Chicken with vegetables in a Dutch oven
I have often wondered about the name “Dutch oven”. I first encountered it during my maiden foreign posting in London, where we lived for several years. As a Dutchman, I had never encountered the name in the Netherlands. There we prepared slow-cooking food in either a “stoofpot” casserole or an oven dish.
Just as Brussels sprouts are not called that way in Belgium, nobody takes French leave in France and not a single Englishman would say he was “filer à l’Anglaise” when he left discretely, the name Dutch oven was given by non-Dutch people. In fact, most likely Americans (of whatever national origins, the States being a big melting pot) gave that name to pots used by the “Pennsylvania Dutch” or Amish settlers.
There seem to be two other theories, based on cast-iron pots. One is that an Englishman, Abraham Darby, travelled from England to the Netherlands in 1704 to inspect a Dutch casting process by which brass vessels were cast in dry sand moulds.
According to American researcher John G. Ragsdale, Darby returned home and used the technique to make cooking ware which he called Dutch ovens. It does not say whether he paid anything for this technology transfer but the Bristol Brass company he ran with other Quakers employed Dutchmen to make the pots.
Another theory is that Dutch merchant ships carried these pots for crews to cook meals on fires.
Those were cast iron contraptions that look similar to what I use in France with the iron casseroles or daubières (a casserole with a thick lid in which you can pour water so that the lid remains cool and any cooking steam falls back as moist to the ingredients in the pan). My Dutch oven is made from ceramics.
Now cooking in pots from clay or earth has been used for centuries. From China to Africa pots were either suspended above fires or buried in the ground beneath fires.
However, this was a time-consuming activity and modern man – that is to say mainly after big wars of the last century – embraced gas stoves, electricity and later the microwave to forget about coal or wood fires.
Until in the 1970s, as the waistlines in industrialised countries expanded, people became more health conscious, wanted less fat in meals, turned their noses on frying and deep-frying and rediscovered the cooking pot.
In Germany, and the Netherlands, a firm has a big success in the 1970s and 1980s with the “Römertopf” – an oblong clay casserole that you soaked in water before cooking a chicken inside the cavity in an oven. Many households in northern Europe still possess such a rather decorative utensil.
The clay or porcelain cooking pots are derived from the tajines in Arab cooking and the German firm claimed that the Romans were also masters of cooking with clay pots. They may well have been.
The fad flew over but nowadays famed French chef Alain Ducasse – I followed several classes at his cooking school – is trying to promote the “cookpot” which to me looks like an oval version of my round Dutch oven.
Back to the dish. I had a free-range chicken from the Ferme du Bas Ligoure where Bernard and Françoise Carret toil near Limoges to raise succulent poultry and lamb.
I wanted to prepare a dish I could reheat on a later day – in fact on return from a long weekend near Angers – without resorting to a plain cold grilled chicken.
Therefore, I opted for the Dutch oven and added some vegetables to the pot. In this case, celery, onion, turnip, garlic and fresh rosemary as well as some white wine.
You can add tomatoes, carrots, fennel, olives, even dried fruit or spices if you like, but I wanted to preserve the taste of the chicken.
The chicken and vegetables are cooked in fat and liquid. Some people brown the chicken on the outside before closing the Dutch oven and then drain the cooking sauce to serve as gravy with the bird.
If you intend to use the sauce, you could add diced carrots and some more herbs in a separate skillet. You can even add mushrooms.
A browned chicken looks appetising and the baked skin is appreciated by many.
However, the sauce and the crackling contain a three-letter word – F.A.T.
In this recipe I did not brown the chicken. Quality French chicken, like the Poulet de Bresse, is often kept white. (Its blue legs, white feathers and red comb are seen representing the French flag). Grain-fed chicken is yellowish. Free range chicken is not because they do not just eat grain…
My 1.5 kilo chicken had brown feathers and its meat was slightly yellowish. In France, you often buy your chicken with the head and feet still on, and most of the innards inside; that way you can judge the origin of the bird and the freshness (innards do not keep very well) while you may even check the feed in the stomach (free range chicken should have a dark irregular stomach content while factory chicken would have not more than a lot of half-digested grains in the stomach).
I kept the liver and heart inside the bird and put pepper and herbs in the cavity.
After cooking, I drain the vegetables to remove the fat and serve them apart. They will still be coated with some of the fat and most of the taste but the dish is far more healthier than the version with sauce (and baked potatoes….)
- One chicken
- One celery stick
- Two turnips
- Four gloves of garlic
- One onion
- Sprigs of rosemary, thyme, oregano
- Olive oil
- Glass of white wine
- Lemon juice
- Pepper and salt
- Clean a Dutch oven. Heat an oven to 200 °C.
- Put the Dutch oven in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Clean (wash and dry) the chicken and chop the vegetables. Put herbs inside the bird with any innards if you want to keep them.
- Take the Dutch oven out of the oven and place on heat-resistant surface, close the main oven.
- Put the chicken in the Dutch oven, breast side up, sprinkle with some salt and some more pepper. Add the vegetables, pour over a cup of olive oil and a glass of white wine and some lemon juice. Put tin foil over the top of the Dutch oven and put its lid in top. (This is to seal the Dutch oven’s closure – another method is to ‘cement’ the pot closed with a paste of flour and water. This takes time and because the Dutch oven here is already hot, it is better to use foil).
- Return the Dutch oven to the oven, reduce heat to 175 °C and cook for about an hour.
- After that period, test the temperature of the chicken. At some 70 °C it is fine. If needed, return to the oven for a while to obtain this temperature.
- Take the chicken out of the oven(s), put under tin foil and let rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. Meanwhile drain the vegetables and keep apart.
- During the waiting period you could prepare a side salad, boiled potatoes, pasta or rice.