Darby was an English Quaker who studied in Dutch processes for casting iron and molds made of compressed sand. Back in England, he perfected these methods, and started mass-producing cast iron pieces which were needed by England’s various colonial interests, including ours. Since he was inspired by the Dutch, he may have called these vessels “Dutch ovens”. But I think it more likely he would have called them “English ovens” or maybe “Darby cookers”.
I think it’s far more likely that when it came to supplying the 13 colonies with “Dutch ovens”, the Dutch East India Company undercut the English manufacturers through their colony, New Amsterdam, which later became New York. But however they got their name, one thing is for sure, the settling of America would never have been possible without the Dutch oven.
The teeth under dutch oven lids are designed to drip
condensation evenly back onto the food.
The problem with iron and most steels, for which iron is the main ingredient, is
that they react with water and oxygen creating a brand new substance called
iron oxide, a.k.a. rust. Given enough time, air, and moisture, a once useful
implement like, well, whatever this used to be [AB points to a strange, curved
metal object], will completely convert into rust and simply crumble away. Rust
never sleeps, you know.
Now the best way to stop rust ... [AB spots a cast iron pan that is stuck under some discarded cooking implements] ah! ... is to keep it from happening in the first place by keeping air away. Hah hah! There’s one in every junk pile. Paint would do the trick, as would a thin layer of another metal. Galvanized steel, for instance, has been coated in thin layers of zinc, which, being toxic, makes a lousy cooking surface. Carbon, however, is a really great cooking surface. It’s nontoxic and it’s something that we can easily bring to the party. I think this one’s [the skillet he found] probably seen its last party. [returns it to the pile] Rest in peace.
[at a table] This is a molecule of fat. Or to
be more exact, it is a fatty acid, composed of a long chain of carbons, with
little bonding points.Now these bonding points are filled with hydrogens at this point, which means
that this is a saturated fat. Now, if we were to put this in a hot oven and just
leave it there, eventually it would start to chemically decompose. [removes the
hydrogens on the mode] Slowly, and with a good bit of smoke and stinkiness, the hydrogens, and whatever other molecules were along for the ride
inside the fat, would burn away, leaving us with a layer of good old-fashioned
carbon. And that carbon, if lubed occasionally with cooking oil, which is
conveniently hydrophobic, will grant our iron the protection it needs. Time to
take the cure.
[at the sink] First step, a good washing in hot soapy water. If your pan is used, this will, of course, help to remove any foreign matter. If it’s new, this will help to remove the food-grade wax that iron pieces are coated in to keep them from rusting during shipping.
Once clean and thoroughly dry, smear on a thin layer of fat. Although peanut and vegetable oils are okay, I find that shortening is a lot easier to deal with. Now to produce a proper layer of carbon rather than a nasty tangle of gooey plastic-like polymers, you have got to get this on very, very even, and you have to get it very thin. Just use your fingers to massage it all over the vessel. Inside and out, top, bottom, lid top, lid bottom, everything. The only thing you don’t have to worry about is the wire bail if you have one, because that’s made out of a different kind of steel.
Now the real magic takes place when we apply some heat. And I like to use... [realizes that the power is out, and he cannot light the oven] Ugh! Oh, bother!
Since the curing process can create a fair amount of smoke, the grill may
actually be the perfect place to do this. Now, if we were using an oven, I’d be
shooting for 350. But as long as you can maintain, say, between 325 and 375,
we’ll be okay.
[putting the device on the grill] Dutch oven, upside down in the middle. We’ll need some kind of a spacer. So I’ve got just a chipped beef can that I took the bottom out of. That’ll go there. Lid goes on top. We will use as indirect a heat as is possible by firing just the front and the back elements. There. Let this cook for one hour then cool in place.
Even if your new cast iron was cured at the factory,
you’ll probably need to cure it again once a year.
GUESTS: The Lawyers “Itchy” and “Twitchy”
Once your Dutch oven is cured, you are in possession of perhaps the most versatile cooking vessel the world has ever known. Long-simmering dishes, like beans or stew, can just sit right on the hearth and percolate to the radiant heat. Baking, however, sometimes requires direct contact. And planting your Dutch oven right on top of the fire, can be tough because a fully loaded five-quart model can weigh upwards of 15 pounds. So, what I like to do is take advantage of the hearth and just drag a few coals right out on top and ...
