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Prairie Fare: Dutch Ovens Cook Delicious Meals in All Seasons

Early colonists widely used their Dutch ovens, and many considered them prize possessions.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Last summer, I tasted a variety of delicious foods prepared outdoors in Dutch ovens using white-hot charcoal briquettes as heat sources. You can cook everything from bread to stews, pot roasts, pizzas and cakes in a Dutch oven.

Ever since tasting that meal, I have wanted my own Dutch oven.

When I saw the cast iron cookware on sale recently in a department store, I couldn’t resist buying myself an early holiday gift. I stifled my initial thought of wrapping the box and putting it under our Christmas tree as a gift to me from one of my kids.

This was a family gift because everyone will enjoy the food generated from this cookware.

When I arrived home, I removed our Dutch oven from the box and admired its red enamel-coated exterior. Some people would term my cooking pot a French oven. My cooking pot is meant to cook food indoors in an oven or on a stovetop. The first thing I made was beef and vegetable stew.

Next summer, I may be adding the outdoor version of a Dutch oven to my cookware collection.

My modern version of a centuries-old cooking pot resembled the cookware my ancestors probably used as they settled in America. Unlike the wire bail handle of yesteryear, mine has a chunky knob on top.

To preheat the Dutch oven, my ancestors may have inserted their hand and counted to determine the temperature. Counting to five slowly equaled a 325-degree oven temperature. I just have to set the digital scale on my oven or turn the knob on my stove.

Cast-iron Dutch ovens were developed in the Netherlands and then imported to England. Early colonists widely used their Dutch ovens, and many considered them prize possessions. Lewis and Clark included Dutch ovens as part of the equipment on their explorations from 1804 to 1806.

Cast-iron Dutch ovens are almost indestructible. Before use, they require seasoning, which is a process where you spread oil over all the surfaces of the equipment and heat it in the oven to make it resist to sticking food. If a cast-iron Dutch oven becomes rusty, it can be sandblasted, cleaned and re-seasoned. Enamel-coated Dutch ovens require no seasoning.

When I remove my Dutch oven from my cupboard, I will need to use my muscles. These are not lightweight pots, but they’re prized for their ability to heat evenly. People on camping trips value Dutch ovens for their versatility. However, some campers choose to use aluminum versions that weigh less.

The outdoor versions of Dutch ovens have three legs and a cover with a concave section that allows you to spread coal underneath and on top. This allows you to create an outdoor oven to prepare a variety of foods.

One of the nutritional advantages of cooking in seasoned cast iron is the transfer of some iron to the food. Researchers have shown that some foods, especially acidic ones such as tomatoes and fruits, become higher in iron when cooked in cast iron.

Iron is needed to transfer oxygen around the body. The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia may include fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath and feeling cold. Too much iron, however, can be an issue, too. Be sure to let your health-care provider know if you experience any of these symptoms so you can have the appropriate medical tests and treatment if necessary.

Here’s a recipe from the Utah Extension Service that can be cooked in a Dutch oven or other large cooking pot. The Dutch oven is the state cooking pot of Utah as a symbol of the role it played in the lives of pioneers.

Beef Stew

2 pounds beef (1 1/2 inches thick)

1/3 c. flour

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. shortening

1/4 c. diced onion

1 clove garlic, minced

2 3/4 c. boiling water

1 c. canned tomatoes

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

4 medium potatoes, pared, quartered

1 large onion, peeled, chopped

1 small head of cabbage, chopped

10 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 10-ounce package frozen peas

Trim excess fat from meat and cut into cubes. Combine flour, salt and pepper and then cover meat cubes with the flour mix. Melt shortening in a Dutch oven (or other large, heavy pot), then brown meat on all sides. Add onion, garlic, water, tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce; cover. Cook on low until meat is fork tender. Right before adding the potatoes to the stew, peel and quarter. Add prepared cabbage, carrots and onion. Cook until tender. Shortly before serving, add peas and cook thoroughly. If desired, you can remove the vegetables and meat and thicken the gravy for the stew.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving has 410 calories, 15 grams (g) of fat, 35 g of protein, 33 g of carbohydrate, 7 g of fiber and 220 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Dec. 8, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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