Monday, February 23, 2009

Getting Sauced with the Chicken Cordon Bleus

This last weekend, I got schooled.

That's OK, though, it was a good thing!

My father was in town (from Indiana), and he was just visiting for a short time. Whenever he and/or mom are here in Utah, we always get together with my sister and Brother-in-law. Well, I've mentioned before that they are both great chefs and have worked in restaurants and are just plain incredible cooks. Amazing.

Well, when we get together on Saturday for lunch, I started talking to him about cheffery and asking him about how to shop for knives, and stuff. Somehow we get talking about sauces. I mentioned my disaster with the alfredo sauce I tried to make lo, these many months ago. Then he talks me through the whole process, beginning with making a roux to start with.

So, the next day, since they're coming over for dinner, I decide to do a chicken cordon bleu recipe, and make a cheddar cheese sauce using his instructions.

Well, they came out in time to see me put it all together, and he stepped me through the process. So, now I can do sauces and thick cream soups without fear!

But first, the chicken cordon bleu recipe

Dutch Oven Chicken Cordon Bleu

12" Dutch Oven

10 coals below
20 coals above (slightly less in warmer weather)

  • 3-4 lbs boneless chicken breasts (thawed)
  • a Brick of mozarella cheese, sliced
  • A small block of cured meat (usually ham, but this time I used pastrami - turkey pastrami, since my brother-in-law's jewish and won't eat pork)

  • A bowl full of well-crushed bread crumbs
  • Liberal shakes of
    • salt
    • black pepper
    • crushed cayenne pepper
    • thyme
    • sage
    • And a little more salt and cayenne...

I started by mixing all of the spices in the second set of ingredients into the bread crumbs on a paper plate. Then, I pounded a chicken breast until it was spread out and flat. I put a slice of Mozarella in the center, and then a pretty thick slice of pastrami over that. If you get your pastrami pre-sliced, you'll probably want to fold over a couple of slices. Then I folded the edges of the pounded-out chicken over it. The cheese and the pastrami were small enough that I could fold the chicken around it and not have to secure it with a toothpick.

Then I picked it up, dredged it in the crumbs and spices, and put it into the bottom of an oiled dutch oven. Just as a side note, I used some of my chili and onion flavored oil!

I had a lot of chicken breasts, so I ended up packing them in there pretty tight.

Then, I just took them out and put them on the coals. I probably baked them for about 40 minutes or so.

I also took my 10" dutch oven and made some rice with some chicken stock, some lemon juice, and some chopped green onions (don't forget the salt and pepper)

The Sauce

8" Dutch Oven

A whole buncha coals below

  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1 full stick of butter

  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons roux
  • a sprinkle of nutmeg
  • a few pinches of salt
  • about 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese, maybe more.

We started by making the roux. Now, there are lots of different kinds of roux. Some are runny, some are cooked longer and are darker, but the one my bro-in-law taught me was pretty thick and very light.

First, he had me put a full stick of butter in the 8" dutch oven, on the coals. Once it had melted, we added a bit more than 1/2 cup of flour, and stirred it with a whisk. It almost had the consistency of sugar cookie dough. It would hold together as I was stirring it, but then would slowly flatten out when I stopped. I cooked it until it was a little darker than when it started, but still blonde.

We pulled that completely out of the dutch oven, and set it aside in a bowl. Since we didn't know just how thick we wanted the sauce to be, we were going to add it in later.

Then we put in the milk and the cream and set it to boil, with the nutmeg sprinkled in. Once it was boiling, we started adding roux, maybe a little under a tablespoon at a time, stirring it in with the whisk. In no time, we'd found the magic amount to get the right thickness. The rest of the roux, by the way, is sitting in my fridge, awaiting the next meal!

Then, as it boiled again, we added the cheese. This time, the cheese melted, and bonded with the flour, and it made a great sacue. It didn't "break" and end up in a coagulated clump in the bottom of the dutch oven. We added some salt to taste, and away we went! We also added some of the chicken stock from the bottom of the cordon bleu dutch oven, too! Yum!

