Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dutch Oven Basics: Beef Stew with Everything

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine and I were talking, and he asked me to give him some good simple recipes. Apparently his church group was having a dutch ovening event, and he wanted to get in on it. He wanted something that was delicious, even fancy-tasting, but not difficult to pull off. Not so overwhelming for a novice chef.

That got me thinking. I know a lot of really good, really simple recipes and I ought to put together a series of posts on them.

I did some digging and came up with some recipes in three categories:

  • One-pot, one-step meals: These are dishes that are full and hearty, and simple to do. You assemble the ingredients right in the dutch oven, and put it on the coals and cook it. Simple, clean, easy.
  • Two-step meals: These are dishes that have an extra preparatory step. You might have to brown the meat before adding all the other ingredients, for example. You might have to cook something in one pot, then add more to it for the final cooking.
  • Easy breads: Breads have lots of steps, and are tricky to cook. So I made a category of their own for this.

Even though I’m trying to keep things simple, I’m also trying to make them as much “from scratch” as possible. It’s easy to pour ingredients from cans and heat them up, but I find it much more satisfying to go deep and make it as much on my own as possible.

I also want to dispel the idea that “simple” is “bland”. You can still take easy dishes with few steps and with some cool spices and flavors, make them really elegant and special.

So, my plan is, over the few months or so, to do a lot of these dishes from these categories. I’ll share them here, obviously, and hopefully, give the dutch oven beginners a chance to find some yummy things to cook, and even impress their friends with. I’m also hoping that we can get some dialog going on here. I’m hoping that some of the dutch oven chefs with some real experience will also pop in and add their ideas in the comments. Hopefully we can all learn, here.

So, the first entry is: Dutch Oven Beef Stew with Everything!

12” Dutch Oven
18-20 coals below

  • 2 capfuls (or shakes) of oil
  • 1-2 lbs stew beef
  • 2 medium to large potatoes, quartered and sliced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 sweet peppers, chopped. (I like to choose a green and one of a different color, like red or yellow. It adds color and a slightly different flavor)
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 1-2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded, cored, and sliced.
  • ½ tbsp crushed bay leaves (or crumble a few whole leaves)
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • ½ tbsp thyme
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • Some liberal shakes (maybe 1/6 cup) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 14 oz can beef broth
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tbsp flour (added at the end)

This is one of those in category one. A one-pot, one-step meal. Sometimes I call these "dump meals", because you just dump it all in the dutch oven and cook it!

I started by lighting up about 25 or so coals. While those were heating up, I came back inside. I put a little bit of oil at the bottom of the 12” dutch oven, with the stew meat. Then I started chopping and slicing veggies. I just added everything into the dutch oven directly, stirring it up as I went. You can really make this with just about any veggies you happen to have in the fridge. I think the only ones that are “required” are the potatoes and the onions. Well, maybe the carrots.

Then, with all the veggies in, and the meat in, I poured in the can of broth, and added the salt and pepper. I’d keep adding salt and pepper throughout the cooking process.

It doesn’t really matter what order you put things in. It’s all going into the same pot, and then it gets added to the heat.

…Which was the next step. I took it outside onto the front porch (it had looked like rain, and my froth porch is covered). I spread out about 18 to 20 coals on my cooking area (a small metal table), and set the dutch oven on top of it. Within 15 to 20 minutes it was boiling, and so I removed a few coals (maybe 4 or so), to reduce the heat a little. I still had some coals going in my side fire, and I would add some to it from the bag from time to time to be able to have hot ones to replenish the ones under the dutch oven.

Every half hour or so, I’d open it up and stir it. Having that much liquid, and cooking mainly from the bottom makes this dish an easy one to learn on, since regulating the heat isn’t that tricky. As the coals die down, add new ones from your side fire. The total cooking time was probably an hour and a half to two hours. My gauge is the potatoes. When they’re done, I’m safe, and I cook it a bit longer just for more flavors.

Just at the end, I added the flour as a thickener. I imagine that I could have added it at the beginning, and it probably would have been OK, but I think it maintains the thickness better. I’ve heard that tapioca powder is a really good thickener, and it can be added at the beginning.

This is a yummy basic stew. To pick this up a bit, and take it to another level, put the dutch oven on the coals with just the oil. Let it heat up a bit, then brown the meat, the onions, the garlic, and the mushrooms. Then add everything else. Also, when you serve it, garnish it with a few crumbs of feta cheese!


  1. Adding flour by itself can cause lumps. Try mixing a little flour with equal parts of oil in a skillet. This is called a Roux. There are 3 kinds, the blonde roux, which is cooked until golden brown, the brown roux, which is cooked until brown (the cereals in the flour start to cook, making it brown) and a brick roux, which is cooked until the color of an old red brick. Brick rouxs are used in cajun cooking. I learned about all this in a dutch oven book my wife gave me for Father's Day.

    Cornstarch adds no flavor to the dish, and will dissolve without needing to be mixed with oil.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion! Making a roux IS a great way to create a thickener. It can be a bit tricky to get the heating right, so I didn't use it in a beginner recipe. If you use flour or cornstarch as a thickener, one way to prevent the lumpiness is to mix it with some water until there are no clumps, and then add that to your broth.

  3. Hello Mark, I just used this recipe for my first run at dutch oven cooking since I was a boy scout about 12 years ago! This was a great starter recipe and it turned out very well. We altered the recipe a little bit and did the added steps of browning the meat and onions(by the way you forgot the onions in your ingredient index). I have enjoyed your site and will continue reading it. Captain Rad



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