Hey Everybody. Remember our old friend Chef Bear? Well, he’s back! Today’s post is about cooking in a dutch oven. Welcome back Chef Bear!
Hey folks, hope everyone had a good time during the holidays this year. Probably had tons of good food, cooked in all kinds of ways, smothered with love & served with a smile. My post today is inspired by the all the family gatherings I have enjoyed over the years, and the love of family & food they instilled in me from a very early age.
When I was a kid, I remember we would go up to my grandparent’s house and almost everybody would have a part in preparing the meal we would all share either on Thanksgiving or Christmas, or on really good years, both. One of the first dishes I learned to make was cobbler, and it was usually cooked in a Dutch oven, buried under the coals of a fire we would build to warm-up after playing football in the snow, or helping my grandfather get the garden set-up and ready to plant in the spring. For those who haven’t experienced cooking in a Dutch oven, it’s a different feeling, especially compared to the much quicker cooking methods which we see more often these days (sautéing, grilling, frying, roasting). In my opinion, using a Dutch oven even requires a different mindset than many of the more modern cooking methods, though almost any method you can think of is possible to do inside one of the beautiful, heavy black pans. There is an old saying that I heard from a Bosnian friend of mine years ago, “It takes a good soul to make good soup”. I think that statement applies even more to cooking in a Dutch oven, because it takes a lot of love to cook using cast iron, to build a fire that develops the perfect bed of coals, to have the patience & intuition to leave the lid shut and trust that that hunk-o-metal is doing its job properly! Trust me, if you can manage all that…. Your efforts will be well rewarded!
What is a Dutch oven? – I think the easier question is, “What isn’t a Dutch oven?”… I say this because if you have a dutch oven, you basically have a stock-pot, a frying pan (capable of REAL deep-fat frying), a roaster, a crock pot, a steamer, a smoker, a braising/poille pan (poille is a cooking method that incorporates searing/dry-roasting, followed by high moisture slow cooking, it is typically applied to cooking fowl), and of course, a portable oven! Think about that for a second…. Yes a Dutch oven is a fairly heavy and cumbersome cooking vessel, but look at all the different things it can replace! Granted, it takes some practice to utilize this beast for the more delicate cooking methods like baking biscuits, cornbread or even cakes, but I guarantee you’ll have fun learning the finer points (and of course eating the experiments!). Just remember, these baby’s are not designed for speed… To use a Dutch oven properly, you need to build a fire that has a nice heavy bed of uniform coals, not to hot, but not too cold; Depending on what you are doing with it, you may need to pre-heat the oven (just like the oven in your kitchen at home), I find that if I need to pre-heat the Dutch oven it’s a good idea to place a pretty damp towel folded up inside it (this will help draw-in some of the excess heat and prevent damage to the cast iron, which might occur if you heat it to much with nothing inside).
Also, you NEVER use a Dutch oven without first “seasoning” the inside! This is done by applying a fairly thick layer of Crisco/lard to the inside surfaces of the cast iron vessel. Then you gently heat the Dutch oven, if you see any areas on the inside surfaces that need some grease, just dip some wadded-up paper towels into the warm fat, and spread it on the areas which need it. Remove the excess fat, allow the Dutch oven to cool, and repeat the process. I like to do this ~4x on new cast iron. Remember NEVER wash a Dutch oven, or ANY cast iron with soap!!! It will remove the seasoning, and you will have to start from scratch, like it’s a brand new pan! If it’s properly seasoned, all you should need to do is wipe out until a paper towel run across the inside surfaces comes up clear (there may be a little grease/oil on the paper towel, but no food particles). If you decided to make a casserole with cheese, or some other incredibly sticky nightmare, just pour in some water, bring it to a boil, and use a scrub brush to get the tough stuff out. Remember to dry completely and re-season the pan before storing. If you treat it right, your grandkids can use the same cast iron pans you invest in. Personally, my favorite cast iron pans were given to my folks as a wedding present! They got them in the early 70’s, and the skillet works better than the most high dollar “non-stick” pan you can find on the shelves today.
I know it’s been a while since I have done a post for the site, but as I have done in the past, if I am writing about food I try to include at least one recipe for you guys. This time I am gonna share my favorite cobbler recipe, which I found in the Boy Scout Handbook my father carried when he was in scouts, that he gave to me after completing “the ordeal” for “Order of the Arrow”. It sounds a little strange at first, but trust me it’s delicious! I should also mention that I swapped canned fruit & Crisco for frozen fruit (because of personal preference, and improved texture) & butter (cause butter makes everything better! Also it has a better “mouth feel”, and results in a less heavy finished product. If you prefer Crisco, I advise using the butter flavored kind), and I added a thickening agent that works better than the raw-flour/cornstarch that was in the original recipe.
3lb bag frozen sliced peaches (thaw before using)
1.5lbs fresh bananas, sliced (yellow with some brown spots is best, the brown spots on the peel means the sugars in the fruit are fully developed)
2.5c brown/raw sugar
2c peach “nectar” (made by Goya, packaged in glass bottles or cardboard boxes depending on what store you find it in)
1/3-1/2c Beurre manié (equal parts room temp butter & all purpose flour mixed together to form a dough consistency, used as a thickening agent, can be prepared ahead of time and stored in refrigerator or freezer. If you like, you can add 2tsp cinnamon to the dough for this recipe)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2.5-3c quick-cook oatmeal
1/2c butter (melted, not clarified)
1/2c brown sugar (raw/granulated will not work)
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2tsp kosher salt
MAKE UP PROCEDURE
Heat peach nectar to just under a boil. In a bowl mix Beurre manié with peach nectar using a wisk, make sure to get all the lumps out (its easier if the Beurre manié is at room temp/~70F). Add in the sugar & salt, stir to dissolve most of the sugar. Combine the fruit together with the liquid and put into the warm (not fully pre-heated, just warm enough so that you can’t hold your hand to the bottom, ~5min on the coals). Combine all the crumb topping ingredients together, kneed to combine everything, then as the name implies, crumble over the top of the filling. Place the lid on the Dutch oven, place onto a thick bed of coals, and place some coals on top to cover the lid. Brush the coals off the lid and check the cobbler after ~45min – 1hr. If needed replace the lid, top with more coals and allow to bake longer until it reaches a thick, rich consistency. Once done cooking allow to rest for ~20–30min, serve alone or with icecream (also goes amazingly well with “snowcream”)