It was actually last Sunday afternoon, the second day of the 2009 Spaniel’s Fall Vacation, that I gave my new Lodge eight quart twelve inch cast iron dutch oven its maiden flight in the coals beside Moose Lake. I just haven’t been to town since then. Most days, don’t even move the car; that’s how the Spaniels’ Fall Vacation goes. We had arrived the afternoon before in occasional rain that stopped in the early evening just long enough for me to grill a little marinated sirloin steak to have alongside steamed dressed green beans and a loaded baked potato with the requisite glass of plonk:
Yes, that is a forty year old Gerber Pixie from my cabin box; after serving as the paring knife no rental cabin ever comes with, it moved on as it has for years to being the perfect steak knife. The cabin box has most of what most northwoods rental cabins need to be comfortably serviceable (like the OXO tongs in the next picture). I did take the time Saturday afternoon to wash and set the black, red, and pinto beans to soak for Sunday’s feast. I also brought in some tinder from the wet and split some birch and oak logs to small and intermediate size to facilitate establishing a cooking fire in the stone ring by the lake. Also dug out the fire ring which had already contained a season’s worth of evening fires’ ash. If the weather should clear up, we were ready.
Twelve nice looking large chicken thighs seasoned with sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and ground cumin await the pot. The Russian Cold War entrenching tool may well be the most useful fire maintenance instrument I have ever owned. Thin sliced white onion, a pound and a half of sliced mushrooms, EVOO, seasonings, organic chicken broth, and a cup of bacon are arrayed here on some freshly cut and stacked maple. This maple was cut within days of our arrival and is way too green for fire use. It was, however, prime for some carving and whittling I was to do later on in the week while waiting out the rain.
With the pervasive damp and wet, it took almost two hours to get a fire going and down to the required quantity of coals to begin cooking. Here one of two batches of seasoned chicken thighs take their turn browning up in some EVOO before being reserved.
The Cook’s view of the lake after a large thinly sliced white onion had joined the sliced mushrooms getting all soft, carmelized and happy in the EVOO. This was about as bright as Sunday got. Note the remaining fire on the other side of the pit as a supply of fresh red hot coals were needed for the three and a half hours of cooking. The lid lifter allows the lid to be lifted when loaded with coals while not spilling any in the pot or burning the cook. The lid sits off the ground on its own little metal rack which doubles as a support for using the inverted lid in the fire as a frying surface. One secret to avoiding adding ash to the pot is to blow off the lid coals carefully before lifting the lid. Not shown are the heavy gauntleted fire gloves which make fine fire maintenance a breeze. Wood fire and cast iron go together in a way that must be experienced to be believed.
And here is the dutch oven with flanged lid loaded with cooking coals after the sautéed mushrooms, crumbled bacon and onion were deglazed with a liter of chicken broth and the sautéed chicken thighs were returned to braise for an hour. Then the mix of soaked beans was added, the pot stirred and allowed to cook for another hour. Finally, a cup and a half of rinsed and soaked basmati rice was added with some more chicken broth, stirred and allowed to cook for a final hour. At each addition, the coals below the pot and on the lid were refreshed and tended to from the fire on the other side of the pit.
It was after dark when the cooking was done. As it was also beginning to rain again, this picture of the final stew was taken inside after the fire area was policed and secured. The smells throughout the cooking process were heavenly and drew considerable polite attention.
And the served plate. I was not in the mood to put together a salad or steam any green vegetable. That is a Guinness and Sam Adams Black & Tan, possibly the perfect accompanying beverage for this hearty and delicious fare. I may have had a better meal cooked in a campfire, but I’m having a hard time remembering it. With the low fire cooking temperatures involved, the dutch oven and lid rinsed clean quickly, ready for a quick coat of beargrease-in-a-can (Crisco) before being put away. The leftover chicken with rice and beans are even better and nuke up effortlessly after a long day with the spaniels in the bushes. And yes, the girls did score some of the Pa’s dinner, too.