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Go Dutch with Lodge Cast-Iron Ovens

by Frank Ross

Dutch ovens are a fun way to cook, as well as a way to step back into the days of horse-drawn wagons and westward bound pioneers.

If you want to create a fun meal, and host an interesting dinner for friends that's sure to cause a stir, you need to go Dutch.

Dutch ovens are a great way to cook while camping.Although not thoroughly documented, the following is a commonly accepted theory behind the moniker of this vintage cookware. Reportedly, in the early days of America's westward migration, many European immigrants brought a stock of their traditional cast iron pots with them to sell, trade and barter. Since these particular immigrants were from Germany, and not Holland, (the common misconception) they were referred to as "Deutch." Over the years the name gradually got Americanized into Dutch, or Pennsylvania Dutch, because of the concentration of iron cookware in that region of our emerging nation.

Regardless of where the name came from, it stuck. This unique culinary tool is an ingenious way to cook all kinds of dishes including entrees, bread, and desserts. With the advent of Internet communities, there are numerous groups online that share information, recipes, and even hold national cooking competitions.

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Once you've made the decision to give Dutch ovens a try, there are a few things you need to know before you start to salivate over savory dishes.

What kind of oven should I buy?
While there are numerous brands in the market place; however, all are not created equally. It's best not to scrimp on this important decision. Cast iron pots vary in both quality of the cast, and thickness, not to mention one of the most important aspects - design. Lodge has been making cast-iron cookware since the late 1800's, and their quality solidifies their position as an industry leader.

Regardless of the brand you choose, you'll want a pot with a lid that is tight so that it will seal in the moisture and seasoning during the cooking process. You also want to buy a oven with a lid that has an open loop for a handle on the lid. Some ovens are made with a large solid tab, which is hard to grasp and handle during the cooking process.

What's all this talk about seasoning, I always use salt and pepper!
The term seasoning refers to the process of preparing the cast iron cookware for use. There are two objectives in this process, and their importance cannot be overlooked. The seasoning process coats the cookware to prevent rust and creates a natural, permanent, non-stick, cooking surface.

A selection of Dutch ovens.
A selection of Dutch ovens.

Seasoning is actually very easy, so don't be overly concerned. Seasoning is the process of allowing oil to be absorbed into the iron. This important first step when using cast iron will determine both the longevity and quality of meals prepared for years to come. With proper care, cast iron cookware will last a lifetime. Unlike modern, synthetically coated cookware, cast iron can be seasoned, and re-seasoned, which will restore its cooking surface.

Remember grandmother's black cast iron skillet? That's the way you want your oven to look eventually. Seasoning takes time and repeated use before your oven develops that shiny, black surface. A black, shiny skillet is a well-seasoned skillet. In essence, all you need to do is "oil the iron" and let it "cook".

Here's the way you go about it.
•Wash with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. Rinse and dry completely.
•Oil the cookware (inside and out) with MELTED solid vegetable shortening.
•Turn upside down on the top rack of a 350°F preheated oven.
•Put aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any excess drippings.
•Bake the cookware for one hour at 350°F.
•Let the cookware cool slowly in the oven.
•Store, uncovered, in a dry place when cooled.
•NEVER wash your cast iron cookware in a dishwasher.

A lid lifter will help <br /> prevent burnt fingers <br />and dropped lids.
A lid lifter will help
prevent burnt fingers
and dropped lids.

As described above, your new oven can be seasoned in your home oven, but you need to be aware that this process does create a certain amount of smoke. Be sure to turn on your stove's vent fan. If you'd rather not smoke up the kitchen, or if you've selected a size that's too large to fit in your oven, you can use a gas or charcoal Bar-B-Q grill as long as it has a lid.

With a charcoal grill, fill the bed with briquettes and place the oven on the grill. Replace the cover and leave it closed until all of the coals have burned out. For a gas grill, you'll want to "cook" the oiled oven at 400 to 500 degrees for at least 2 hours. Allow the oven to cool naturally.

If your oven develops rust spots, simply scour the spots with a steel wool pad and repeat the seasoning process. Should you detect a metallic taste or find black spots sticking to your food, then you've improperly seasoned you cookware or not cleaned it properly after use. Cast iron should never be used to store food. Remove meals as soon as they are cooked, and clean your cookware with hot water, soap and a heavy brush to remove all food. When storing, coat the surface with vegetable oil or a spray such as Pam, dry with a paper towel and store uncovered. There are also specially prepared formulas for cleaning, and preserving cast iron cookware.