So, the full meal was: The Chicken Cordon Bleu, on the rice, with the Cheese Sauce on top. The chicken and the rice would have been great by themselves, but that sauce really took it to a whole new level. It really made the meal! And it was very simple.

And then, he explained some other things, like, with that same base, but with more milk, and sauteed mushrooms, onions, and celery, you have cream of mushroom soup! With tomatoes, you have cream of tomato soup! With asiago and parmesan cheese, instead of cheddar, you have alfredo sauce. And so on, and so on... Sauces and soups from the same base. Amazing!

I also served it with some sourdough bread. It was the tastiest Chicken Cordon Bleu recipe I'd tasted, and certainly the best one I'd ever made.

It also goes to show that learning to cook in a dutch oven is really all about learning to cook. In a dutch oven.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

There is a Season, Turn, Turn, Turn...

The other day, as I was cleaning my dutch ovens, I realized that one of them was loosing its patina.

For those that are new to dutch oven cooking, the "patina" is that deep, rich black coating that builds up on a dutch oven over time. it keeps the iron from rusting, and keeps the food from sticking. I'm dead serious when I say that a well-seasoned dutch oven is a better non-stick pan than most teflon.

The patina is made from carbonized oils. The heat bakes layer after layer of carbonized oil into the pores of the iron. I've also read that it makes for better heat transfer from the pot to the food.

But for some reason, the patina on this particular dutch oven was flaking off. That's a bit of a problem, but not too much. See, if the teflon flakes off of your skillet, you throw it away or give it to the Goodwill. If the patina flakes off your cast iron, you just remake it.

So, that's what I'd decided to do. Now,I wrote about this a while back, but I didn't have any pictures. So, I made sure that I took some this time.

Here are a couple of shots of what it looked like before:

And this is what it looked like during the process:

And here is my end result:

It occured to me as I was seasoning the oven and thinking about writing this blog post that one of the reasons why the oven needs more seasoning is because of the way that I put my ovens away. I've heard of a lot of different ways of cleaning and storing the dutch ovens.

My method is to scrape out the food (not too difficult, since it's so non-stick), then spray it off with very hot water. I'll sometimes scrub with a plastic-bristle brush. I'll wipe it off with paper towels. Then, while it's still somewhat hot, I'll spread a ery vthin layer of oil (usually canola), over the whole surface, and put it away.

I've heard of ovens going rancid with the oil, but then that's usually because of longer term storage, and I'm using these things like every other week, some of them weekly or even twice a week.

I've heard of people cleaning them out and then reheating them. I even saw one friend of mine scrub his out with salt granules. I was amazed to see that it worked really well!

What do you do? How do you clean and put away your ovens? Help me out, here...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dutch Oven Spicy Turkey

I tried an experiment today. I wanna say that it worked, but only sorta. I had a really hard time with the coals today and so when it looked done it wasn't.

But the experiment was the seasoning rub paste that I made up from scratch in my head. Yep. it's all mine! Not copied from someone else, not adapted from someone else, but mine! And wow, it tasted GREAT. At least, on the part of the breast that was done...

But I'm not going to beat myself up over that.

I got some good pictures, too!

Mark's Dutch Oven Spicy Turkey

14" Dutch oven

11-14 coals below
20-25 coals above

  • 1 9-12 lb turkey hen
  • 1/2 Tbsp Cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 Tbsp Paprika
  • 1/2 Tbsp Tbsp Salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp Pepper
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • A handfull of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 4-5 Green onions, chopped, up into the green
  • 2 tsp Cumin
  • Oil, to make a paste
I started by thawing the turkey. When I opened up the package, I drained it to be as dry as possible. Then I greased the interior of the dutch oven, and put the turkey in.

I got a small bowl and mixed in all of the ingredients in a second set. The amounts I listed here are approximate. I just grabbed them and shook.

I poked some holes in the skin, and then smeared the paste all over the top surface. I also spritzed some oil over the top of it all. Then I put it on the coals.

At that point, the drama began. The coals were slow lighting, and it was tough to keep them on with enough heat. It normally takes about three hours to do a turkey like this, even in the winter.

But when it was all done (or at least when I thought it was), it looked great. And it tasted great, too.

I also made rye bread, but I'll write about that another day.


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