Sunday, December 30, 2007

Belizean Rice and Beans, Escabeche in the Dutch Oven

Back in the early ‘80’s, I spent some time working for my church (an LDS Mission) in Central America. That time included a six month stay in Orange Walk Town in the northern parts of Belize.

Belize is a wonderful country, with a small, tight, and yet very diverse people. There are a lot of Hispanics, many from Guatemala, there are a lot of Caribbean Black Creole. There are a lot of British there (because Belize used to be British Honduras). To that mix add Chinese and Hindu, and all in a town smaller than Paris, Idaho (trust me, that’s small).

I learned a lot from teaching and working with these wonderful people. One of the things I learned was that you could make incredibly delicious meals without fancy pots or pans, or even without stoves. I remember meeting a guy outside his house one day. We all struck up a conversation. He had cut a big 55 gallon oil drum off at only about a third high, and had a metal plate over it like a lid. He had it on top of hot coals and was shoveling more hot coals on top. What was he making? His wife had made Coconut Bread, and he was in charge of baking it (under her watchful eye). He told us to come back in about a half hour.

We did, and it was some of the most delicious bread I’d ever tasted.

One of the church members there used to have us over for lunch a lot. He worked a hard day at the sugar factory, then he would come home and fix shoes for extra money. He took some of my worn out fancy Mr Mac shoes and re-soled them with tire treads. That lasted me through the rest of the mission!

Anyway, his wife (and just about everyone else there in OWT) used to make us this delicious onion, chicken and vinegar soup, called “escabeche”. Man, that was good stuff. It’s really a staple of Belizean cooking. She had this little stand in the back of her house (a shack, really). She’d start a fire with wood chips and twigs and cook up the meal.

There were really two things that stand out in my memory as defining Belizean cooking. One was this soup, and the other was their rice and beans dish. Both were humble, “peasant dishes”, if you will, but they were the most delicious things I’d ever eaten up to that point. And I made our Branch President’s wife teach me how to make it one day.

I’ve made it several times in the intervening years, but today, I did it in my dutch oven. And, to complete the feast, I made the rice and beans.

A note about authenticity: I have made a few alterations to these recipes. But not much. Really, simplicity is good in these ones. Also, it goes to show that you don’t have to have a schnazzy professional oven to cook a great meal. Remember? Heat on food is all it’s about!

Another note: As I’ve been traveling and interacting with people of different latin backgrounds, I’ve discovered about three or four unique dishes, all bearing the name “Escabeche”. A few of them, notably the Peruvian one, are fish dishes. There are others, though. It seems like in most cases, the only thing they really have in common is the name.

So, if this doesn’t look like your idea of what an “Escabeche” recipe should look like, sorry. It IS a Belizean Escabeche, though.

Dutch Oven Belizean Escabeche

12” Dutch Oven

20+ coals below

10” Dutch Oven

17+ coals below

  • 2-3 lbs of chicken. I like the boneless frozen chicken parts, but you use what you like.
  • 8 cups water
  • 4-5 Large white onions
  • ¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • Liberal shakes of oregano
  • Liberal shakes of salt and black pepper
  • Liberal shakes of Celery salt
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 sliced jalapeno peppers
  • 2-3 Cups white vinegar
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • Corn tortillas

I started out with the Chicken and the water in the 12”. Simple enough, just boil the chicken, with the dutch oven covered.

While that was boiling, I sliced up the onions. You really need lots of onions. Slice up what you think is enough for a typical onion soup, and you’re at about half what you’ll need. Then add some more after that. This soup is mostly onion with some broth. Then, I chopped up the cilantro, sliced the jalapenos, and added all the other spices together in a bowl, and set that aside.

Once the 12” dutch oven was boiling, I put the 10” dutch oven on some coals, with a thin puddle of oil in the bottom. When the 10” oven was heated, it was just about the time that the boiling chicken was “done”.

I pulled the chicken out of the broth, dripped it off, and set it to fry in the 10” dutch oven, in the oil. Be careful, because it’ll splatter! I stirred and turned the chicken pieces to brown on all sides. That helps it get a little crunch and gives it a bit of fried flavor.

In the meantime, while the chicken is frying, I poured all the onion mixture into the broth in the 12” dutch oven. Add in the vinegar. I always wonder how much vinegar to add. Generally speaking, I say go large and put in more toward the 3 cups. It depends on how daring your audience is. Still, without a good strong vinegar taste, this dish can end up wimpy. The lemon juice is my own addition to the recipe, and I really like the flavor it adds.

Then I added the browned chicken back into the onion and vinegar broth.

