Bearskins, powder kegs, and mapping tools weren’t the only items Lewis and Clark hauled on their cartographic tour of the 19th century American West. As with many wilderness adventurers, settlers, and Scouts who followed, the Dutch oven was one of the cooking items chosen to accompany the frontiersmen on their expedition. Long associated with outdoor and backcountry cooking, Dutch oven recipes have come a long way since the days of raccoon fricassee. And while nobody will decline hot dogs and s'mores at the end of a rugged trail, adding this item to the supply list will raise the bar on any campground game.
But Dutch oven expert C.W. "Hutch" Welch, better known as Cee Dub, advises campers to take the subject of weight into consideration before breaking out the cast iron.
"As an Idaho Department of Fish & Game backcountry game warden I did a lot of whitewater rafting and horse packing where weight was a critical issue," he said. On weight-restricted wilderness trips, Welch prefers a hard-anodized aluminum Dutch oven, which can weigh two-thirds less than its cast iron counterpart.
Welch's essential items for Dutch oven campfire cooking are a metal firepan, steel cooking table, or metal surface of some sort that will contain the wood coals or charcoal briquettes being used for the heat source; a Mair lid lifter to lessen the likelihood of spilling ash from the lid into the food, and to carry a hot, loaded Dutch oven by the bail handle; a good pair of heavy leather gloves or oven mitts for handling hot objects; a small fireplace shovel for moving hot coals and charcoal briquettes; and metal tongs, also to move hot coals and briquettes.
And, as common sense and Welch dictate, synthetic clothing and open-toed shoes are faux pas near the fire. "Even a single charcoal briquette dropped on a person’s bare foot typically results in a long string of very bad words, several new dance steps, plus spraying any onlookers with the cook’s drink or beer," he said.
Setting up his final tip, Welch asks beginning Dutch oven cooks to think back to childhood "when you got your hand slapped or your behind paddled for opening your mom's oven door to see if the cookies or the cake was ready." The same goes for cracking open the Dutch oven’s lid to check if it’s time to dig in.
"In our camp we use the smell test," said Welch. "If it smells done, it's done; if it smells burnt, it's burnt; and if you can't smell it, it's not done."
Homemade Hash and Wide Eyes
Reprinted by permission of Back Country Press from Dutch Oven and Other Camp Cookin' by C.W. "Hutch" Welch
For the Homemade Hash
- 2 cups of finely diced leftover elk roast
- 3 baked potatoes diced into ½” cubes
- 1 medium onion diced fine
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup venison or beef stock (or 1 bouillon cube dissolved in a cup of water)
- Salt/pepper or whatever other seasonings you prefer
- Sauté the onion until it’s soft, then add all the remaining ingredients.
- Stir to mix and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed or reduced.
- If possible, make it the night before and just reheat for breakfast.
- Scramble up a dozen eggs in another Dutch and serve the hash as a side dish.
Homemade Hash and Wide Eyes
- 1 batch of homemade hash
- 6 eggs
- salt/pepper (A dose of Tabasco Sauce works too)
- Melt just a dab of butter or margarine in a 12” Dutch.
- Spoon in the hash and spread it evenly in the Dutch oven. Set the Dutch oven in a firepan with about five briquettes underneath and cook uncovered just until the hash starts to bubble.
- While the hash is heating, shovel the lid full of coals from the campfire, or place 20 – 25 briquettes on the lid.
- Take a coffee cup and press into the hash to make a nest of sorts. Break an egg into each nest then put the lid on the Dutch oven for about 6 – 8 minutes.
- When you take the lid off it looks like a “Wide Eyed Monster” of sorts.
Dutch Oven Gumbo
Tip: chop the vegetables in advance and lump them into containers based on when they go into the pot.
- 2 lbs medium to large shrimp, heads on
- 6 cups water
- 1 lb Andouille sausage, sliced
- ¼ cup plus 2 tbsps vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 stalks green onions, chopped
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp Creole seasoning
- 1 tbsp filé powder
- 12 oz canned lump crabmeat
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 cups prepared white rice, or loaf of French bread
- Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells and heads.
- Set the Dutch oven on five briquettes. Bring the water and shells to boil and cook about 10 – 15 minutes more to make the seafood stock.
- Decant the stock into a bowl or container and set aside. Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil to the Dutch oven and fry the sausages.
- Cook until the edges are crisped and the sausages have some char. Set the fried sausages aside. Pour the remaining oil into the oven and sauté the onion, bell pepper, and celery until the onions are wilted.
- Add the garlic and green onions and sauté for another minute or so.
- Add the flour to the vegetables and cook for 5 – 10 minutes until the flour develops a caramel color, stirring frequently.
- Strain the stock into the oven with the roux and stir, breaking up any clumps. Bring to a boil. Add the bay leaves, Creole seasoning, filé powder, and sausage. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the lump crabmeat and shrimp. Cook until shrimp turns pink. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Enjoy with rice or bread.