It’s traditionally thought of as the crockery of cowboys, commandeered by a rotund and red-cheeked, aproned man affectionately called “Cookie” by hungry, dusty cowpokes gathered around an open fire.
But more often than not, Dutch ovens are being hovered over by Mom and may even be on your stove.
Sure, the Boy Scouts learn how to use them at camp, but nostalgic chefs of all makes and models are re-learning the techniques of Dutch-oven cooking that result in a smoky-flavored, undeniably home-cooked style of eating that is unique and portable.
Paul Revere is said to have been one of the early manufacturers of Dutch ovens in America and Lewis and Clark carried them on their cross-country expedition. Many of the early pioneers and mountain men counted on the pot to cook their meals, and they inspired outdoor adventure groups like river rafters, trail guides, the scouts, ranchers and hunters to use them as well.
Foodies call it an art form, and people lucky enough to have partaken of a meal prepared by river guide and author of The Outdoor Dutch Oven Cookbook, Sheila Mills, swear that she is an artist.
Mills and her husband David have operated Rocky Mountain River Tours since 1978. Thousands have enjoyed their travels down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River for their unique hosts’ company as well as the cooking.
The demand for her secrets motivated the outdoorswoman with a degree in home economics to produce a series of cookbooks.
“I think most people like to try something new,” she says in the introduction to one of her Dutch oven cookbooks. “Buy a Dutch oven, try these recipes, and then adapt them to create your own meals.”
Says her husband Dave, “I am lucky to have her as a partner. She is always trying to push the envelope. The Middle Fork changes so much every year, so we try and stay interesting as well. We aren’t going to have crystal platters on the river, but we are going to have exceptional food worthy of being served on them.”
In fact, the staff of their river tours comes from diverse educational backgrounds and interests that support that high ideal.
“We are like family. Our guides have real jobs and our clients stay with us until they are on canes,” says the effervescent and unstuffy Dave Mills. “We have doctors, and bilingual world travelers at the helm, all of whom are there for the right reason. They know good food, good wine and they are there to have a great time.”
Dutch Oven Cinnamon Rolls
Oil a bowl for rising, and set aside.
Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl. Add honey and stir until dissolved. Add oil and salt and stir well. Add flour one cup at a time, mixing until you have a stiff dough. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Shape dough into a ball.
Place the dough in oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Let rise for about 2 hours, until doubled in size. Divide risen dough in half.
On lightly floured board, roll out each half into a 1⁄4-inch thick rectangle. Brush each rectangle with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter.
Melt the two sticks of butter in the bottom of a 9” x 12” baking pan or two Dutch ovens. Sprinkle with 1⁄4 cup brown sugar (1/8 cup in each Dutch oven).
In a separate bowl, combine raisins, 1⁄2 cup brown sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon. Sprinkle half of the mixture over each piece of dough.
Roll up each like a jelly roll, starting with the long edge. Cut rolls into 1-inch slices. Place pieces sealed side down in pan or Dutch ovens.
Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1⁄2 hour.
Bake in Dutch ovens for about 20 minutes, or in 375-degree Fahrenheit conventional oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Yield: 30 cinnamon rolls
Flour for rolling out dough
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1/4 cup, plus 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Whole Wheat Bread Dough:
Oil for greasing rising bowl
4 packages active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup honey
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
9 cups whole wheat flour
Meals from the Dutch oven don’t have to stop at breakfast. Here’s a few more dishes to practice on until you get your hands on a cookbook or create your own as you find family favorites. >>>
Horseradish Encrusted Pork Loin Roast with Spicy Apricot Sauce
1 boneless pork loin roast
1 cup panko (a Japanese bread crumb which can be substituted with matzo meal or cornflake crumbs)
1/2 jar horseradish
1/2 small jar Grey Poupon Dijon mustard
1 cup spicy apricot sauce (recipe below)
In a bowl combine bread crumbs well with the horseradish. Sear roast on all sides in a skillet of hot olive oil. Coat top and sides evenly with mustard and then press bread crumb mixture evenly onto roast. Bake in a Dutch oven until meat thermometer inserted in center reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit, usually for 45 minutes to an hour. Slice into 1 inch pieces and serve with Spicy Apricot Sauce.
Spicy Apricot Sauce
1 jar apricot preserves
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
Blend in food processor. Bring to boil in heavy saucepan, stirring, and simmer 1 minute.
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed per directions
2 tablespoons butter
2-3 fresh tomatoes, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
4 ounces fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 egg white
Butter the bottom of a Dutch oven or pie plate. Roll out pastry sheets into a large square that will overlap the sides. Put on a layer of tomatoes, onions and basil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Do one more layer and top with remaining Parmesan. Fold sides of puff pastry into the center loosely. Brush egg wash (egg white and teaspoon of water, slightly beaten) on the pastry. Cover Dutch oven with 15 hot coals on the top and 6 on the bottom or bake in pie pan in 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown, puffed and bubbling. Cool slightly before serving.
Ruby Rapid Rhubarb Pie
Serves: 8 to 10
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup margarine
2 eggs beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups finely chopped rhubarb
Make the crust by mixing 1 cup flour, confectioner’s sugar and margarine. Press mixture into the bottom of a Dutch oven or 9” X 12” baking pan. Bake in Dutch oven or in 375-degree Fahrenheit conventional oven for 15 minutes, being careful not to burn the bottom.
Mix eggs, sugar, 1/4 cup flour, salt and rhubarb. Spread rhubarb mixture on top of the crust.
Bake in a Dutch oven for 30 minutes, or in a-350 degree Fahrenheit conventional oven for 30 minutes.
Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.