Normally, I’d say to reduce the coals to just a simmer at this point, but since I was cooking in the dead of winter, I kept some strong coals on. Just let this cook until the onions are soft and the chicken has absorbed the vinegar.

While this was simmering, I worked on the Rice and Beans:

Dutch Oven Belizean Rice and Beans

10” Dutch Oven

7 coals below
13 coals above

  • Slices of salt meat (bacon, sausage, whatever ya got)
  • 2 cans red beans, with liquid
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • Liberal shakes of salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (about a half can)
  • ¾ cup water

After frying the chicken, use the same hot 10” dutch oven and coals to cook the salt meat. This time, I used smoked sausage, sliced pretty thin. Once that was browned, I added everything else, adjusted the coals as written, and cooked it, stirring occasionally, until the rice was done.

Actually, you don’t even need the meat. In most cases, Belizeans don’t include it. But they sometimes did. I like it, myself. One lady used to make us Rice and Beans, and serve it piled up high on the plate with a couple of pieces of barbecue chicken on top. THAT was yummy!

The two dishes were served side by side, the Escabeche in a bowl, with corn tortillas on the side, and the Rice and Beans on a small plate. The people there often eat the escabeche without utensils, using pieces of the tortillas to pick up the onions and the chicken with their fingers. Some will fold the tortillas to make spoons to get the vinegar broth, others just drink that from the bowl. We used to joke that a greenie missionary became a true Belizean elder when he could eat a whole heaping bowl of Escabeche without touching his fork or spoon.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dutch Oven Steamed Crab with Shrimp and Veggie Rice

When my wife and I first got married, one of the things she fixed for me on our honeymoon was crab with a butter sauce. Ever since then, whenever we eat crab, whether at home or in a restaurant, she and I always wink at each other and remember that time twenty years ago, now. It’s really a romantic thing for us.

Add to that the fact that my now deceased mother in law used to love to take our boys out to Red Lobster to eat, and we’ve got a family that loves seafood. It’s funny. Ask most kids what their favorite food is, and they’ll probably say, “peanut butter and jelly”, or “Pizza”. Ask mine, and they’ll say, “Shrimp scampi!” or “Crab’s legs!”

Before that adventure with my new wife, I didn’t like crab very much. It seemed like so much work for so little meat. But over the years, my perspective has changed, and now breaking it out of the shells is just part of the fun.

So, for the last three weeks, I’ve wanted to do a steamed crab plate in my dutch ovens, but for this reason or that reason, I’ve not been able to make time to cook it. But tonight I did! I even managed to find some good frozen crab legs at a supermarket near me for only $6 a pound. Not the best, but not too bad…

Dutch Oven Steamed Crab with Shrimp and Veggie Rice

8 coals below, 16 above (in moderate weather. However, in freezing snow, like I had today: 12 coals below, 22 above, with windbreaks or a hood.)

  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 ¼ cups water or broth/stock (see below)
  • ½ lb medium to large uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2-3 lbs king crab legs, thawed
  • 1 medium to large onion
  • 2-3 stalks celery
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 lemon (or splashes of lemon juice)
  • shakes of cilantro
  • shakes of parsley
  • liberal shakings of coarse ground black pepper
  • liberal shakings of salt
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 heaping tsp minced garlic
  • ½ tsp prepared Cajun spices
  • ½ tsp salt

I started by lighting up a lot of coals. I had some trouble getting them lit in the snow, but lighter fluid overcomes all!

I noticed that as the shrimp and the crabs legs had been thawing in plastic bags in my sink, the bags were filled with water from the melting ice, and it was thick with juices from the shellfish. It was like a broth, so I drained it into a measuring cup. Not quite enough came out though, only about 1 ¼ cups, so I filled the remaining space to 2 ¼ cups with water. That went in the bottom of the dutch oven with the rice. Then I peeled the shrimp (it came from the market deveined – I hate doing that…) and arranged those on top.

I sliced up the onion, the celery, and the mushrooms, and layered those in. On top of that I poured or shook on the remaining seasonings (listed in the first set). I prefer to slice lemons and layer those on top, but I had no lemons, so I used lemon juice instead.

Finally, took a heavy object (I wanted to use a meat tenderizing hammer, but could only find my rolling pin) and smacked the crab shells, to pre-crack them a bit. Then, I arranged the crab legs on top of it all. The theory was that the cooking rice would steam the crab, and the flavors would penetrate into the crab meat better if there were some cracks in the shells.

I took this out and set it on the coals. Since it was practically a blizzard, it took a long time and some extra coals to get the oven up to boiling/rice cooking temperature. But once it did, it only took about 20-25 minutes of actual cooking for the whole thing to be done.

