By Mimi Cummins
With the arrival of fall's chilly days my thoughts turned to comfort food, and
in particular, a nice rich beef stew. In the process of making this stew I
rediscovered an old cast iron Dutch oven purchased years ago in an antique store
and subsequently stored in the basement, forgotten and accumulating dust.
Dutch ovens have a long history--there is speculation that they came to the
Americas with the Pilgrims who spent time in Holland before boarding the
Mayflower. Most people associate them with the American pioneers who
cooked outdoors over an open fire. There are websites devoted to
old-fashioned Dutch oven cooking, using a huge cast iron pot with three stubby
feet, a well-fitting lid, and a wire to suspend the pot over a fire. These
sites feature recipes that call for intimidating procedures such as placing
"15 hot coals under the Dutch oven and 5 hot coals on the lid". If you're
like me, preparing hot coals out-of-doors is way too much trouble to prepare a
meal for your family after a long day at work. Fortunately, more
modern Dutch ovens with no feet are made to go on the stove or in our regular
oven, and are available in a variety of sizes. My antique Dutch oven was
still modern enough to be footless and a reasonable 5-quart size.
After rescuing my Dutch oven from the basement and scrubbing off the dust, I was
reminded of the whole reason the thing was banished to the basement in the first
place. It's very difficult to clean, and like all cast iron cookware, it
needs proper seasoning before you can use it. It can't be put in the
dishwasher because the iron will rust, and must always be coated with a layer of
fat in order to keep it properly seasoned. In fact, the process of
properly seasoning cast iron cookware is an art unto itself, subject to online
debate. But most women in today's busy lifestyle want cooking and cleaning
to be fast and easy.
You may wonder why Dutch oven enthusiasts would go to all that trouble.
Cast iron has excellent heat retention properties that make it very energy
efficient. You can achieve ideal cooking temperatures on medium and low
heat settings, reducing the risk of burning or drying out your food. It is
perfect for the long, slow cooking of our favorite comfort foods. When you
remove the cast iron cookware from the heat source, it retains the heat for a
long period of time, so your food will stay hot longer than food prepared in
cookware made of other materials. The heavy, thick metal resists warping
and lasts forever. These properties are why so many people, undaunted by
hand washing and the need to keep it properly seasoned, swear by cast iron
Fortunately, there is another kind of cast iron cookware that gives the cook all
the benefits of cast iron cooking without the drawbacks. Cast iron can be
enameled, a process that seals the iron in layers of vitrified enamel.
This process has numerous benefits. It eliminates the need to keep the
iron properly seasoned. The smooth, glassy finish of the enamel is much
easier to clean, and cast iron enamel cookware can be placed in the dishwasher.
The smooth finish also allows you to safely use this type of cookware on all
types of heat sources including ceramic and induction cook tops. The
enamel layer allows you to cook with tomatoes and other acidic ingredients that
usually react unfavorably with cast iron. And enamel cast iron
cookware can be produced in any number of colors, like fire engine red or lemon
yellow, making it a perfect choice for today's design-conscious kitchen.
It's so attractive that your stew or roast cooked in an enamel cast iron Dutch
oven can go right from the oven to the tabletop.
I ended up making my beef stew in my old Dutch oven and it was indeed one of the
tastiest stews I ever made. It simmered gently in the oven for hours and
stayed piping hot when placed on the dinner table. But unfortunately, the
cleanup process confirmed that it was going right back down to the basement.
Now I have a set of bright, shiny enameled cookware hanging from my kitchen pot
rack (with a matching Dutch oven), and my antique cast iron Dutch oven is again
in need of a good dusting.
Dutch Oven Beef Stew