Dutch comfort

Dutch-oven-cooking club members take outdoor cuisine seriously
Dutch oven dinner rolls cool near Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Point.Julia Moore

In 25 years of Dutch-oven cooking, Ron Clanton has prepared meals as simple as stew and cobbler for campers to turducken for more than 100 Thanksgiving diners.

"You can cook anything you can think of outdoors at camp," says Clanton, founder of Rogue Dutch Oven Cookers, a chapter of the International Dutch Oven Society.

Shoreside Fish Fry

Fill a deep, cast-iron skillet or 10-inch Dutch oven with a few inches of cooking oil. Peanut oil works well, but canola or vegetable oil works too.

Heat on a camp stove to medium to medium-high. Don't overheat the oil because it's dangerous. It's best to start a little low and then increase the heat. Carefully drip a few drops of water into the oil. It should pop when the oil is heated to the right temperature.

To a large, plastic bowl with a tight-fitting lid, add your favorite fish coating, such as Krusteaz bake/fry mix. Drop a bunch of fish fillets (or chunks if you have big fish) into the bowl, snap the lid on tight and shake vigorously.

Using tongs, shake off excess coating and carefully lower each fillet into the oil. If it's heated correctly, the oil should vigorously bubble when you lower a fillet into it. Cook each fillet about 2 or 3 minutes or until coating is golden brown. Put fillet on a paper towel and salt and pepper to taste.

Dutch-Oven Twilight Dinner

Start this meat-and-potatoes meal before you head out for an evening of fishing, and it's ready when you get back.

In a Dutch oven, combine some cut-up potatoes, carrots and onion and/or whatever vegetables you like. You can substitute a cup of rice for the potatoes. Add a can of chicken broth or about 12 ounces of water and some boullion. The liquid should be at least 1Ā"2 inch deep in the Dutch oven.

Place a few chicken quarters (leg/thigh) or a pork tenderloin on a trivet to keep the meat off the veggies. Spice meat to taste, liberally coat it with barbecue sauce or marinate beforehand.

Cook at 350 F. For a 10-inch Dutch oven, that's about 20 pieces of charcoal (14 on top, six on bottom).

It's ready to eat in about an hour, but the Dutch oven keeps the food hot for several hours until you're ready to eat.

Easiest Upside-Down Cake

Line a Dutch oven with aluminum foil.

Add a can of pie filling like cherry, blueberry or whatever flavor you like. Dump a white or yellow cake mix on top of the fruit. Pour in a can of 7-Up or lemon-lime soda. Do not mix the ingredients.

Set the Dutch oven on coals. If you're using a 10-inch oven, usually 13 pieces of charcoal on top and seven or eight on the bottom works well. Cook for about 35 to 40 minutes or until done, depending on the heat.

Many campfire cooks are comfortable with Dutch-oven biscuits and cornbread, but Clanton prepares a variety of yeast breads at Dutch-oven competitions with winning results. At the request of club members, Clanton and other Dutch-oven experts plan to share their secrets and free samples during a weekend demonstration Aug. 11 at Eagle Point's Butte Creek Mill.

"Talk about old-fashioned comfort food," says Mill co-owner Bob Russell, an enthusiastic sponsor of the Cookers' activities.

"Half of 'em are chefs by trade ... and they're so generous with their knowledge."

Clanton, 70, says he trained at a Los Angeles culinary school before spending decades managing graphic-design companies. He gravitated to Dutch-oven cooking while living in Utah, the headquarters of IDOS and moved to the Rogue Valley eight years ago. He heads food service at a local retirement community when he's not trying out recipes over open coals.

"If you're baking, you have to use charcoal (on) top and bottom," he says.

Charcoal constitutes the most common question at Dutch-oven demonstrations, says Clanton. To determine the number of charcoal pieces needed for cooking, verify the Dutch oven's diameter, usually stamped on the lid.

Subtract four from that number to determine the amount of charcoal to place under the oven. Add four to the Dutch-oven diameter to derive the quantity of charcoal to place on top. Using this equation, a 12-inch Dutch oven requires eight pieces of charcoal underneath and 16 on top to bake at 350 F. Because the bottom of bread or biscuits browns more quickly, simply move the Dutch oven off the bed of charcoal when the bread's top just begins to brown and continue cooking with top heat only.

This method and numerous other step-by-step guides — with recipes and photos — are detailed on Clanton's blog, http://roguedutchovencookers.blogspot.com. Created three years ago, the blog covers such Dutch-oven classics as "cowboy beans" and pineapple upside-down cake while showing the vessel's sophisticated side with baked-egg ramekins with ham, Brie and chives. Clanton's own creative and whimsical approach to cooking is evident in recipes for tomato upside-down cornbread and stuffed "crown roast" of frankfurters.

Try these bread recipes from his blog, as well as several simple strategies for using Dutch ovens in the great outdoors.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

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