If You Ask for One Thing This Year…

Make it a Dutch oven.

Forget cutesie cake pans, pretty aprons, sexy knives, or colorful silicone spatulas. Get one of these ovens—they, too, come in fun colors. And, if you already have one…ask for a bigger one! (No, I am not working for the Dutch oven people. And unfortunately, they have not offered me anything free.)

Last Christmas, I got a Le Creuset Dutch oven. (Confusingly, the Le Creuset website calls them “French ovens”— but don’t be deterred, they’re the same thing.) I asked for the color “flame” because it’s kind of sassy and warm. And somehow, in less than a year, it already feels like an extension of me.

I cook just about everything in my little Dutch oven. It allows me to make everyday soups and tomato sauces, deeply-flavored stews, and impressive braises. I cook pasta in it, I bake bread in it, I turn it into a double boiler. My Dutch oven’s heavy bottom and even heat conduction make it perfect for stirring up creamy risotto or polenta, making homemade pudding, or creating my own caramel sauce.

By far the best part is how easy and delicious it makes entertaining, particularly in the winter. I love to plan a meal around a cut of meat slow-cooked in my Dutch oven. These dishes usually start with a little sear, a quick sauté, and some liquid. Then it’s into the oven to do its thang. A few hours later, my meal is tender, meaty perfection in a rich, complex sauce.

Yes, you read that right. Two hours before the meal I am essentially done with the main course. I can clean my apartment, take a bath, select wine, have a glass of it, set the table, make a salad, put out hors d’oeuvres, and choose an actual outfit—not just whatever I frantically throw on when I realize my guests have arrived and I’m in sweats. With the help of my Dutch oven, I can actually be the sane, attractive, and talented cook and hostess I like to think I am.

And as a grad student with a tight budget and a zero-tolerance policy for meat that has not been humanely raised, I can really only afford scraps of the good stuff. This may seems sad, but my trusty Dutch oven is the key to turning the cheap cuts of meat from lambs, goats, cows, and pigs into tender, flavorful, fall-apart-good meals.

A few weeks ago, Tony and I made an incredibly tender braised lamb dish that we served over risotto. We made a first course, dessert, and hors d’oeuvres and then had so much time left over that we made fresh bread. Our guests were floored.

The other day, we decided to cook for a few friends at the last minute. I had just received an enormous box of figs from the California Fig Advisory Board (thanks!), so we quickly threw together a goat stew with cumin, aromatics, and black mission figs. Not only was it unbelievably tasty, we also had time to clean the kitchen before our fellow diners arrived.

If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you should seriously consider making the investment or asking (guilting or coercing) someone else to make that investment for you. It will change your culinary life—and maybe your whole life, too.

31 Comments

  1. Sharon says

    I have a 5.5 qt which is perfect. It’s a good size–can handle any job, but not too overwhelming. It’s a workhorse–I never even put it away, it lives on my stove. (Which is fine because it’s so pretty.) If it’s your first one, I would start with 5.5 qt.

    Eventually, I would LOVE a larger one to cook for big parties or to make bigger batches of soup…but, they’re expensive!

  2. says

    I came back to mention that I also make popcorn in my Le Creuset! (just one more way to utilize it:)

    But I saw Karen’s question. We have the 5 (or 5 3/4?) qt. and the 6 3/4 (not sure if these are the exact sizes, but it’s the one above the 5 qt. size). I have found that I use both equally. When making a BIG pot of soup, for instance- I need to use the larger one, since the smaller one wasn’t quite big enough. Or, when braising large cuts of meat, I use the bigger one (so that the meat fits!)… and lastly- when searing, the larger allows me to sear more at one time (less batches). But again- I use the smaller one (which isn’t small, just smaller) just as often!!

  3. says

    Just saw Sharon’s response… That’s what we did- started with the 5- qt! (luckily my husband used to work next to the outlet, and they were having a big sale! The large one that I purchased for my mom was at a discounted price at TJ Maxx… and our 5 qt. was at a discount at Bed, Bath, & Beyond (I’d never be able to pay full price!)

