Thursday, June 28, 2007

One for the Newbies!

I’m on a lot of email discussion lists. It’s an annoying habit, but I’m a ‘net junkie, and admitting it is the first step to recovery, right?

Anyway, one of the ones I’m on is for parents of special needs kids (mine has cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis), and as email groups tend to do, we drifted off-topic. One of the moms and I got into a side thread on dutch ovening, and she said that she was new to it and did I have any tips and recipes.

Well, of course I have both!

She said, “Mark, I would like some recipes so send em on over...I have bought a couple cook books but still seem a little overwhelmed...”

It did make me think that if someone were to read my blog as a complete novice dutcher, they might not understand all of the recipes. So, I thought I’d post one that I learned as a newbie, along with some more specific instructions.

This one is also pretty cool, because if someone were to do this recipe right, they’d learn a lot of the basic techniques of dutching, like heat management, rotating, and one-pot meals.

So, I responded:

Dump cakes and cobblers are pretty easy, and everybody loves them, but they get old after a while. :-) I mean E-V-E-R-Ybody does them.

Here's a recipe for a full meal dish that's pretty easy. I've done it a few times, and it’s popular with the family.

Dutch Oven Chicken with Potatoes and Onions

10” or 12” Dutch Oven

For the baking part: About 25 briquettes for a 12” oven, 6-8 briquettes below, the rest above.

  • 1 package of bacon, cut into short pieces
  • 3-5 larger potatoes, quartered and sliced
  • 1-2 med-large onions, sliced
  • 1-2 green peppers, sliced
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 3 chicken breasts, cut into small chunks.
  • Salt, season salt, pepper to taste
  • A cup of shredded cheddar
  • Salsa, if you like that sorta thing. You could serve it plain, and offer the salsa to be added on the plate after serving.

Start by slicing and cutting up all the ingredients. You can do some of that while the coals are preparing, but you can also do it beforehand.

Light some coals, and when they show some good white around the edges, put about 15 or so under a seasoned 12” dutch oven. Have about a half-dozen or so more lit coals off to the side. These will be your “side fire” and will help you keep your coals fresh as they burn out. After the oven has heated up for a few minutes, add the bacon, cut into short pieces and separated. Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally. I like it fairly crispy.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, when the bacon is about done, you’ll want to add some charcoal briquettes to the half dozen that are burning off to the side. They will light the unburning ones, and then you’ll be able to use them to replenish your cooking coals.

When the bacon is how you like it, Take the oven off the coals temporarily. Add everything else in the ingredients list to the oven, except the cheese. Stir it all up to mix it and coat everything with the bacon flavor. Add the salt, pepper, and any other spices you like. Cajun, hot sauce, poultry seasoning, whatever you like and have. Don’t be timid with the seasonings!

In your cooking area, arrange about 7-8 hot coals in a circle about the size of the bottom of the oven. Then replace the oven. The coals should be fully under the oven, and right at the edge.

Take the rest of the hot coals, and some of the freshly lit ones (about 15-18 total) and place them in a circle around the edge of the lid of the oven. You can place a few of them in the center of the lid. Mark the time as the start of the cooking.

The total cooking time will probably be about 35-45 minutes, but your mileage may vary. Cook it until the potatoes are soft and the chicken is done through. About every 15-20 minutes, lift the lid and check it, giving it a stir. When you replace the lid, rotate it about a quarter turn. Then lift the entire oven and rotate it about another quarter turn. This makes it so that the briquettes are close to different spots on the oven, and lessens hot spots and burning.

As the briquettes burn, you might have to pull more briquettes from your side fire to replenish the ones on, or below, the oven. That’s what they’re there for! When I’m handling briquettes, I use long, spring-handled cooking tongs.

When it’s done, pull the oven off the coals, and tip the lid over the cooking space to shake the coals off the lid. The oven and lid will retain the heat for quite some time (that’s one of the cool things about cast iron). Spread the shredded cheddar over the food inside, and replace the lid (without briquettes). Let the oven’s heat melt the cheese.

When it’s all done, serve it right from the oven. After everyone’s had seconds, it’s always good to get the food out of a dutch oven pretty quickly, since some acidic foods can diminish the seasoning patina. Clean it with a plastic bristled brush and hot water, no soap. When it’s all scrubbed clean, and still warm from the water, coat it with another thin layer of oil or shortening (inside and out, lid as well). Over time, it’ll build up more and more coating and become the best non-stick cookware you own.

This one’s a really simple recipe, with few steps, but it really impresses people, and it's delicious! It’s also easy to get creative with it and tweak the ingredients. It’s very forgiving in the timing and the measuring.

Then come back here and post a comment, letting me know how it went!

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