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Having reviewed my folding woodburner, I feel it only right to introduce you to another favourite item of mine- The Dutch oven. I own three of these in total, two were second hand and this one was bought for me new as a gift. It is a 4.25 litre, solid cast iron traditional Dutch oven, which has the correct three bottom feet and flat lid with a lip for the hot coals. It comes complete with a camping tripod so that you can cook over fire.
WHAT IS A DUTCH OVEN?
A Dutch oven is a very heavy cooking pot with a close fitting lid. They have been used as cooking vessels for hundreds of years and little has changed in their design over the years. In the UK we would know them as a type of "Casserole" however a true Dutch oven will always have the distinctive lid shape and feet.
I have also learnt that a Dutch oven is a sexual practice but I do not recommend that you google this....
These are truly one of the most versatile cooking vessels out there. Not only can they be used in all manner of ways when camping/ cooking outdoors, they are equally at home in the kitchen. The can be placed on direct fire ie hot coals, hung from a camping tripod on a chain over a fire, shoved in an aga/oven in the kitchen etc. The lid can even be reversed and used as a frying pan. Such is the versatility of this piece of cooking equipment, it really is a great item to own. They weigh a small ton, last forever of cared for, and will serve you well.
LET'S GET COOKING:
This one is sold on Amazon and is produced for "Ronnie Sunshines", a company who sell all manner of camping and outdoor equipment including jerry cans and axes. As I said, I was given this one but due to the fact it is 4.25 litres (medium size), I would have chosen this anyway.
This Dutch oven is a heavy monster. It measures 40cm across the top. Made from solid cast iron, it is very good quality. As with all traditional Dutch ovens, this has three legs and a clever lid design, which enables you to cover the whole thing with hot coals to keep it nice and hot for cooking.
The tripod that comes with this enables you to cook with it hanging on the chain over the fire. It is sturdy and strong yet light enough to lug about.
It has a fairly typical wire handle which is thick and has a good balance to it. The whole set up feels secure, despite the somewhat spindly looking tripod legs.
It is important to wash your Dutch oven first and then to season it. This is leasted as "seasoned" but I prefer to do it myself. Most cast iron products come with a protective wax coated on them to keep them from rusting . All you need to do to remove this is to use very hot water and washing up liquid. Scrub it well and it will be ready for the next step.
Ensure that your oven is very dry after washing and then season it immediately. Cast iron is a wonderful thing to cook with but it is very prone to rust as it is porous. By seasoning it you are basically filling those porous holes with oil to stop the rust eating it away. Once heated the oil turns to carbon which fills up the fine holes in the iron and ensures that it is non stick. It sounds like a faff but it is very easy and once you have done this once you will do it again as routine.
I seasoned mine, as I do all cast iron items, using vegetable oil and the kitchen oven. There is plenty of info online about how to do this in detail. Pre-seasoning it is important, it will protect it and ensure that you get many years of use from it.
There is a good article about seasoning these here:
Be aware that doing this indoors will stink, so open the windows! You can also do it over a fire outside. I have used and re-seasoned mine many times now and it is as good condition as when I was given it, so this is a long lasting product.
I have used this in all types of ways, over a fire, buried in a fire pit etc, and each time it has cooked well. Do not expect fast results for a stew type dish, but when the lid is used as a frying pan it is much faster. The benefit of one of these is that you can shove all of your ingredients in and then place it in the fire. You then cover it in hot coals/ ash and let it do its thing. It is easy cooking, from a heat source that you would be using anyway.
It is a very sociable item, perfect for festival cooking or gatherings, where the camp fire is the focal point. They look great when hung from a chain on a camping tripod and work well however you choose to use them. I have found the non stick capacity to be very good, even when frying. It responds well to a stiff brush up in hot soapy water (although you are not really supposed to do this - see below).
Ensure that they are dried well and then re-coated with oil afterwards.
CARE AND CLEANING:
Even a rusty Dutch oven can be salvaged. You can sand them down, use wire wool to remove rust and then re-season them as you would a new pot. I clean mine with a stiff brush and hot soapy water but if doing this you will need to seal it with oil when dry and re-season it all over again. If you do not wish to do this, then hot water and a scrub will suffice.
Metal utensils should not be used for cooking as they can damage the carbonised seasoning, instead use plastic or wood.
Normal use of a Dutch oven will build up an oil layer which feels a bit like wax. This is totally normal and is beneficial to the pot. Although this pot is tough as old boots in many respects, cast iron is brittle. If you drop it on a hard surface then it is likely to break. A crack can also happen if you pour cold water into a very hot pot. If you need to add water when cooking, then it is best to use boiling water.
SO WHAT SHALL WE EAT?
You can make "no knead bread" in a Dutch oven, popcorn, slow cooked casseroles and curries, chilli works well and you can also fry in them on a wood burner or fire top. Risotto's come out very well as do things like stuffed peppers. We have even managed an apple crumble in one of these, cooked whilst on the beach, over a fire with the tripod. Once you become confident in using one of these, it is possible to make gingerbread and biscuits in it.
Tomato based recipes can shred the seasoning off of a Dutch oven so take care to re-season afterwards. There are lots of recipe sites for Dutch ovens all over the internet but the bread one deserves a mention of its own.
The "No knead bread" recipe is here (and I can vouch that it is really good):
Dutch Ovens are available all over the net. The Le Crueset range are similar but without the feet, Ikea have some and of course there are many in specialist camping stores. They range in price but a good one will be initially expensive. These things do last forever though so it is an investment, especially if you like outdoor cooking or slow cooking at home. A true Dutch oven will have the three feet and be solid enough to cope with direct contact on open coals, including the placement of coals on the lid to enclose it in heat.
How long is a piece of string? The price of these varies enormously. This one costs £58.97 on Amazon for the 4.25 litre size with tripod.
More info available here:
A super pot for all types of cooking, especially suited to outdoor adventures. This one is very well made, solid and cooks efficiently. The tripod is a big bonus too. I believe it to be great value for money despite the initial outlay.