Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Deconstructed Jambalaya Ham in a Dutch Oven

My father-in-law bought us a ham for Christmas dinner, and I was contemplating how to make it.  I’ve got a lot of ham recipes already, and I was tempted to just do one of those again.  But, I also thought about doing it differently.

To get some ideas, I browsed the web.  As I was doing a search, I saw a recipe for a jambalaya with ham chunks in it.  I looked it over, and thought I could deconstruct it.

“Deconstruction” is an interesting process that has gotten a lot of attention in the food world in the last few years.  The idea is that you begin with an idea for a well-known dish, then in your mind you separate out the ingredients one from another.  Then, you create a new dish, using those same ingredients in new and recombined ways.

In this case, the thought was to roast the ham with all the herbs and seasonings flavoring it.  Then, to combine all of the veggie ingredients around the ham, and to use the veggies and liquids as a baste to flavor the ham roast.

I was a bit nervous to do it.  My father-in-law is a very traditional eater, and I wasn’t sure how he’d go for it, and my wife was even less convinced when I explained what I’d be doing.  I decided to go ahead with it anyway.

Deconstructed Jambalaya Ham

14” Dutch oven

18 coals below
18 coals above

  • 1 8 lb ham, thawed
  • Liberal shakes of:
  • Salt 
  • Pepper
  • parsley
  • thyme
  • basil
  • bay leaves
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne (not as much, to taste)

  • 3 medium onions, diced
  • 3 sweet peppers
  • 4 med tomatoes, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

I started out with the thawed ham (which was a spiral cut, pre-cooked).  I cut it out of the package and put it into the 14” Dutch oven without letting it drain, to keep as much of the liquid as possible.  I mixed all of the seasonings in a bowl and mixed them up, then rubbed them all over the ham.  I put that onto the coals.

I waited only about a half hour to begin chopping up and prepping the veggies.  When they were all ready, I tossed them in around the ham.

I made sure that I had plenty of fresh coals ready to keep coming in from time to time from the side fire.

When the veggies had been in for a half hour or so, I began scooping the cooking veggies and liquids up and spooning it over the ham about every twenty minutes or so.  I also started thinking about a side dish.  I had the bread sculpture from the other day, and some salad, but I wanted a bit more variety.  I thought about doing some roasted seasoned potatoes.

Simple Dutch Oven Roasted Potatoes

10” Dutch oven

10 coals below
10-12 coals above

  • 4 large Potatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt 
  • pepper
  • paprika

I chopping up the potatoes, thin.  I poured the olive oil on them in the 10” Dutch oven, and added the seasonings.  I stirred it up well, and put it on the coals.

From then on, it was easy.  I just monitored the coals, and the temperature of the ham, and got it on the table when it was done.  The roast cooked for a total of about 2 ½ hours.

The verdict?  I loved it, my wife loved it, and even my father-in-law asked to take some home!


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

Monday, December 26, 2011

Decorative Dutch Oven Breads

When I was a little kid, one of our erstwhile Christmas traditions was to do bread sculptures.  Mom would make up a basic variant on a french bread dough, and after it had risen, we would shape it into Santa faces, or Christmas trees, or lots of other options.  Sometimes, mom would make up a big batch of dough and we’d make 6 or 7 fairly big Santas, and then we’d deliver them to some special friends.

I mentioned that memory to my mom in a phone call a few weeks ago.  We laughed and reminisced about it, and then I asked her for the recipe, which she rattled off from memory.  I jotted it down.

I really wanted to try something like that in my Dutch ovens this year.  I started to think about how to make it work in the circular shape of the oven.  I decided on some other designs, a sun and a moon shape.

Here’s how it happened:

Decorative Dutch Oven Bread

2x 12” Dutch Ovens
14-15 coals below (each)
18-22 coals above (each)

  • 2 Tbsp Yeast
  • 3 Cup water (110 degrees)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ Tbsp salt
  • 8 Cups fresh bread flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp oil
  • Egg to glaze

I started out by increasing the amounts in the original recipe by half.  I figured that doubling the recipe would be too much, and that the basic recipe wouldn’t be enough.  I wanted to do two Dutch ovens’ worth, so I adjusted it by 150%.  That gets the measurements listed above.

