I got into an elevator empty-handed one recent morning and by the end of a short two-story ride, was the proud owner of a bright orange Le Creuset Dutch oven. A recently married co-worker who'd likely been inundated with new cookware from the registry was trying to get rid of it, for free. "Might as well go to someone who'll use it," he said.
I felt like I'd hit the lottery. Use it? Not only will I use it, it just saved me from ever having to purchase a handful of other massively expensive pieces of kitchen equipment. Yes, Dutch ovens can be expensive on their own, but they're one of the most overachieving multi-taskers in existence. (We know Alton Brown would be proud.) Moreover, they're practically indestructible. As editor Amy Scattergood aptly pointed out, they're like good Italian shoes -- they'll dent the wallet, but you'll never have to replace them.
If you're not so lucky to get one as a castoff, get one somewhere -- a flea market or yard sale if you can't afford one new. In a roundabout way, you will have also purchased the following:
5. Slow Cooker:
Put a Dutch oven on the stove over low heat and you can make essentially anything you'd make in a slow cooker, with the added benefit of not needing to plug something else in. It distributes heat evenly around the sides and to the lid, which is essentially what a slow cooker does, rendering them unnecessary. So what should you make? Here's a recipe to get you started.
There are various bread recipes that work well in a Dutch oven since, as was the case with a slow cooker, the cast iron will distribute the heat evenly. You might be thinking that attempting to bake bread sans machine will have you bogged down with seemingly endless kneading. Not necessarily true. Case in point: this knead-free bread recipe from New York baker Jim Lehay.
3. Camping Cookery:
A Dutch oven is durable enough to throw right onto hot coals for cooking chili or stew (here's a recipe for that) or whatever you may have killed on your hunt. If that's your thing. If you're the backpacking type, the whole pot is likely too heavy to bring with you, but you can pack the lid only which, once the handle is removed, can sit atop coals and serve as a skillet.
2. Non-stick pan:
Not that I'm fanatical about it, but there are plenty of reliable sources that say Teflon is not very good for you. Possibly carcinogenic, in fact, though that's debatable. Either way, if you scratch it, it's likely done for. But you don't have to think about any of this if you have a Dutch oven, which is also (relatively) nonstick. Might as well cook without the cancer worry.
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No, really. These things are damn heavy.
Do you have more suggestions for ways to use a Dutch oven? Please do let us know in the comments.