Once I saw that the rice was, indeed, cooking and not freezing, I got out my 8” dutch oven and added all the ingredients of the second set. I put that dutch oven on top of the 12”, and added a few coals on top of it. This became the buttery dipping sauce for the crab.

This ended up being one of the most delicious crab meals I’ve ever eaten. Some of the flavor did, in fact, seep up into the crab meat, and I could taste it even if I didn’t dip it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dutch Oven Soda Pop Biscuits and Split Pea Soup

Since I’d made ham a few weeks ago, I had to follow up, of course, by cooking the bone in a split pea soup. I did basically the same recipe as I’d done last time. Except this time I used a lot more coals (it was cold out), and I also added a lot more of the herbs.

This time I tried a different biscuit recipe, though. It was kinda cool. It uses soda pop instead of baking soda. An interesting twist…

Dutch Oven Soda Pop Biscuits

12” Dutch Oven

17 coals above
8 coals below

This time, however, since it’s winter, I used 19 above and 11 below.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3/8 cup oil
  • 12 oz (one can) soda pop. I used 7-up, and not the diet stuff, either.
  • 3 Tbsp Baking powder

It was pretty simple. First, I got some coals hot, and I put them on and below the empty oven, to pre-heat it. My sister, an accomplished cook, had told me that biscuits and things that do chemical leavening (as opposed to yeasts) need to have a preheated oven. So, I tried it.

Then, I just mixed the ingredients in a bowl and stirred. It ended up being a little sticky, so I sprinkled in a little more flour. It was so light and airy, that I didn’t have to roll it out, I could just spread it out with my hands on the floured tabletop. I spread it to about 3/4" thick, and cut it with a drinking cup.

Then I took them outside and put them in the heated oven, and started the baking. After about a half hour to fourty minutes, I took it off the bottom coals, but left the coals on the lid, so the tops would brown without burning the bottoms.

Unfortunately, my timing was really bad. Because just as the soup was finishing, I had to get the boys ready to go to a birthday party, so I didn’t get to taste the soup until a couple of hours later. It was delicious, however, as were the biscuits!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dutch Oven Heat!

I was going to cook split pea soup today. Even found a new recipe for biscuits I was going to try. But, I didn't. After going to church, I came home feeling very bleah. So, I took it easy tonight. I did end up cooking omlettes for every one for dinner. Thanks to John, over at Mormon Foodie. He taught me the tricks of omlettes years ago. Served me well ever since.

But I also spent a little while compiling a cookbook of sorts. A "Best of" for the end of my first calendar year here at the black pot. One of the bits I wrote about was an article on managing the heat for Dutch Oven cooking. Here it is. It's kinda more for those new to the dutch oven.


It was a kind of interesting revelation to me to suddenly realize that cooking is simple. I mean, we’ve been doing it for thousands and thousands of years. There are lots of ways to do it. Lots of different kinds of ovens, stoves, hearths, grills, and griddles. But the bottom line is: You’re applying heat to food. How you do that and how much of it you do has varied over the centuries. But still, that’s all you’re doing.

In the Dutch Oven world, you do it by burning something. That can be wood burned down to coals or it can be commercially made charcoal briquettes. For my backyard kitchen, I use briquettes, because they’re easy to control, and easy to light. If you use the good brands, they’ll burn long and steady. The cheap ones give off inconsistent heat and burn out too fast. You don't need fancy mesquite or smoke flavoring because none of that will get through the iron to the food anyway.

In most dutch oven recipes, you need heat coming up from the bottom and heat coming down from the top. The “camp” dutch ovens” have a lip around the lid that keeps the coals on top and the ash out of your food.

As a general rule, each briquette will produce about 10-15 degrees of heat. Now, if it’s a windy day, a hot day, or a cold day (I like to dutch oven even in the winter) that will change. Cold weather requires more briquettes. Windy days get more air to the coals, and so there’s more heat, but the coals burn faster. If you have a bigger dutch oven, obviously you’ll require more heat.

Lodge, the company that makes the best dutch ovens, put out a heating chart:

Oven Size



























































In this chart, the total number of coals you need are in bold. The pairs of numbers are there as a convenience to use when you’re baking. The first number is the number of coals on the lid, and the second is the number of coals below the oven.

If you’re boiling or simmering, either put all the coals on the bottom, or a third above and two thirds below.

If you’re baking, put two thirds above and a third below.

If you’re roasting, then split it evenly top and bottom.

