A Dutch oven is the sort of crucial piece of kitchenware that beginner cooks and experienced ones alike will swoon over. Whether you’re a Le Creuset, Staub or Lodge fan, there’s a knockout model that will turn your head and inspire you to leave it out on in plain sight in your kitchen. Here’s how to make sure your Dutch oven earns that coveted spot of kitchen real estate.
History of the Dutch Oven
The Dutch oven has a history almost as colorful as the iconic, stunning piece of cookware itself. And how did it snag that name, since we certainly aren’t seeing traditional Dutch foods making cameos in these ovens?
Though no one can be absolutely sure, Le Creuset is partial to the this explanation: In the 17th century the Dutch were the first to toss aside traditional clay molds in favor of casting metal in molds made of sand. This enabled smoother finishes for iron cookware.
Others say a Brit observed the method and toted it back to England, and still others say that Dutch traders with these pots in tow were responsible for the name. Regardless, by the 1920s, Le Creuset was supplying French restaurants with Dutch ovens to make their traditional coq au vin. (Fun fact: Le Creuset continues to use the same traditional sand-casting method at their French foundry.)
What to Cook in Your Dutch Oven
Cast iron Dutch ovens are weighty pieces, especially when you get into the 6 or 7 quart capacity. They’re also pretty good-looking, so many cooks prefer to leave them right out on the stovetop—undeniably precious real estate in the kitchen! So, make sure your Dutch oven earns its place on the stove, with delicious, everyday recipes that put the piece to good use.
Sort of the original “set it and forget it,” a Dutch oven is just the thing for a long-simmering braise. You can sear short ribs right in the pot, and they become meltingly tender after a couple of hours. We particularly love this Staub cocotte for a long braise. Not only is it good-looking, but a series of raised, enamel-coated cast iron bumps on the pot’s lid help moisture “rain” back down on food as it slow-cooks. Talk about keeping your food moist.
If you have the space and resources, consider a smaller Dutch oven (or mini ones!), too. You’ll find yourself using it often and setting it out on a trivet for guests. Any dish that uses a béchamel base cooks up beautifully in this dishware. You do not want that sauce scorching, and these pots are constructed to be without hot spots, heat evenly, and discourage sticking. And some of the best mac ‘n cheese we’ve ever had employs a béchamel base. So use this pot, take it from stovetop to oven, pop it out for guests, and put your feet up. Done and done.
Sure, they’re called Dutch ovens, but these beauties are famous for containing French cuisine. This classic scalloped potato and leek dish starts with a roux base—butter and flour spun together—which, again, is an ideal thing to make in a pot that doesn’t tend to allow burning easily. So don’t forget about giving your side dishes the Dutch oven treatment, too, and give it a spotlight in the center of the supper table.
Yes, you could make coq au vin, chicken in wine, in an Instant Pot. Sure. And you could watch the World Series from your couch instead of attending the game with the pair of tickets you somehow landed. Make the classic dish in beautiful French dishware. Staub and Le Creuset are brands that can’t be beat on the design front. Some pots even nod to ther heritage of coq au vin itself with a rooster on top of the lid.
Chicken, done correctly, can compete with the very best pork chops and steaks. Hear us out. In her genius recipe, elaborated upon here by The Kitchn, sweets savant Dorie Greenspan adds a baker’s trick to a chicken recipe: butter. A full stick of the good stuff mingles with herbs, scallions and lemon zest. It’s stuffed under the skin and into the cavity. The bird props up on stale bread in a Dutch oven, absorbing all the schmaltz (chicken fat) and herby butter as the bird roasts. The result is a crisp-skinned, supremely moist bird that’s unbeatable.
There’s something about making a seafood stew in a Dutch oven, particularly in the dead of winter, that can transport a body to an Italian or French seashore in July. This one is light, bright, and tomato-based. It’s just the thing to set out with a stylish ladle, several open bottles of wine, and a bunch of toasted garlic bread. Let people help themselves. Welcome to virtual summer.
When no-knead bread spiked in popularity a few years ago, thanks in part to Jim Lahey’s easy recipe, home cooks who had found it daunting suddenly felt empowered. The key to great no-knead? You guessed it: a Dutch oven. Because they’re enamel-lined, with that great cast-iron core, they conduct heat evenly enough to turn out a loaf with a gorgeous crust. We’re particularly fond of this herb-infused loaf. Just be sure you have some good heat-proof mitts, and you’re off to the races!
Another food you might order on the regular while out and about but never deign to cook at home: carnitas. The Mexican street food favorite of pork shoulder cooked low and slow in pork fat gets a lighter, leaner treatment here. You’ll still get the flavors you know and love in traditional pork shoulder: orange juice, chipotle chiles, and garlic. But a light Mexican lager is also part of the braise, and it adds a piquant note that leavens the whole thing. A tight-fitting Dutch oven is key for making this dish sing.
Is it just us, or could you serve stone soup in this baby-blue Le Creuset and it would taste delicious? Happily enough, rocks are not on the menu, but a springy strata of asparagus and fontina is. Make it the centerpiece of a brunch menu popping with fresh strawberries, no-knead bread, and plenty of mimosas.
If you’ve ever fried chicken, you know that a Dutch oven is more than key to success. It’s the only way to do it (other than a deep fryer, of course). Because Dutch ovens are kings of even heat conduction, they’re ideal for fried chicken recipes. They allow pieces of the bird to bobble around as they like, hither and thither, without you worrying about hotspots and underdone meat. (You’re already deep-frying; you don’t want a hassle.) This recipe is clutch, with a bevy of herbs, a buttermilk brine, and a light, crisp finish. Serve with a simple green salad, water and soda pop, or if it’s an occasion (and isn’t life an occasion?) Champagne, baby.