Imagine this (it’s kind of like the "Desert Island Discs" of cookware): one pot, for the rest of your life! Yikes, the pressure – what to choose, what to choose? Ask anyone at Milly’s and we’d all go for a cast iron dutch oven (actually make that almost all of us – one weirdo chose a wok, but you get one in every bunch!) Just think about it – this one vessel can serve as a saucepan, slow cooker, roasting dish, cake pan, baker, casserole dish, steamer, bread pan and stock pot.
It will transfer from hob (induction, electric or gas) to oven to table and then into the fridge for storage. This shape of lidded ‘pot’ has been used for centuries. The heavy gauge cast iron dutch oven (as it’s know in the US) originally had feet to allow it to sit above a fire and the lids were often gently concave to allow coals to be placed on top which then gave both top and bottom heat. In France these are called Cocottes and in the UK, casseroles. Cast iron is an excellent heat conductor and it performs well under both high and low temperatures (with the exception of enameled cast iron, but more about that later).
What to choose: Milly’s recommend both unlined cast iron dutch ovens (like our favourite brand, Lodge) and enameled cast iron versions (two faves here: Le Creuset and Staub, both made in France). Each version has it’s own advantages, disadvantages and best uses.
Unlined or ‘raw’ cast iron: These pans absolutely cannot be destroyed, even under the highest of temperatures which makes them perfect for camp ovens and outdoor cooking and for our new favourite, no knead bread (more about that in the next few weeks when we’ve perfected our method!) which cooks at 250C. Being unlined cast iron these pots need a little special care to prevent them from rusting and they don’t love acid (like lots of tomatoes or vinegar) but other than that, are totally bulletproof and will last for generations, just getting better with age.
Enameled cast iron ‘cocottes’ have a cast iron core which has then been coated both inside and out with a coloured enamel. This makes them super easy care (some people even put them in the dishwasher) and there’s no fuss with seasoning. However enamel is not made for extreme heat conditions (the cast iron base and the enamel coating can expand at different rates under high heat which can make the enamel ‘pop’ and delaminate). Long, slow, gentle cooking is recommended for these beauties but it is worth noting that a ‘satin black’ interior is able to take higher heats than the lighter coloured ‘sand’ enamel’.
How we use them:
Soups/Sauces – Dutch ovens are perfect for soups and sauces and come in sizes to suit every family. They conduct heat evenly over long periods of simmering – with no sticking to the bottom!
Roasting and braising – These babies love a long, slow cook. Their tight fitting lids allow for minimal moisture loss and intense flavours. They are especially good for meat cookery but equally beans and root vegetables are wonderful too.
Baking – Skillet cookies are not only for skillets but equally your dutch oven. The heavy cast iron is perfect for slow cooking fruit cakes and its depth allows plenty of volume for saucy upside down puddings, pies and crumbles.
Breads – Dutch ovens have also long been used to bake breads, a particular favourite being the no-knead bread that is taking us all back to the love of gluten. The radiant heat acts similarly to the stone hearth of a bread or pizza oven. Additionally, the lid holds in moisture and steam creating that desirably crispy crust.
One last tip – half of the weight of a dutch oven is the lid. If you’re finding lifting your casserole a bit of a chore these days, remove the lid before you try to lift it. It will be much easier!
NB: Please note, this is a Lodge Tips for Use and care video, therefore the heat for seasoning is Farenheit.