Next to the wok, my most favourite kitchen utensil is the Camp oven. Outside Australia, it is commonly known as a Dutch oven, cocotte in French, tetsunabe in Japanese or simply called as a casserole dish by the British. Camp ovens have been around for many years and the Dutch were producing these cast iron cooking vessels from the late 1600s and hence came to be referred to as “Dutch” ovens.
The modern Dutch ovens are now mainly designed by the French for use on the cooktop or in the oven are typically enamelled and smooth bottomed. Unlike those pricy cherry- red french ovens by the French manufacturer, my camp oven is a 50 year old thick walled cast iron cooking pot with a heavy lid. This much loved and treasured cooking vessel was handed to us from our elderly neighbour before they went to live in the retirement village seven years ago. Over time the camp oven has become one of my favourite cooking utensils. It is a frugal and practical cooking vessel that I use over and over again for preparing a great variety of food including stews roasts casseroles and curry. We use it almost daily, in many different ways because of its versatility and durability. It goes straight from the stove to the table and keeping the food warm during the mealtime because of its fabulous heat retention capacity.
In case you are thinking of buying a cast iron camp oven, we would like to share some of our tips on how to take care of your camp oven. Most camping stores carry good quality ovens but I have picked up one for my sister-in law from a thrift store a few years for $10. It comes in various sizes and with proper care it will last a life time.
CARE OF YOUR CAMP OVEN
Before using a camp oven and to prevent rust it needs to be “seasoned”. The first step with a new oven is to remove any labels and then wash it with hot soapy water, this will usually remove any protective coating of wax or shellac from the factory. Rinse well with warm water and dry completely. Grease the oven and lid inside out with vegetable oil soaked in a piece of paper towel. Do not use lard or any other animal fats as they will spoil and turn rancid. The oven should then be heated so as to bond the oil to the metal. You will probably need to repeat the process for the oven to obtain the desired uniform black patina that provides a non stick quality comparable to the best Teflon cookware available and also protects your oven from rust.
Avoid at first acidic foods such as tomatoes, vinegar which removes the ‘seasoning” otherwise you will have to repeat to re-season the oven. Instead, newly seasoned oven should be used to cook something high in oil or fat such as chicken, bacon or sausages or used for deep frying. In cleaning the oven never use detergents, simply scrape out the remaining food and clean the oven with hot water with a brush and allow to completely dry. To store your oven, lightly oil all surfaces, place a piece of paper towel inside the oven to absorb any moisture. It is best kept in a clean dry place with the lid ajar. A camp oven, when properly cared for, will last for decades of use.