If you were abandoned on a deserted island, aside from a knife, the best piece of cookware you could have on hand would be a large, good quality Dutch oven style pot. Often called a stockpot, French oven, round oven or casserole (or cocotte in France), it’s simply an essential tool in your kitchen arsenal.
These cast-iron workhorses have been around for hundreds of years. They’re called Dutch ovens because the Dutch were the first to perfect the use of dry sand molds to make the pots, which gave them a smooth surface. American colonists and settlers loved the cast-iron cookware because it was versatile and durable. They could fry, poach, boil, bake, roast, braise and simmer a stew. There’s next to nothing these vessels can’t do, and do well. Virtually indestructible, the pots can go from the refrigerator to the stovetop to the oven.
If you’re in the market for a Dutch oven, basically, you’ve got three material choices: copper, enamel-coated cast-iron or bare, unglazed cast-iron – chuckwagon-style. Copper looks gorgeous and retains even heat best, but will cost an arm and a leg. Old school unglazed cast-iron performs like a champ and can be had for fifty dollars or less. Situated at a price point somewhere between the two (but not cheap) are the enameled cast-iron pots made by French manufacturers, Le Creuset and Le Chasseur. And this, dear readers, is why Dutch ovens are often referred to as “French” ovens.
Professional chefs prefer the enameled cast-iron because of its excellent heat retention that makes for even cooking in the oven and on the stovetop. And the smooth, glossy, nonreactive interior of the pot cleans up easily with a soapy soak. Le Creuset frequently earns the highest praise because they really are the best. Go that route if finances permit it. Round pots work beautifully, but if you had to choose one and you frequently prepare whole guinea hen, large legs of lamb and 7-bone rib roasts, then oval-shaped might be the call. 7-qt., is a good size, but if you cook for a lot of people on occasion and can swing the price point, then adding the 9-qt. would prove prudent.
Admittedly, Dutch ovens aren’t cheap. But if properly cared for, they will last a lifetime. And if something goes awry, most pots carry a lifetime warranty. Make sure of that, prior to purchasing one.