5 Things You Should Know Before You Cook With a Dutch Oven
They can do so much more than just look pretty in your kitchen.
You may have received a dutch oven over the holidays and were left wondering what exactly you can do with it? Aside from its centerpiece-worthy status, your new Le Creuset, Lodge, or Staub dutch oven can do much more than just look pretty. This not-so-humble kitchen workhorse is arguably one of the most versatile tools to add to your cooking arsenal.
A dutch oven is a large, cast iron cooking pot that comes with a fitted lid, and generally has a seasoned or enamel-coated nonstick surface. Though it may come with a hefty price tag, it can help you accomplish your most ambitious culinary goals with its ability to withstand a variety of cooking techniques like baking and braising, to name a few.
Start the year off right with a pot of homemade bone broth or a hearty lentil stew using your soon-to-be-adored dutch oven. Or, continue the bread-baking craze that took 2020 by storm by making perfectly golden loaves with steamy, pillowy centers using your cast iron pot. Though it may seem slightly intimidating at first, we've compiled a few helpful tips for making cooking in a dutch oven a worry-free task (and be sure to read the biggest mistakes you're making with cast iron cookware, including dutch ovens).
One of the main benefits of using a dutch oven is its ability to retain heat well over a long period. Avoid rushing the process and instead, let your braised dishes (like short ribs or pot roast) cook low and slow for a few hours to make tender, fall-off-the-bone masterpieces every time. Don’t forget to use the lid to create steam and trap moisture for even more flavorful and juicy dishes.
Unlike a classic slow cooker, a dutch oven allows you to develop the deep flavors in a recipe by combining several cooking techniques, like searing and sautéing, in conjunction with braising. For bolder and more aromatic dishes, sear or brown your proteins to promote the Maillard reaction. This method helps develop the complexity of flavor due to the interaction between amino acids and sugars reducing when cooked at high temperatures.
Additionally, sauté onions, carrots, and celery before adding the remainder of your ingredients to enhance your dish’s warmth and aroma. These layers of flavors will help develop a more complex and well-balanced final result rich in umami.
Properly caring for your dutch oven can help extend its life for generations. However, there are a few elements you should always avoid to make sure you get the most out of this treasured tool. For enamel-coated pots, avoid getting any knicks that may expose the cast iron to moisture, leading to rust. Though tedious, you should wash your dutch oven by hand (once cooled) and avoid the dishwasher that can potentially damage the coating.
When using a traditional uncoated cast iron dutch oven, always remember to season it by reapplying an oil coat when necessary. Avoid soaking your pot in water (which can lead to rust) and avoid simmering acidic foods that can weaken the polymerized oiled surface for long periods of time.
You should always let your dutch oven cool before adding any cold liquids or ingredients. Much like the way plastic warps when exposed to different temperatures, dutch ovens are extremely sensitive to drastic temperature changes that can damage or even crack the surface. You may also want to consider preheating your pot in the oven, so it can come to temperature simultaneously as your oven begins to warm up.
Dutch ovens are great for making stews and soups, but did you know you can also use them to make baked goods? Quickly transform your kitchen into a bakery using your dutch oven to make fresh loaves of bread from the comfort of your home. However, before you start on this cooking endeavor, you’ll want to make sure that all the parts of your dutch oven are oven-safe at high temperatures. Typically, the standard plastic knobs on a dutch oven are oven-safe to approximately 390°F. When making no-knead bread that requires much higher cooking temperatures, use a replacement knob that can withstand the heat instead. (Le Creuset knobs are oven safe to 500°F, BTW.)