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Dutch Oven Cooking with the D.O. Diva

DAWN RACHEL is a dutch oven diva, a camp-cook contessa who, between guiding flyfishing trips in Montana and Idaho, works as a river cook for hire. Formerly a cook on Alaskan fishing boats, once Rachel was inspired by renowned Dutch oven cook C.W. “Butch” Welch, she delved into the art of packing and cooking for high-desert river trips, and never looked back. Quick to laugh and tell a story, Rachel is just as willing to share her secrets on the finer points of canyon cooking. — Rob Lyon

FIRST, GET A GOOD SET OF DUTCH OVENS. Critical to easy food prep on the river is a good set of ovens. I like aluminum ovens because they’re lightweight and don’t have to be seasoned like cast iron. Traditionalists like cast iron, which is usually cheaper and heats more evenly. GSI makes some great aluminum ovens and they’re hard anodized.

CONSIDER HOW IT PACKS. When I say a set, I’m talking about two nesting units that stack and pack nicely together; the 10-inch fits inside the 12-inch. They make great dishpans and they clean up easily. Basically, you can do all your frying, boiling, sautéing, roasting and baking with the Dutchies and never need to carry another pan. I take a 14-inch oven along with the other two for big trips.

THINK OUTSIDE THE OVEN. I also pack a lighter stick and welding gloves with the ovens, so when we reach the beach I’m ready to cook. Even on small trips I like a big kitchen that makes me feel at home. And get some flat nylon cutting mats to help organize and consolidate prep and cleanup.

GET ORGANIZED. A notebook is a must for preplanning and refining the menu and grocery lists. Keep notes of what you were going to cook, what you actually cooked, what worked and what didn’t. Make note of quantities you may have misjudged, so you’ll get portions right on your next trip. It’s good to plan ahead for whatever spontaneous menu items may arise, like a birthday cake. Don’t be afraid to start with a good dutch oven cook book.

CREATE A MENU WITH PANACHE. In other words, make it sound good as well as taste good: Cajun-style blackened bass fillets, pork roast and potatoes with cherry chutney, mango upside-down cake, brown beer bread, game birds with wild and brown rice and veggies, huckleberry dump cake, the list goes on.

PRACTICE. Now get cooking. You can cook stovetop if you have to, but try and use briquettes so you can learn to regulate your heat and cooking time with them. Pretty soon you’ll be thinking of that roast chicken as a 10-briquette meal.

This blog was reprinted with permission from Canoe & Kayak Magazine

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