As I sit here pondering what the future may hold, writing this post whilst eating jerky, drinking beer and listening to the blues, I am theoretically one day out from meeting my son! Pending fatherhood is one of the most daunting and exciting things I have ever experienced, but what does this situation have to do with outdoor cooking? As any of you who been in a similar situation know, the time after birth can be amazing but also draining and the last thing a new family want to do is cook, so its a good idea to do some 'bulk' cooking in advance. Also as you approach your due date there are a few people who suggest spicy food may, well, errm speed up the process! I am impatient, so it seemed like an ideal time to cook up a big batch of curry!
Last weekend the weather was good and the dog was keen. The reciepe for this dish is a good one for practicing a few skills in the dutch oven and with that in mind I am going to split this post into two. The recipe is for a roast chicken curry, but it is also ideal for left over turkey, which is even better as the festive season is rapidly approaching! In this post we will deal with roasting the chicken in a dutch oven. I had only done this before with chicken legs, so the whole bird was another step up.
Dutch ovens are one of the worlds most versatile bits of cookware, there are many variations around the world but all take advantage of cast iron's heat excellent heat transfer properties.
Dutch Ovens draw on 3 principles of heat transfer: Conduction, the ability to transfer heat evenly, convection which is the transfer of heat through gases and liquids, and radiation which is heat transfer through friction. A good quality oven will take advantage of all three principles.
Cast iron allows for an even transfer of heat from your heat source to the inside of the pot minimising hot spots and therefore burnt bits. A good fitting lid effectively creates an air tight seal that traps any gases inside the oven allowing heat transfer through convection, but there does need to be space in the pot around what ever you are cooking to take full advantage of this, and as soon as you lift the lid it is all gone! Radiation occurs simply through the design of the pot reflecting heat waves back into the pot and therefore into what ever is inside.
Cast iron is a great retainer of heat and the design of the pot means it will still cook even after a heat source is removed and that once it is up to temperature it is easier to keep it it at an even temperature.
Its important to take advantage of different principles for different types of cooking. For roasting/baking it is important to get what ever is being cooked off the bottom of the pan. I like to do this by just placing a cake rack in the bottom I have seen others make a "trivet" by placing chopped veg on the bottom of the oven. What this also does is get the chicken out of its juices allowing it to cook evenly.
For roasting meat I have had no problems with just placing items on top of the rack, if I were to roast vegetables I would use another tin with the vegetables in on top of the rack and something similar for baking (watch out for future posts on this).
The challenge is then gauging temperature. There are many guides and even apps to help you decide how many coals to use. For this roast I used briquettes. As I was using a large oven I placed 10 underneath and 10 on top working on the principle that each briquette should give me 20 deg c therefore 200 deg c in the oven and a 90 min cook time.
Its important to lay the coals out evenly on top of a solid base that won't cause you to loose heat into the ground below, I chose a paving slab, which worked but the heat from the coals did crack it!
One of the tips for creating an even temperature is a quarter turn of the base anti clock wise and a quarter turn of the lid clockwise (being careful not to allow the gases to escape) every 20 mins to maintain an even temperature.
Then it is a case of leaving it cooking for 1hr 30 mins replacing any spent briquettes as the roasting takes place. Each briquette last roughly about 40 mins and takes about 20 mins to get up to heat. With this in mind I had a feeder fire running with fresh coals in it to replace those that had disintegrated to dust!
The easiest way to tell if your bird is done is to puncture the thigh at its thickest point then press the flesh to see if the juices run clear. If they don't or if there is still a hint of blood give it another 10-15 minutes and test again.
All that is left to do is carve and in this case get it ready for the next stage, the dutch oven curry! You'll have to wait until part two for that.