A Dutch oven table makes life easier.
A Dutch oven table makes
cooking easier on your
back porch.

Some specialized accessories are necessary to cook with Dutch ovens. You've got a very large heavy pot, even without food, and when it comes off the fire it's very hot for a long time. In order to manage your oven properly, you'll need a way to turn and remove your lid and oven once the dish is done. A heavy-duty stand is also handy to insure that your lid doesn't get dirt on it, or set the grass afire during the cooking process.

Once you get into "Dutching", you'll want to consider a specially designed table to get your work away from stooping over an open fire. If you don't want to go the table route, how about a traditional tripod to suspend your oven in traditional cowboy fashion? Also, if you choose to serve your food fresh from the fire, don't forget to use a trivet.

Your dietician might cringe, but cooking a first meal that is greasy is highly recommended. Meats such as pork, bacon, hamburger, or chicken with the skin intact will enhance the initial seasoning process. Foods such as soups or stews have a high moisture and acid content and will have a tendency to remove the seasoning from a cast iron utensil. You need to avoid these types of recipes at first, or be aware your utensil may have to be re-seasoned after use.

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While cooking outdoors, you need to put coals on the top of the lid as well as the bottom, to insure an even heat. During the process, you need to rotate both the bottom of the oven 90 degrees in one direction, and rotate the lid 90 degrees in the opposite direction every 10-15 minutes. This will prevent hot spots and insure proper cooking throughout. Many Dutch oven recipes will specify exactly how many coals should be used in each instance.

The following recipe is a good one to start with. It has all of the elements, which will enhance the initial seasoning process, and is sure to bring you compliments from all corners of the table. Using a 12-inch Dutch oven, this dish will serve 4 hungry pioneers.

4 chicken breasts, boneless, with skin removed
1 12-ounce bottle of Lawry's Lemon Pepper Marinade
16 fresh asparagus spears
1 cup crab meat
4 medium mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
8 Tbs. shredded Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese mixture
8 slices of bacon
2 sandwich-size slices of Swiss or Mozzarella cheese
2 sandwich-size slices of American cheese
1 medium avocado
1 Roma tomato
2 Tbs. sliced almonds
1/2 Tbs. sesame seeds
Lawry's Lemon Pepper to taste
Lawry's Seasoned Salt to taste

Each breast should be butterfly cut, leaving the halves attached. Put them in a separate bowl filled with one half of the Lawry's marinade sauce and allow them to sit for at least 30 minutes.

Remove the marinated breasts and lay them open on a flat surface. Discard the used marinade. Sprinkle each breast with Lawry's Lemon Pepper and Seasoned Salt to taste. Place four asparagus spears on one half of each breast and spread 1/4 of the crab meat over the asparagus on each breast.

Next, distribute the mushrooms and onion slices evenly and garnish with a sprinkling of one tablespoon of shredded cheese. Fold over the remaining breast half to form a "sandwich", wrap them with two slices of bacon, and place them in the Dutch oven. To this succulent concoction, pour one-half of the remaining unused marinade over the top and sprinkle with sesame seeds and almond slices.

Cook at approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit. You can accomplish this by using 8-10 charcoal briquettes under the oven and 16-18 on top of the lid for about 45 minutes, or until meal is done. Don't forget to rotate the oven and lid between the layers of charcoal every 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the oven in one direction, and the lid in the other.

While the dish is cooking, cut each slice of cheese diagonally to create four triangles. Peel and slice the avocado and slice the tomato into round slices. When the dish is cooked, carefully remove each piece and present it on a serving platter. Atop each breast, arrange the four cheese triangles in alternating layers to create a colorful "V" or multiple chevron pattern.

Residual heat will melt the cheese slices. The final touches are the avocado and tomato slices on each breast. You can add a dash of the remaining marinade and sprinkle the shredded cheddar cheese over the top to make it totally irresistible.

Serve with your favorite side of rice or potatoes and fresh, hot rolls, then stand back and receive your well-earned accolades. You're now an unofficial Dutch oven aficionado, and it won't take many more meals to become both an expert and lifetime devotee to this marvelous cooking technique.