I mixed the water, the yeast and the sugar first, and let that sit for about 10 minutes, while I gathered the other ingredients.  As always, I reduced the amount of flour (only 8 cups) in the starting mix, and added more in the kneading.  I also sifted the flour.  Sometimes I do that, and other times, not, by my whim.  I sometimes think that it aerates the flour and makes it a little fluffier.  I heard a TV chef say that one day.  I dunno for sure.

I mixed the liquid and the powders, and stirred it all up.  I turned it out onto the floured tabletop, and kneaded, sprinkling on more flour.  Once it made a nice windowpane, I tucked it into a ball, oiled the bowl and put it in.  I also sprayed oil on the dough ball, and then covered it with a towel, to rise.

Once it had risen, I turned the big dough ball out onto my floured tabletop, with two Dutch ovens, sprayed with oil, next to it.  Mise en Plase...  Now, at this point, I should have gone out and lit up the coals.  If you try this, that’s how you should do it, I think.  I did it later in the process, and I think the dough over-rose.  It didn’t spring quite like I had thought it would.

I cut the dough into  quarters.  My plan was to spread a layer of dough all around the bottom, almost like a pizza crust (but without the rim).  That would be my “canvas”.  Then I would build the image on top of that.  I started with the sun.  I made a round circle in the middle for the face, then rolled the flares like clay snakes in between my hands.  Another few snakes made the eyebrows, the nose, and the smile.  A couple of balls, with a deep poke in the center with a finger, made the eyes.

Then, the moon.  I shaped a crescent, and then did an eyebrow, nose, lips and an eye the same way.  I also added a couple of stars to the left of the crescent.

At this point, I would have gone out and poured a lot of coals out on the two lids, to preheat.  While that’s preheating, I’d leave the art in the Dutch ovens to rise.  Also, set more fresh coals in the fire to start.

Once they’d risen a little bit more, and the lids got good and hot, I beat up a couple of eggs and spread them all over the sculptures.  I was pretty liberal, so it would help the thinner bits stay on.  Then, I put the Dutch ovens on and under the coals.  I marked the time, and went inside to rest.

It wasn’t freezing today, but it wasn’t exactly warm, either.  So, after about 15 minutes, I rotated the Dutch ovens, and added some coals.  I only added a couple on the bottom, and much more on top.  I lifted the ovens and tapped the ash off the coals.  I did the same with those on top.  I also inserted a short-stemmed thermometer.

Another 15-20 minutes and it was done!  I pulled them off and put them on cooling racks.

I was really excited with the results!  The sun turned out better than the moon (which I’m eating as I type this).


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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The History of the Dutch Oven

It's been exciting to see the progress that the publishing company has been making toward the release of the book.  I've learned a lot about how that works, and I can see why it takes so long!  My first book, to be titled, "The Best of the Black Pot" will be coming out in March!

I've been working hard on the second book, tentatively titled, "Learning to Cook in the Black Pot".  Here's an article (interesting, I hope) that I've excerpted from that manuscript.  Just a taste of things to come!

The History of the Dutch Oven

Much of what has been written about Dutch oven history is apocryphal, or at least legendary.  By that, I mean that many writers quote and cite each other as they go through the timeline.  I’m not going to be any different, honestly.  The important thing is not so much the dates, but to get an overall picture of the Dutch oven’s place in history, and to feel some connection to that as you cook. 

Well, really, when you think about it, you could cook just fine it the oven and never know that it even existed before a month ago, right?  But the more that you learn about its background and its life, the more it makes sense.  I find myself reading something and saying, “Oh!  THAT’s why they did it that way!”


After the stone age, people started hammering copper into shapes, and then, discovered that it could be blended with tin to make a whole new age, made out of bronze.  Pretty soon, they were heating and hammering iron out of the rocks and in the 11th century BC, they learned how to make things with wrought iron, and crude steels.

Then, in 513 BC, the Chinese discovered how to make a furnace hot enough to actually melt the iron down, and casting iron began.  Clever of those guys.  The Europeans didn’t figure that until about the 11th century AFTER Christ.  They may be slow, but they get there.