The recipes in this book list how many coals to put where. Truly, the best way to learn heat management is by experience. Just try it! I hold my hand over the ovens about a foot or so in the air. I’ve learned how hot that feels. I can tell how the weather conditions of the day are changing the temperature of the oven. That comes with practice.

It’s also important to keep a side fire going. Charcoals burn down, and if you’re doing a recipe that takes longer than an hour to cook, you’ll need more coals to add back to your ovens. When I start the coals to begin cooking, I light too many. More than I will need. The extras become my side fire. About a half hour into the cooking, I’ll add another ten or so coals to that pile. The older coals will catch the new coals, and by the time I need more coals, I’ll have them ready. I’ve ruined too many dishes (and at least one pie), by having my coals go out halfway through. By rotating my coals through a side fire, I can cook almost indefinitely.

It’s also good to be careful how you place the coals. In most cases, You want to focus the heat on the rim of the oven. Set the bottom coals in a ring around the bottom edge of the oven. You want the coals fully under the oven, but not so much in the middle. The same on top, as much as possible. This makes the heat travel down and up the sides of the oven, and radiate toward the center. Coals in the middle will tend to create hotspots which will burn the food. That’s sometimes less critical on the lid, where it’s not directly touching the food, usually. The picture above shows good coal placement for baking.

It’s good to have some long-handled tongs to grab and place the coals. Don’t use your hands. It will hurt. Duh. It’s also good to get some long handled pliers for lifting the lid to check on the food, or an actual “lid lifter”.

For simmering, you’ve got liquid on the bottom that’s going to disperse the heat anyway, and so I just pack the coals in any way I can get them under the oven. When I roast, I still try to keep a bit clear of the center, but there’s more coals to put down there, so you need to pack them in more. A second ring works, and some people go with a sort of checkerboard pattern.

Remember, all you’re doing is applying heat to food. Do it a few times and you’ll get better and better at it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Best Dutch Oven Ham EVARR

OK, well, at least it was the best Dutch Oven Ham I'VE ever made.

See, my Thanksgiving ham was great, but it wasn’t what I’d expected it to be in the end. The “glaze” mixed with the liquid that cooked out of the ham, and (since it was pretty runny to begin with) ended up more like a baste. It tasted great, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

So, I did it again tonight. I had some ham left over (remember I had to cut it up because it wouldn’t fit into my deep 12” Dutch oven?).

This time, I mixed the glaze to be more, well, glaze-y. More like a thick sauce or almost a paste. Another thing I did was let the ham cook a little bit to open up the slits I carved in the top. That way, when I put the glaze on, it would stay more in the meat, and not so much on the bottom of the dutch oven.

I also cooked it a bit hotter. This was primarily because it was cold out, but I think that browned and crisped the top much better.

Anyway, here it is.

Mark’s Honey Mustard Ham in the Dutch Oven

12” shallow Dutch Oven

14-15 coals above and below

  • 1 ham, not so big, maybe 3 lbs or so
  • Quite a few whole cloves
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • ~ 1/3 cup mustard
  • ~ 1/2 cup honey
  • Liberal shakes of:
    • Grated Parmesan Cheese
    • Coarse ground black pepper
    • Celery salt
    • Chopped, dried parsley

First, fire up some coals, and let them get white and hot.

I started by putting the ham in the dutch oven and checking to see that it was below the lid. Then I sliced the diagonals across the top, and put the cloves into the slices.

Once the coals were ready, I put the ham on.

Mixing the sauce was a bit tricky. I started with the soy sauce, and kept adding mustard and honey and stirring until it was thick. I went much heavier on the honey, but I was also pretty liberal with the mustard. The amounts shown here are approximate. Then, add the spices. The parmesan also helped thicken it a little.

Since it was cold outside, it took quite a while for the oven to get warmed up and begin cooking the ham. Once the slices on the top started to open up, I poured on the sauce. Then, every twenty minutes or so, I’d open it up, scoop some sauce up and pour it back over the meat. I could see it stayed on a lot more, and it really seeped into the slices.

I’ll bet it cooked for about an hour to an hour and a half

While that was cooking, I made Creamy Potatoes and Peas, from this recipe (minus the bacon).

When it was all about 20 minutes from done, Brendon came out with a can of crescent rolls he wanted to cook, so we put another oven on the coals (actually, we stacked it on top of the ham oven), and baked those. It was a great meal. The peas and potatoes were great, but the ham was the star. Wow!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dutch Oven Pizza in the Rain!

Normally, I cook on Sundays. But on Fridays, I come home from work early. And on this particular Friday, I was kinda hankering to cook something on the back porch in the dutch ovens. As I drove home, I was a little bit deterred by the drops of rain on my windshield, and the “wikk, wikk, wikk” of my wipers. But I decided to go for it anyway.