ITCHY & TWITCHY:
[enter, Twitchy has some gadget which he sweeps over AB and the fireplace]
AB: Oh, hi guys.
You remember my attorneys, Itchy and Twitchy?
AB: Now you guys cannot complain about
this, okay? My hearth is a nice wide slab of rock. I’ve got some sand to control
the coals, a fire extinguisher, and ... Whatcha doing, Itchy? I’m sorry, you’re Twitchy
[Brett Soll]. You’re Itchy [Jim Pace].
IT: [hands AB a piece of paper]
AB: What’s this? Carbon monoxide? But I’ve been doing this for years. I’ve never had any troubles before. Well, I guess there could be some trace carbon monoxide released into the air. But, you know, I could open a window for ventilation, and I could, ...
IT: [continues you hand AB paper after paper]
AB: I could, I, I could, I could ... Oh, bother.
Although I will miss the romance of the hearth, truth is, your big-time
competitive Dutch oven-ers use charcoal briquettes whose uniform shapes and
size make it easy to dole out specific levels of heat. But not just any
briquette will do. No, your average specimen contains nasty stuff like borax,
nitrates, even petroleum products.
All-natural briquettes contain nothing but semi-carbonized wood and a touch of
starch to hold it all together.
Now here’s another page from the pros. Instead of cooking on a grill, which would be just fine, the big boys cook on folding metal tables like this, which are cheap and darn handy, seeing as how they are fireproof and portable.
Now the best ignition option is a chimney starter which we have already loaded up here. We have a few pieces of newsprint, lightly drizzled with vegetable oil here, and that will provide the low constant flame necessary to bring this all ablaze.
Needless to say charcoal and wooden structures don’t mix.
Think before you light.
I can’t bake in a Dutch oven without thinking about the old miners and prospectors of the Old West who supposedly never left home without a Dutch oven strapped on to the mule someplace. In fact, those guys became famous for a specific style of bread that was leavened with a wild starter that they kept in pouches around their necks. Not only did these [smells the pouch, and coughs] wild yeast and bacteria provide leavening and a lot of flavor, I think they probably also acted as personal defense against, you know, wolves and, ooh, bears, and things like that. Anyway, these breads became known as “sourdoughs”. And, of course, are famous to this day. We are going to use commercial yeast in order to have something that’s a little more reliable.
So I have here 17 1/2 ounces, by weight, of bread flour. To that we will add a mere quarter of a teaspoon of commercial, active dry yeast. And yes, that will be enough. Two and a half teaspoons, which is just shy of a tablespoon, of kosher salt. And I just kind of mix that up.
17½ Ounces Bread Flour
¼ tsp. Active-Dry Yeast
2½ tsp. Kosher Salt
And then add 12 ounces of filtered water. And I say filtered, because a lot of municipal water supplies have a lot of chlorine in them. And chlorine is pretty vicious stuff to yeast. You could also, if you must, use bottled water. But whatever it is, it needs to be chlorine-free.
|12 Ounces Filtered Water|
And just kind of knead it around until most of the flour has been absorbed. It’ll be very sticky. That’s why I’m using a glove. There. That looks good.
Cover with a little plastic wrap just to keep out the dust and what-not, and leave this on your counter for quite a while. How long? Well, how does 19 hours sound to ‘ya? [laughing] That sounds like a lot, I know. Why so long? Well, it has to do with our old friend gluten. [a model of gluten appears] You remember gluten, that elastic and plastic meshwork that happens whenever we mix together wheat flour proteins with water. Now the way that we usually create this, and we need to for bread to rise, is we knead it and we knead it and we knead it. However, agitation is not the only way to create this. We can also do it with good old-fashioned time, which also creates a lot more flavor. So, 19 hours it is.
[looks at his watch, looks around, kitchen is still dark]
Well, um, I kind of thought the power would be back on by now. Um, so ... let’s
[at the refrigerator] Well, let’s see. Some butter, some eggs, and some milk will help us in our endeavor. You know, most modern refrigerators have sufficient insulation to protect your food for at least a few hours in the case of a power outage. It helps to have the refrigerator thoroughly packed with food. And, oh, and it helps to keep the door closed.