Cast iron pots and cauldrons were used to cook after that, and were even mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays (Like being used by the witches in MacBeth).

Late 1600’s

By this time, the Dutch had a pretty sweet system of making molds out of sand, and were putting out some good pots, pans, and other cast iron things.  These were, of course, being exported all over, particularly in England.  This is one of the theories behind why they are called “Dutch ovens” today.

Another theory is that the Dutch traveling traders spread the pots far and wide, and so people referred to them as “Dutch ovens”.


In 1704, an Englishman named went to The Netherlands to study their casting techniques.  He brought those skills back to England, worked on them some more, and got an English patent.  He began producing the cookware and distributing them in England and also in the colonies in America.  In Ireland, as well as other places, they were made with small points hanging from the underside of the lid.  As meats roasted, the steam would gather and drip down these points, giving the pot the name “bastible”.

In America, their practicality and versatility caught on very quickly.  They were perfect for hearth cooking, which is where almost all cheffery happened in homes.  They could roast meats, boil soups, and be used to bake breads and cakes.

Adjustments and improvements came in America, too, including the legs and lip around the lid to keep the ashes out of the food.  Paul Revere is credited with coming up with the idea for the lip, but I have never seen any mention of any real evidence of that fact.  It makes a good story, though.

Another theory about the name came from the fact that the ovens had been also brought over with Dutch immigrants who had settled in Pennsylvania.

In these days, cast iron cookware were considered to be very valuable, and, since they were also very durable, would be passed down from generation to generation.  George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, specified in her will how her “iron kitchen furniture” would be divided after her death.


In the early 1800’s, the United States was growing, and it was here that the Dutch oven truly became an American icon.  Lewis and Clark took Dutch ovens on their famous expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase. 

As the Pioneers moved west, in the Mormon migration as well, Dutch ovens crossed the plains with them.  On my mother’s side, there were several of these undefeatable souls who walked pushing handcarts all the way from Winter Quarters, on the east of Nebraska, to the Salt Lake valley, cooking their nightly meals in their Dutch ovens, fueled by burning dried buffalo manure.

I’ve read accounts where the wives would mix the bread dough in the morning, and put it in the Dutch ovens, and then in the carts, and by evening it would have risen and be ready to bake.

In the later 1800s, Dutch ovens were also vital parts of the the chuck wagons on the famous cattle drives of the west.


In the 1900’s, as the technology and affordability of indoor stoves and ranges increased, Dutch ovens fell out of use.  Cast iron was still popular, particularly the skillets.  Dutch ovens lost their legs, and became more of the range-top and roaster pots as they are popular now.

Still, Dutch ovens remained popular among campers, hunters, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

In 1985 the International Dutch Oven Society was formed, in Utah, “...with the goals to preserve and promote the skills and art of Dutch Oven cooking. From it's humble beginnings in the Rocky Mountains, IDOS has grown to its current status as the largest and most productive group of black pot enthusiasts in the world.”

2000 +

Dutch ovening as a hobby continues to grow.  A few adjustments to the traditional designs have been coming on in the last few years, even since the 1990s, including the “Ultimate Dutch Oven”, currently manufactured by Camp Chef, which features a hollow cone in the center of the oven to allow hot air to enter, convection style. Many Camp Chef ovens also include a small hole in the lip of the lid for the insertion of thermometers or thermometer leads.  Maca makes big, deep dutch ovens, many shaped in ovals to better accommodate large turkeys.

...And on a personal note, it was in 2007 that I first began blogging about my Dutch oven cooking experiences!

I find it interesting to reflect on the changes.  Now, we have glass-top ranges, microwave ovens, convection ovens, stoves that clean themselves, automatic timers, table top grills, panini makers, and a million other modern ways to cook.  A Dutch oven is delicious, nutritious, and wonderful.  But it’s not always the quickest or the easiest way to cook.  I cook in Dutch ovens because it’s my hobby and because it’s fun.  We have contests and parties that celebrate Dutch oven cooking.  In the back of my head, though, I keep the haunting thought: my ancestors used it to feed their families on a daily basis.

Over the years, the Dutch oven has developed into the thing that it is for very practical reasons: it worked.


