A Dutch oven, like any other cast iron cookware, must be seasoned before initial use to make it fit for cooking. Let us see the best way to season a Dutch oven.
A Dutch oven is a cooking vessel made of cast iron, equipped with a close-fitting lid. It has been used for centuries, and when used over fire, it is ideal for baking pizzas and breads. If you have bought a Dutch oven, you need to know what to do before you start cooking in it. A brand new Dutch oven is specially coated with a layer of oil or wax after manufacturing to prevent it from rusting during shipping. This layer must be washed off with soap and water before you use it for cooking. Then you must season it. The best way to season it involves applying coats of vegetable oil to the oven and then heating it. The oil hardens on heating which forms a protective layer and prevents the vessel from oxidation, and also creates a non-stick surface, making it safer for cooking.
How to Season a Dutch Oven
❑ Peel off any labels stuck on the cooking pot. Now using a soap and scrubber (you can use a steel wool pad), thoroughly wash the oven and the lid to completely get rid of the protective layer. Remember that this is the first and the last time you will use soap to clean your Dutch oven. Dutch ovens are not meant to be cleaned with soap. If you use soap, it will leave behind a soapy residue which will destroy the taste of food you cook.
❑ Using a paper towel or a soft cloth, wipe the oven clean, making sure no traces of water remain on the pot. Being made of cast iron, it can instantly begin to rust if it comes in contact with water even for a few seconds. To ensure that all moisture is gone, preheat the oven to 200 °F and place the oven and the lid inside it for a minute.
❑ Carefully remove the oven and lid using mitts and using a cloth or paper towel, rub vegetable oil all over the oven, inside and outside, and also all over the lid. Include all depressions and holes present on the surface. Use a generous amount of oil, or you can also use vegetable shortening.
❑ Line your kitchen oven with an aluminum foil and preheat it to 350 °F. Now invert the Dutch oven and keep it and the lid inside. Set the timer for 45 minutes. Keeping it face down will prevent the oils from pooling inside the vessel. Close the oven door and leave it to bake.
❑ Open all doors and windows and turn off the smoke detector. The heat and smoke generated during the baking is considerably high.
❑ When the 45 minutes are up, let the oven and lid stay where they are till they are cool enough to handle. Put on your mitts and remove the oven and the lid. Wipe off any oil that is dripping with a towel. Set the oven to 350 °F and the timer to 45 minutes. Apply another coat of oil to the vessel and the lid much the same way as before, and keep them back into the oven, face down, and wait till the timer goes off.
❑ Let the Dutch oven and the lid cool down. Remove it using oven mitts, wipe off the oil if it is dripping, and your Dutch oven is shiny and ready to be used!
It is recommended that a Dutch oven should be seasoned over fire or a grill placed outdoors, because of the excess smoke it generates. But some people prefer doing the procedure indoors using their kitchen oven.
Caring for your Dutch Oven
Cast iron Dutch ovens need to be carefully cleaned, since you cannot use soap. If there are food scraps stuck to the bottom of the surface, heat the oven for a few minutes again. This might just burn the food particles and they may come off easily. Otherwise you can scrape them out using a spatula. Now add water to the oven and heat it. Avoid adding cold water to a hot oven, or it will develop a crack. Once it reaches the boiling point, discard the water. Take a scrubber and clean the surface thoroughly. Do not use soap! Then rinse again with clean, cold water and wipe the surface with a towel. Dry it completely by placing it in a preheated oven for a minute. Refer to step #2 above. Then follow steps 3 through 7. It is advisable to re-season a Dutch oven before each use.
While storing a Dutch oven, remember to keep the lid slightly ajar to allow air to circulate inside the pot. The air trapped in a tightly closed pot will turn stale, and that can make the layers of oil go rancid. Cooking in such a pot is not advisable. In such a case, you should strip the pot of its protective barrier by heating it thoroughly inside and out in an oven or on an open flame, scrubbing off any charred particles that are stuck with a metal scourer, washing it under warm water, toweling it dry, and then re-seasoning it, before you cook anything in it.
The more you use your Dutch oven, the more seasoning it undergoes. When you cook in it, all the frying and baking will add additional layers of grease and oil, which will act as protective layers for the oven surface. Casseroles and stews are the perfect Dutch oven dishes, since they require slow cooking over a long duration. These ovens are popularly used in outdoor cooking, so the next time you plan to cook out, get a Dutch oven, season it well, and you will be delighted by the flavor it imparts to all your meals.