Dutch Oven - Your Very Own Official Cooking Pot

In 1997, the Utah State Legislature passed a bill designating the Dutch oven the official State Cooking Pot. The main reason for this, it seems, is that The International Dutch Oven Society is headquartered in Utah, and they run an annual competition, called the World Championship Dutch Oven Cook-Off. I figure any piece of kitchen equipment that has a society, a cook-off, and the official title of Utah State Cooking Pot deserves a good, hard look.

The good folks in Utah are talking about the old-fashioned kind of Dutch oven - a cast-iron pot with a tight-fitting lid - used for cooking outdoors in the manner of frontiersmen. For most of us, though, a Dutch oven is just a pot - almost any pot. If it has a lid, and it can go in the oven (where those of us who aren't frontiersmen do most of our cooking), it qualifies.

Although just about anything can be prepared in a Dutch oven, this cooking pot is inextricably linked to casseroles. And casseroles, as you probably know, have many virtues. They're a great way to use up leftovers. They're convenient if you're having guests or are pressed for time because they can be prepared in advance. They can be made with just about anything. If you can put behind you unpleasant memories of tuna-noodle casserole topped with potato chips, you may end up following Utah's lead and designating the Dutch oven your very own official Household Cooking Pot.

Casseroles aren't scientific, so don't feel tied to recipes. Almost any casserole can be altered to suit your taste.

  • For a change in your morning routine, use standard breakfast ingredients in a casserole. Potatoes, eggs, and sausage all work well.
  • Sturdiness is a virtue in vegetables destined for cooking in your Dutch oven. Try green beans, eggplant, artichoke hearts, and root vegetables of all kinds.
  • Use dry pasta, rice, beans, or barley in a casserole with a lot of wet ingredients; they soften as the casserole cooks, absorbing excess liquid.
  • Small amounts of strong flavors will saturate the entire dish over a long cooking time. Try using smoked ham, chipotle peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, cured olives, or anchovy paste.
  • Many recipes benefit from browning the meat and aromatics (onions, celery, garlic) before hand. Browning adds color and intensifies flavor.
  • Cheese - even a little - will bind other ingredients and help flavors meld.
  • Don't be ashamed to use canned soup. Chicken noodle and cream of mushroom are classic, but almost any soup will work.

Who knows? If you get good at this, I hear there are still a few slots open in next year's Dutch Oven Cook-Off.

California Cioppino

2 dozen fresh clams in shells
1 1/2 pounds halibut or rock cod fillets, cut into serving pieces
1 pound large shrimp in shells, split and deveined
2 medium-size Dungeness crabs
1 medium-size onion
2 large garlic cloves
6 parsley sprigs
1/4 cup olive oil
3 1/2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes
1-3/4 cups canned tomato puree
1 cup red Burgundy or other dry red wine
1 cup water
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 tablespoon crushed mixed herbs (sweet basil, rosemary, marjoram, and oregano)
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoons seasoned pepper

Chop onion, garlic and parsley fine. In a Dutch oven or a large pot with lid, cook in oil over moderate heat until soft but not browned. Add tomatoes, tomato puree, wine, water, vinegar, herbs, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes. This basic sauce may be made ahead of time, to be cooled and refrigerated, if desired, but heat before adding to fish.

While sauce is cooking, place clams in cold salted water (1/4 cup salt to 2 quarts water) for 30 minutes. Dress the crabs, crack claws, and break into serving pieces. When sauce is completed, reserve it in a separate container. Layer all fish in the kettle, placing clams on top. Pour sauce over all. Cover tightly and cook over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve in large heated bowls.

Note: Frozen rock lobster tails may be used in place of crabs; frozen shrimp may be substituted for fresh; two 10 1/2-ounce cans of clams may be used when fresh clams are not available.

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