I didn’t want to do anything complex, or fancy this time. I decided on pizza. It had been a really long time since I’d last done that. In fact, as I recall it was another rainy day, I believe, last March or so when I did it. Jodi’s not a big fan of pizza, so whenever I suggest it, she comes up with other ideas. But she’s working late tonight.

So, I stopped off and bought some supplies. Pepperoni, canadian bacon, mozzarella, olives…

The first thing I did, of course, was to mix up the crust so it would start to raise. Here’s the recipe I used: It’s actually the same one I posted a long time ago as “GIGO Pizza.” The fundamental concept of that recipe still holds true.

Dutch Oven Gigo Pizza

2x 12” dutch ovens
8 coals below
16 coals above

(In this case, because of the rain, I did the coals differently)

The Crust

  • 1 ½ c. warm water
  • 1 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • ~4 c. Flour

I started by putting the yeast in some of the warm water to let it foam up. My experience has shown me that things tend to raise very slowly or poorly in my house (could be the altitude), so I do a little sprinkle extra of yeast.

Mix the other ingredients in a bowl, add the water and the yeast, and knead it into a ball. I also put in a little extra sugar to help the extra yeast along. Use the last bit of flour to adjust the smoothness of the dough. Not too dry, not to sticky. You might not use exactly 4 cups. I sprayd the bowl with cooking spray, put the dough ball in it, and then sprayed the top of the dough.

I set that aside to raise.

After about a half hour to 45 minutes of twiddling my thumbs and watching lame TV on the Disney Channel (my kids are home), I went outside and lit up about 50 coals or so. At that moment, it wasn’t raining, so I was doing OK. Once the coals were glowing, I scattered them into to groups and put two 12” dutch ovens on. I split a pound of mild Italian sausage between the two ovens, and let that start to brown. Pretty soon it was drizzling, so I put lids on the ovens.

In the meantime, I mixed up the sauce.

  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp celery salt
  • 1 Tbsp oregano (maybe a little more)

Actually, those amounts on the spices are estimates. Just go until it smells rich!

My timing was good. Just about the time that the sausage was browned, the dough had risen enough. I brought the dutch ovens inside and pulled the sausage out. In the bottom of each oven, now well greased from the sausage, I added some minced garlic (about a tablespoon), a bit of butter (about a tablespoon), and some generous shakings of celery salt.

I took the now-raised ball of dough, split it in half, and formed one half into the pizza flat. That went into the bottom of one dutch oven. The other half of the dough did the other dutch oven.

Onto that went the sauce and a thin layer of cheeses. I had bought one of those shredded Italian cheese blends, with mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, and romano. Mmmmmm….

Then, I piled on the food! The sausage, the Canadian bacon, the pepperoni, fresh sliced onions, olives! And finally, the whole thing gets layered under a pretty thick blanket of the cheeses. I was doing this all as fast as I could, since the coals were outside getting rained on.

So, I took the ovens back outside. I have this big round metal hood that’s designed to shelter dutch ovens, and so I decided to use it. I put about 12 coals in a circle, and put an oven on top of that. Then, I put about 14 coals on top of that oven. I stacked the second oven on top, and put about 14 coals on top of that one. Then the whole thing went under the hood.

After about 15 minutes, I unstacked them, turned them, and restacked them to distribute the heat more evenly. It was raining pretty steadily, but not heavily the whole time. Finally, after about 35 minutes, it was done! ...And it was snowing!

Dang yummy pizza, and very filling! There’ll be leftovers for lunches!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dutch Oven Sourdough Bread, The Adventure, Part III

I am so glad I wasn’t cooking for company last night. It was one of those days where it tastes OK, but it just didn’t come out quite right.

I did the sourdough bread. It cooked OK, but not great. Not fluffy like I wanted, even a tich doughy. For the dinner part, I made the salmon that I’d done at the cookoff last June. It wasn’t done right, either.

I think it has a lot to do with the weather. It was cold yesterday, and I thought I had compensated for that with some extra coals. But apparently it wasn’t enough extra coals. The rice and the veggies weren’t fully cooked, and the bread just didn’t work.

Well, and the bread took three hours to raise the first time, to get to the “double in bulk” part. And then, I’m supposed to let it raise again to “double in bulk”, but at that point I already had the salmon on the coals, and I wasn’t too interested in waiting another three hours. And, in the end, it didn’t really taste that sour. It had a good white bread taste, but not the tang I was hoping for.

So, I guess I’ll try again later. When I do, I’ll post the recipe and results.


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