[at the freezer] Ah, cherries. You know, in the Limousin region of France the abundant cherry crop is celebrated with clafoutis [pron: klah-foo-TEE], a dish that’s a cross between a pie, a custard, and a pancake. Most Americans won’t go near it ’cause it sounds like something you’d have to get a shot for.
Clafoutis comes from an old Occitan word meaning “to fill up”.
If your 12 ounces of cherries are frozen, let them thaw and drain for several minutes. You don’t want all that excess fluid in the dish. Of course if your power’s gone out, this will probably happen a lot quicker than you would ordinarily think. If you have fresh cherries on hand, rinse, stem, and pit them. Or don’t. I understand in France, sometimes they just spit ’em out as they eat.
|12 Ounces Cherries|
As for your Dutch oven, you will want to thoroughly butter the sides and the bottom of a five-quart.
Then turn your attention to the batter. It is a simple stirred batter. It actually reminds me of a pastry cream. Whisk together two eggs with a quarter of a cup of sugar until the mixture is frothy and the eggs just start to lighten in color.
2 Large Eggs
¼ Cup Sugar
There. Now stir in half a cup of milk. Fully integrate that. And also add just a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Follow that with half a cup of all-purpose flour. Now I usually weigh flour when baking, but with this recipe, it does not have to be exact. So volume will be fine.
½ Cup Whole Milk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
½ Cup All-Purpose Flour
There. That batter looks good. Now the cherries are the next step. They are drained and they will go into the Dutch oven. And just kind of push them around until they evenly cover the bottom. There. That looks good. The batter goes on top. There we go. And this heads to the heat.
Notice that I have added a flameproof mat to my setup, a
fireplace shovel for coals, heatproof gauntlets, and “Old Red” [fire
extinguisher]. [the charcoal is now aflame on top of the solid metal table] Now 18 to 19 red-hot coals go right in the middle of the table.
Now if I was using a camp oven with legs, I’d be able to put that right over the
coals. But I’m not. I’m using a Dutch oven. So I’m going to build a rack with
four bricks and just a rack out of my oven. Place on the clafoutis, put a piece
of foil across the mouth to keep ashes out, and place on the lid. And you’re
going to need more coals right on top.
Twenty-five minutes later, pull the lid and allow the clafoutis to cook another five minutes uncovered. Rest off the heat for half an hour, serve with perhaps a sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar or a dollop of whipped cream, and you’ve got yourself a tasty breakfast item. At room temperature, you can serve it like a pie for dessert anytime! Oh, and if you don’t have cherries, you could try apricots or maybe figs.
If you’re making the clafoutis inside, bake uncovered,
in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.
GUESTS: Yeast Sock Puppets
Since the power is still out, it’s relatively early, and there’s charcoal
a-glowing, let’s contemplate the hoecake: a cornmeal application first taught
to English settlers by the Narragansett Indians who called it nokehick.
Now the dish confounded the settlers at first, because the cornmeal called for doesn’t function in any way, shape, or form like wheat flour. It doesn’t have the right proteins to form gluten and it’s got no respect for...
YEAST SOCK PUPPETS: [enter making belching sounds]
YSP: [belch some more]
The software is simple. One cup of our cornmeal, two teaspoons of baking powder: one, two. Not baking soda. We’ll go three-quarters of a teaspoon of kosher salt, three-quarters of a cup of water, and one solitary egg. There we go. Now whisk that together. Now basically we want this to look kind of like a loose pancake batter. Come to think of it, this is a pancake. Last ingredient, one half cup of either fresh or frozen-and-thawed corn kernels. There.
1 Cup Cornmeal
2 tsp. Baking Powder
¾ tsp. Kosher Salt
¾ Cup Water
1 Large Egg
½ Cup Fresh Or Thawed
Although hoecakes can cook on just about any old griddle, if you’ve
got yourself a Dutch camp oven, you don’t need a griddle. Just turn it upside
down and place 22 hot ashy coals on the bottom, which is now the top. Then turn
over your lid and set it on top of those legs, making a griddle. Let it heat for
about 10 minutes, or until it hits 425 to 450, anywhere in that range. Then lube
it up with a little bit of oil—do this quickly, by the way—and ladle on the
goodness. And I usually cook about three at a time ‘cause it’s easier to flip
them that way.
