The Hungry Engineer

Going Dutch - The Enameled Cast Iron Experience

26 Sep 2008

For ages I lusted after the beautifully hued enameled cast iron dutch ovens from Le Creuset, but I could never quite make myself pay the price required. One day I noticed that Mario Batali had a line of similar product, and upon looking into it, realized his goods were available for a much smaller cash outlay. It was not long after that discovery that I had a shiny red 6-quart enameled cast iron dutch oven of my own.

This is the next in my series of posts on the tools in my kitchen that I’m particularly fond of. I’ve already told you about my I-can-take-over-the-world-with-this-blender blender and my delightful array of implements for grating and shredding. Here’s my tribute to my wonderful dutch oven.

I’m a fan of cast iron in general, and I had given some thought to buying a plain old cast iron dutch oven instead (and I may still to take with me on camping excursions). My issue with that though was that I knew I’d want to use it for such acidic creatures as tomato sauce and fruit preserves, and I was worried the unlined cast iron would make my goods taste metallic. The enamel coating on the dutch oven serves more than a mere aesthetic purpose. It effectively forms an impermeable layer between the food and the wonderfully heat-retaining thick cast iron walls. Plus, it makes the pot much easier to clean – with minimal coaxing, stewed on food washes off completely.

One concern I had with the enameled pot was how easy the enamel coating would chip (rendering the pot all but useless). It turns out that the top ridge of the pot and the edge of the lid that would hit that ridge when the lid is placed on the pot are unglazed, so the main contact surfaces won’t have the opportunity to chip. Also, I strictly avoid using any metal utensils in the dutch oven. Wooden and plastic spatulas and spoons are gentler on the enamel coating, again reducing the likelihood of chipping. The one thing that makes me nervous is washing it. The dutch oven is really heavy (I’d say maybe around 15 lbs when it’s not filled with food or dishwater), and that makes it sort of difficult to control. So when I wash that beast, I find that I kind of knock it around in the sink more than I intend to. I have this feeling that I’m eventually going to ruin the exterior of the pot this way.

I cook many different things in my dutch oven. It’s fantastic for things that require a relatively constant cooking temperature over a long cooking duration. The thick metal bottom and sides take a while to heat up properly, but once they do, they hold their heat very well and because their temperature changes are slow, the heat they provide is fairly steady. The other feature I like is that the lid has these little spiky nodules all over its underside to help condensed water find its way back down into the pot to help keep whatever I’m cooking wonderfully moist. This pot is perfect for pot roasts. I can heat it on the stove-top and get my meat all browned and my veggies and liquids all integrated. Then I can shove the pot (which has no plastic parts) directly into the oven to roast away for several hours. It performs similarly for such porky wonders as carnitas and braised pork shoulder. It also performs like a champ on tomato sauces. Its wide base provides for ample reduction, and its nice thick walls provide a low even heat that’s perfect for letting flavors meld without scorching the sauce. For these reasons, it also proved to be the ideal vessel for cooking down pear butter this past weekend.

Care and cleaning for the enameled cast iron dutch oven is fairly simple also. Beyond a good scrubbing (avoid metal scrubbers such as steel wool) in hot soapy water, be sure to dry it completely. Don’t let it drip dry or the few exposed cast iron spots will potentially rust. Further, once it’s completely dry, be sure to treat the exposed spots the same way you would your cast iron cookware. Coat these areas in a very thin film of vegetable shortening to further retard rust formation.

I hear these days that there are even more cost-effective versions of enameled cast iron on the market. I heartily recommend seeking them out. I have been incredibly pleased with my dutch oven.

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