Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Eve Dinner in the Dutch Ovens, Part I

Betty Crocker Christmas CookbookLast week, on the 24th, I made a big dutch oven Christmas dinner.  I cooked most of the morning, and served it up as sort of an early dinner/late lunch at about 3:00.  It was a lot of fun.  I didn't quite pull it all together as I would have liked, but it was still delicious.

I made a ham, what I called "Wassail Ham", Au Gratin Potatoes, and a Sandwich Loaf.  Actually, the bread did come together exactly as I wanted it to, but I'll talk about that later.

So that I don't have to write the equivalent of the Encyclopedia Galactica here in a single blog post, I'm going to break the dinner up into three separate recipe posts.  First, the potatoes, then the ham, and finally, the bread.  There's plenty of interesting stuff that happened on all three.

OK, so here we go!

Dutch Oven Au Gratin Potatoes

12" Dutch oven

15-20 coals below during phase 1
12 coals each above and below during phase 2

  • 1 lb bacon
  • flour to make a roux

  • 1-2 medium onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 4-5 medium potatoes, quartered and sliced
  • 1 pint of cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt
  • pepper

  • 1-2 handfuls grated cheddar cheese
  • fresh parsley

  • a little more cheese

I had actually done Au Gratins a time or two before, using different recipes and processes, but the last time (which was also the most successful) didn't get written up here in the Black Pot, for some reason.  Anyway, here it is.  As an overview of the steps, the first is to crispy fry some bacon pieces, then to use the resulting grease to make a roux.  Then you sautee some onions and veggies, and finally add the potatoes and the dairy.

Here are the details:

First, I took a package of bacon and cut it into 1 inch squares.  I got that in a dutch oven over some hot coals and set it frying.  It took a while, because I wanted them to be nicely crisp.  Crisper, even, than I like it for breakfast.

Once that was done, I pulled out the bacon, and also a little bit of the grease.  Then I started adding flour, a tablespoon at a time, to the remaining grease in the pot to make a roux.  I added it slowly, because I was looking for a particular consistency.  I wanted it to be just a little softer than cookie dough.  I think I used about a half cup.  I stirred that to cook it a bit, but not too much.  I still wanted a lighter roux.  When that was ready, I pulled it out.  That was, of course, way more roux than I would need for the dish, but that's OK.  It's nice to have extra when you need it.  It keeps in the fridge for quite a while.

Then, I reheated that extra bit of reserved grease, and threw in the onions and the garlic to sautee.  If I'd thought of it that day, I might have added celery and some green bell peppers.  Maybe some mushrooms, too.

Once those were nice and brown, I added in the bacon, the potatoes (which I had been slicing up while everything else was preparing), then the cream.  I added the milk because I was out of cream and still felt like it needed more liquid.  If you have enough half and half, just use that.  Then, the salt and pepper.  I was pretty liberal with those, too.

I let all that cook for a bit, until the potatoes just started to get soft (sort of an "al dente" feel).  Then, I opened it up and started adding roux, about a tablespoon at a time.  I stirred it in, and then continued stirring for a few moments while I watched the consistency change.  If you just start dropping it in, you'll probably add too much and it will get too thick.  I kept adding it until it felt like a sauce, a thick gravy, instead of a milky liquid.

Once the potatoes felt pretty much done, I added the cheese and the parsley.  Stir it all in, and it will get nice and gooey.  The roux will keep the cheese melty instead of all clumpy and coagulated (when that happens, they say it "breaks").  The final step is to add a layer of cheese to the top and let it melt.  At that point, in fact, you could take it off the coals altogether and let the residual heat in the dutch oven melt the cheese.  Serve it up!

Stay tuned for part II: The Wassail Ham!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: A New Song: "Alleluia"!, How to Optimize Your Website,

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