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

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Making Gread Dutch Oven Sourdough, Part II

In the last posting, I covered the first two steps, the start, and the barm.  Now, we’re ready to move ahead to the sponge, and, finally, the dough!

Step 3: The Sponge (AKA: The Firm Starter)

At this point, I doubled the recipe, so I could make two loaves.  That way, I would have some to enjoy, and some to give away, if I wanted.  I’m going to post it straight, here, and you can double it if you want to.

⅔ cup barm
1 cup bread flour
about ¼ cup warm water, maybe more, enough to make a basic dough texture.

I mixed these ingredients together, stirring until all of the flour was combined in, and it was forming a ball.  I didn’t knead it, but I did end up mixing it with my hands a bit to add some more moisture and make sure it was incorporated.  I covered it in plastic wrap and put it aside, letting it ferment for a few more hours, until bedtime.  At that point, I put it in the fridge for a long, slow, cool, overnight rise.

Step 4: The Dough

On Sunday, I took the sponge out of the fridge pretty early in the day, and set it aside to come up to closer to room temperature.  I dumped it out onto my floured countertop and, using my bread cutter/scraper, cut it into about 10-12 pretty equally-sized chunks.  While those were still warming up, I got these other ingredients together into the bowl (remember that I was still doubling everything for two loaves, but this recipe is undoubled):

  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 ¾ cups water (warm/hot to the touch, like a good shower temperature)
  • The chunks of the sponge

I mixed all of these things together and dumped it all out onto the tabletop and began kneading.  As always, I added flour as I went, to make it the right consistency (not too sticky, not too stiff and dry).  After only about 15 minutes, it passed the windowpane test, and I kneaded a few more minutes just to be sure.  I oil-sprayed the bowl and set the ball to rise.

A few hours later, it had doubled in bulk (or so), and I pulled it out and shaped it into two boules (remember I had doubled it).

Now, this is where I did things a bit differently than I did before.  I had some cloth from an old shirt, which I sprayed with oil and dusted with flour.  I draped that cloth over a bowl and set the dough boule into the middle of the cloth.  I folded the cloth over the top of the dough and set it aside to proof.  I did this with my other boule, too.  You’ll see why in a bit.

After that had been rising for a few hours, I began preparing the Dutch ovens.  I lit up a lot of coals, and let them get nice and white on the edges.  I oiled the Dutch ovens and set them up with about 14-16 coals underneath them each, and 26-30 coals on top.  That’s right, I wanted these things to be HOT.

About a half hour later, when I could see that the ovens were good and hot, and the bread was nicely proofed in the bowls, it was all ready.  I brought the bread out to the ovens, set the Dutch oven lid aside, and upended the bowl, dropping the bread into the Dutch oven.  Quickly, I pulled off the cloth, and made some fast slices in the top (which was the bottom a few minutes ago), and closed up the lid.  Then I did the same thing for the other boule.

See, the whole “cloth in the bowl” thing made for easy transfer of the proofed bread to the fully pre-heated dutch oven.  I didn’t have to mess with parchment, and there was no lag time heating up the base of the Dutch oven or the air inside.

After about 15 minutes, I rotated the lid and the dutch oven, and replenished some of the coals, top and bottom.  I was very careful on the bottom coals.  I added some, but I’m always cautious in how many I add.  In this case, I put on four, one on each “side”.  Too many bottom coals can make for a heavy bottom crust.  I also lifted the lid and set the thermometer.  I have these short-stemmed meat thermometers that I really like.  It was hard to find them, but I’m glad I did.

In about another 15 to 20 minutes, I checked again, and they were done, to 200 degrees.  The top crusts didn’t brown very much, so I wasn’t sure if they were done, but the thermometers said so, so I brought them in.  I dropped them out of the Dutch ovens and onto cooling racks.  The thermometers came out pretty clean, so that was a good sign.  I just let them cool for a couple of hours while I cooked the split pea soup with the ham bone from Thanksgiving.

The bread, when I finally cut into it, was soft and delicious.  The crusts were soft, the bread was chewy and tasty, and done all the way through, it was perfect.  Like I said before, it was easily the best sourdough bread I’ve ever made.

