Not even the kitchen is off limits to Marie Kondo-style de-cluttering. First to go are the one-use tools (bread machine, anyone?) and the mismatched containers, in order to clear more space for the things that are used and loved. According to the authors of a new cookbook, “Cook It In Your Dutch Oven,” the short list of joy-sparking kitchen hardware is topped by the Dutch oven.
“That big, beautiful pot is a true kitchen workhorse,” begins the book, produced by the team at America’s Test Kitchen. “Make room in the front of your cabinet, because with this book, you’ll reach for your Dutch oven again and again.”
Texans probably don’t need a pep talk about using their Dutch ovens; after all, the Texas Legislature voted overwhelmingly to designate the Dutch oven as the “official cooking implement of Texas.” But, as the book makes clear, the Dutch oven can do far more than cook a big batch of chili or simmer a cowboy stew. Bread baking, frying, and turning out tender-crisp vegetables and delectable desserts are all given the rigorous perfecting process of America’s Test Kitchen.
In addition to testing and tweaking recipes, the crew tested dozens of Dutch ovens as well, at price points from $25 to $350, and shares the results. Lighter, thinner pots didn’t make the short list because of their tendency to scorch on the bottom. Better results came from pots weighing anywhere from 13 to 18 pounds, and the favorites were all enamel-coated cast iron.
Among the enamel-coated pots, one important distinction emerged: some of them had dark-colored interiors, while the highest-ranked had white or light-colored interiors. “Lighter interiors provided better visibility and were easier to cook in,” the cookbook noted, pointing out that it was easier to see how food was browning, and if it was close to burning.
While the cookbook is called “Cook It In Your Dutch Oven,” the team even added a “Hack Your Dutch Oven” list of other uses where the heavy pot shines, like using its weight as a panini press, or taking advantage of cast iron’s ability to maintain temperature to use it to keep cold food like potato salad cold longer (Chill the pot in the refrigerator or fill with ice water to lower its starting temperature, the cookbook advises.)
Even with all the new hacks, stewing and braising are still where the Dutch oven is indispensable. The cookbook doesn’t skimp on these classics, including a French-style pork stew using inexpensive pork butt.
Hauling a heavy pot to the stove to quick-cook vegetables may not seem necessary, but it bolsters the cookbook’s claim that a Dutch oven can handle virtually any cooking job. A medley of asparagus, peas and radishes captures the colors and flavors of spring. Other vegetable recipes in the book cover heartier braises as well.
Most of the Dutch oven dessert recipes serve a crowd, and the heat-retaining cast iron becomes a plus, keeping the dessert warm long enough to transport it or to come back for seconds.