We had a very successful cookout, with great company and lots of food!
And lots of mosquitoes.
Insane numbers of mosquitoes.
We had bug spray, citronella candles, and even the smoke from the fire, and we still got invaded.
Still, we had a great time of it.
Having company was my excuse to finally use our new Dutch oven.
I’ve been looking up recipes for quite a while, and it’s been rather frustrating. So many of the sites I’ve been finding are just the same links to the same recipes, over and over. I had better luck with YouTube and survivalist/bushcraft type channels.
In the end, I realized I really didn’t need any special recipes so much as get a handle on the technique.
With our planned cookout, we were going to have burgers on the grill, with wieners and hoagies over the fire. So for the Dutch oven, I decided to do scalloped potatoes. I just slightly modified my usual recipe for them.
The first thing I made for them was a cheesy white sauce. A basic white sauce is a table spoon of butter, melted, a tablespoon of flour added and stirred to keep smooth, then slowly add about 2 cups of milk (how much milk depends on how thick you want the sauce), stirring constantly. The sauce it cooked until the desired thickness, then seasoned to taste (I used salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder). For today’s sauce, I also added a handful of shredded Old cheddar cheese, stirring until melted. The sauce was then set aside until it was time to do the rest.
Along with the sauce, I used bacon slices, sliced onions and peeled and sliced potatoes.
The Dutch oven we got was pre-seasoned. According to the instructions, we could use it straight out of the box. However, since it was our first time using it, I still gave it a wipe down, then gave it a light coat of oil.
My first modification to my usual scalloped potatoes recipe was with the bacon. Pre-sliced bacon would have worked, but we happen to have a slab of bacon right now, so I cut a bunch of slices from that. They were not at all even and pretty, but who cares? 😀
The bacon is there to keep the potatoes from directly touching the surface – at least not right away. As they cook, the fat from the bacon renders out, making another layer between the sides and the other ingredients, until they absorb it. At least, that was the plan.
The sliced potatoes were in a bowl of water, and I didn’t try to shake it off much. The water would add to the moisture that would cook the potatoes, without making things too runny. The potatoes were layered on top of the bacon first, then a layer of sliced onions. Because of the bacon and seasonings in the sauce, no other seasonings were added between the layers.
Because I was making enough for 8 people, I used about 7 – 8 pounds of potatoes and 2 sliced onions. The layers made for a VERY full pot! Once the layers were down, the bacon ends were folded over the top.
Then the cheesy sauce was poured over the whole thing. The sauce had thickened more as it cooled, so I smoothed it out and pushed it down the sides to get it down into the potatoes.
Because it was so very full, I thought it might end up touching the lid, so I gave the underside of the lid an extra coat of oil. Just in case.
Our Dutch oven set came with a carry bag. I put the full Dutch oven into the bag, tucking an ice pack under it, and a couple more along the sides, until it was time to get cooking. The carry bag made it much easier to move the whole thing to the fire pit later on, too.
About 2 hours before we were expecting our guests, I got the fire going.
I made sure to use all maple wood at first. That piece of tree that fell on our canopy tent and destroyed it was nice and dry, and burned really well.
Still, it took an hour to get it down to the coals I needed.
I put a bunch of coals in between the fire bricks I found. We will need to empty the fire pit of ashes, soon, so one of the benefits of using the bricks under the Dutch oven is that it keeps the legs from sinking. More ashes were added to the lid (they got spread out better, after I took the picture), and then I built the fire up again, for later roasting of wieners. 🙂
By this time, I was starting to use pieces of apple wood we’d set aside was we pruned branches or cut away dead trees.
Since the fire was going, with so much more heat on the one side, I set a timer on my phone to go off every 15 minutes, at which point I rotated the pot a 1/3 turn. Getting the legs to rest on the bricks equally was more difficult than expected. I can’t see them while using the lid lifter on the handle to turn it, and I’d sometimes miss. At the very end, though, with my last rotation, I missed the bricks entirely, and the Dutch oven was resting directly on the bricks. It was more than an hour by then, and the coals were starting to die down, so I left it that way.
After about 1 1/2 hours, I decided it was time to take it off. Being cast iron, which holds heat for a very long time, if the potatoes weren’t quite done yet, they would continue to cook, even off the fire.
I ended up using a BBQ scrubbing brush to get as much of the ashes off the lid as I could, then used my fire fan to blow more ashes off the top. We brought out our pizza stone to use as a trivet on the picnic table.
The potatoes turned out to be perfectly done. The bacon was nice and crisp, and the potatoes absorbed the sauce completely. They were perfectly soft – almost creamy in texture, but still holding their shape. While things were crispier around the bottom and edges, nothing was burnt. Just toasty.
They were an absolute hit. So incredibly tasty!!
With how well these worked, we are looking forward to trying other dishes in the Dutch oven as we do more cookouts!
When that will be is hard to say, though, with so many mosquitoes to do battle with!!!