So, here are the things that I learned:

First of all, a long, drawn-out process of multiple steps of fermentation helps all of the rich, complex flavors develop.  It really is worth it to take your time and not rush this process.  Look at the ingredients!   There’s nothin’ there!  No egg, no sugar, no oils, no herbs!  It’s just you, the wheat, and the germs!  Yet, if you let nature take its sweet time, you’ll get some seriously delicious bread.

Second, preheating the entire dutch oven made a big difference in the baking.  The cloth-covered bowl made this easy and practical.

This was definitely a major breakthrough in my bread-baking learning!


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

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Great Dutch Oven Sourdough

...And What I Learned Making It.

Up until last weekend, I thought I had a pretty good handle on breadmaking.  I thought, in particular, I understood sourdough breads.  Sadly, I was fooling myself.

Happily, I discovered this not by the tearful results of a colossal failure, which is usually my learning style, but by the delicious tangy taste of success.  A pair, in fact, of successful sourdough loaves that continue to tantalize me, even days later.

I can calmly say that these were the best sourdough loaves I have baked.


See, I’ve done sourdough breads before, but none of them had that strong tang I was looking for.  There were some wonderful loaves, and some who said, “I don’t really like sourdough, but I love this bread!”  Of course, that wasn’t really what I wanted to hear.  I wanted to be able to taste it and have it zing! in my mouth.

This one gave me the zing!

The success was not at all in the recipe, either, but in the process, and that is what I learned.

I began by, once again, studying “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”, by Peter Reinhart.  This is truly an amazing book.  I would strongly recommend it for anyone who is wanting to learn how to bake bread, even if you’re going to bake it in a Dutch Oven, instead of a conventional, or even a commercial oven, as the book describes.

There were a lot of stages, and even though a lot of time was spent in each stage (about a week and a half, total), and even though I didn’t really fully understand the need for each stage, I did each one faithfully, from start to barm to sponge to dough.  I learned that it was the long ferment times in each stage that gave the bacteria time to develop the flavor.  The flavor, I’ve learned comes from both the natural yeast (which develops the bready flavors), and the other bacteria that grow and live in the bread (creating the acidy tang).  Long fermentation times (raises) allow both flavors to deepen to their fullest.

OK, so here we go:

Step 1: The Start - The Seed Culture

First, we catch the wild yeast.  I began by putting an amount (about a cup) of flour in a bowl (that’s not a reactive metal, plastic worked fine), along with an equal amount of relatively warm water.  I stirred it up, and adjusted the mix until it was pretty goopy, almost runny.  I set that aside, uncovered.  I set it in a very prominent and visible place in the kitchen, and alerted all in the house that it was NOT to be thrown away, no matter how gross it looked.

For the rest of the days until I caught the germs, every time I walked past it, I grabbed a fork and stirred it up.  This helped keep the crust that formed across the top mixed in.

Once a day, I fed the start.  By that, I mean that I scooped out about half the gunk that was the start and rinsed it down the drain.  Then I added another amount of flour and water, just like before, and stirred the whole thing up.  I did this for several days.  I kept seeing a few bubbles form, and I would think that it was getting germy, but it wasn’t very much.  I assumed that it was just the rising air bubbles that were formed when I stirred it up.

Finally, day after day, the perseverance paid off.  One morning, it was bubbly.  Not just a few bubbles, but frothy.  Just to give it extra time, I fed it the same as I had done each day before and gave it one more overnight.  I had caught my seed culture, and made my start.  That was on Friday.

Step 2: The Barm

The Barm is another step of fermentation.  I’m honestly not sure what the difference is or why this step exists, but I did it anyway.  I’m sure that the long fermentation times have a lot to do with it.

1 ½ cups bread flour
About 1 cup starter
About 1 cup warm water (enough to make it goopy and gooey)

I mixed these up in the morning on Saturday, and covered it with plastic wrap.  By afternoon it was expanded and bubbly.  I let it go a bit longer, into the evening, and I stirred it up again.  Finally, it was ready for the sponge stage.  If I’d had more days, I would have put it into the fridge, overnight, and made the sponge the next day.  But the next day was Sunday, and that was the day I’d planned to bake it.  So, after much internal debate, I had to shorten it.

Stay tuned, the next step is coming right up!


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


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