wash your Dutch oven thoroughly with soap and warm water using a scourer. If your Dutch oven is new it will probably have a protective coating to prevent rust so this step is a must.
2. Dry thoroughly.
3. Coat your Dutch oven in a thin layer of oil using either bacon fat, Crisco or lard. Ensure that both the inside and the outside of the pot are evenly coated as well as the lid.
4. Place aluminum foil in the bottom of your oven to protect it from oil splatters.
5. Place the pot and the lid upside down in the oven at 300F for up to an hour.
6. For optimal results repeat the process.