Depending on the exact heat of your griddle, they’ll need to cook two to three minutes on each side. Then they’ll be nice, golden-brown, and delicious.
[sitting down to eat his hoecakes] Ahh. Benjamin Franklin once wrote that nokehicks, or hoecakes, were finer than any English Yorkshire pudding.* And I intend to agree. When you add a little maple syrup, ahh, there are absolutely late-night good eats.
Hoe-cakes also go by;
and no cakes.
[next morning, kitchen timer goes off] Well, it’s been 19 hours and the power is still out. Perfect. Well, at least, well, our dough looks good. But it’s time to punch this down. It’s the technical phrase, although no punching is necessary. This is going to be really gooey on top, so a bit of flour will be a good thing. And then just kind of fold it over on itself. See how it’s stuck to the bowl? Put a little more flour in there around the sides. Just pull it away and fold it over on itself a few times. Try to redistribute some of those big gas bubbles. There. This time, I'm going to cover it with a tea towel instead of the plastic. And we’ll let this sit and stew for another 15 minutes.
[15 minutes later] Okay, time to actually form this into a loaf. Nice and springy, a little on the sticky side. So we’ll put a little flour on the counter and turn it out. Now the goal is to just form it into a loaf by folding the sides into the middle, kind of like making a jellyfish. Round it off a little bit, and then we’re going to move it back into the towel. But we’re going to need a little more kind of heavy duty lubrication here, so a little cornmeal go down on the towel. Notice I’m putting it on one end of the towel. A little more cornmeal, and then fold the towel over. Set your timer for two hours.
|2 Tbs. Cornmeal|
When you’re about half an hour out, go ahead and spread out 20 to 24 hot coals on your table. Now if you’re using a camp oven, you don’t have to build the rack. But I’m using a Dutch oven here, which I’m going to allow to heat for 30 minutes.
[kitchen timer goes off] Now, this looks good. I’m just going to roll it over so that the seam is up, what’s left of the seam, and evacuate to the heat.
Carefully remove the lid and basically just flop the bread in, cornmeal and all. Don’t worry. Place it in the center, re-lid, and then you’re going to need more coals. This time about 20, right on top. And I’m going to let this bake for 45 minutes or until the internal temperature of the loaf hits between 210 and 212 degrees. Instant read’s the tool for that job. This is good to go.
|Inside, bake in a 450 degree oven, lid on for 30 minutes and lid off for another 15 minutes|
When your bread is ready to come out, and this one definitely is, just carefully
scoop it out and get it onto a cooling rack so that the interior can finish
setting. Now in the first few moments you’ll notice kind of a snap, crackle, and
pop, as the outer crust starts to shrink. Bring the mike in, bring the mike in.
[the boom microphone comes into view, and cracking sounds are heard]
Well, as you can see and smell, and hopefully will soon taste, Dutch oven baking has a lot to offer the home cook. And it looks like I may be doing it for some time. [just then the lights come back on] See you next time on Good Eats.
*“Pray let me, an American, inform the gentleman, who seems ignorant of the matter, that Indian corn, take it for all in all, is one of the most agreeable and wholesome grains in the world; that its green leaves roasted are a delicacy beyond expression; that samp, hominy, succotash, and nokehock, made of it, are so many pleasing varieties; and that johny or hoecake, hot from the fire, is better than a Yorkshire muffin – But if Indian corn were so disagreeable and indigestible as the Stamp Act, does he imagine that we can get nothing else for breakfast? – Did he never hear that we have oatmeal in plenty, for water gruel or burgoo; as good wheat, rye and barley as the world affords, to make frumenty; or toast and ale; that there is every where plenty of milk, butter, and cheese; that rice is one of our staple commodities; that for tea, we have sage and bawm in our gardens, the young leaves of the sweet hickery or walnut, and above all, the buds of our pine, infinitely preferably to any tea from the Indies … Let the gentleman do us the honor of a visit in America, and I will engage to breakfast him every day in the month with a fresh variety.” (January 2nd, 1766, Benjamin Franklin)
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010