    …I promise- no more comments:).

  4. Sharon says

    Hahaha, Torrie. Don’t stop, we love it! And OBVIOUSLY, I totally understand the excitement. Literally, Le Creuset is the best thing that’s ever happened to my kitchen (besides Tony).

  5. says

    I love the LeCreuset Dutch oven too but actually my favorite (perhaps because I have two other Dutch ovens, including the “sentimental favorite” from my mother that remains a workhorse) LeCreuset piece is the braising pan, especially for one-pot meals that move so easily from stove to oven to table. I just love the flourish of removing the lid — with much of the drama of a tagine without the storage issue from the unwieldy lid.

  6. says

    Just the other day I was making caramel sauce and I couldn’t get the sugar water to turn that deep caramel color. I think the problem may be that I don’t have a heavy-bottom pan. Sounds like a dutch oven would have helped! And if you can make one-pot meals ahead of time in it too? I’m sold!

  7. says

    Sharon, you gave me this speech over a year ago, and I have blessed you for it ever since. James gave me a cherry red Le Crueset for Christmas, just what I asked for – and then a friend bought me a smaller version in biscuit for my birthday in February. Between the two of them, they’re the most used pots in my kitchen. Just about the only thing I don’t do in them is fry an egg, because while I could, it just seems like overkill. But don’t think that a nice big Le Crueset frying pan isn’t on my Christmas list this year! It was your mom who told me she never even put her dutch oven away, that it was pretty enough to live on the stove – and that’s where mine does. Like your mom says, “If the pot’s already on the stove, you’re already half way to dinner”.

  8. Alison says

    I would love it if you did a meat tutorial! I only buy pastured chickens and grass-fed beef but I also buy very little because it is so expensive. A list of the least expensive cuts of different animals and how to prepare them would be an excellent resource!

  9. Pam says

    Turns out I do have one more thing to say. My new favorite Le Creuset piece is what they call a risotto pan, which is wider and slighter shorter than the Dutch oven. The increased surface area means I can brown meat in fewer batches and liquids come to boil much faster.

    OK. I’m done.

  10. says

    Okay, I’m breaking my promise:)…

    To Jen:
    I can’t believe I forgot- I have a saucepan as well, and it is perfect for making sauces, candy, caramel, hot fudge, you name it.

    Pam… Thank you for sharing this. I’ve seen both wider, shorter, narrower pans, and always wonder what *one pan would be, or should be on my wish list (not that I’ll get it anytime soon!).

  11. says

    I got a generic one for my birthday in a pretty yellow color! It’s not a Le Creuset but it does the job. I believe my mother got it for me at HomeGoods. They sometimes have the real deal there for a bargain too if you keep your eyes peeled at this time of year!

  12. Kate says

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time – I asked my hubby for my first Le Creuset dutch oven for Christmas and wasn’t sure if I should get the 5.5 or 7.25 qt size. I was concerned that the smaller size would be a little too small but it sounds like that’s the right size for a starter. Have you seen the Cassis color – it’s gorgeous and perfect for fall and winter? That’s what I’m asking for. :)

  13. Jeanne says

    Love, love, love my Flame Le Creuset dutch oven! I don’t remember who first told me about this amazing cookware–probably you three…but it is worth every penny

  14. Kathy F. says

    Okay. The Le Creuset was on my list, but now I’m moving it to the top of the list. I’d love to buy one for each of my daughters and DIL’s… Maybe I’ll shop around like Torrie did!

    Thanks. Sharon. You real should get a commission on each one you just sold!

    I like the meat tutorial idea too!

  15. Mary says

    Mine is an old timey, 70 plus years, that my dad and mom saved store coupons and got it. It is a very heavy aluminum but cooks anything wonderfully.

  16. Celia Adamec says

    Everybody! Just a few weeks ago, Costco had a gorgeous wine red dutch oven for sale for the insane price of $40 – maybe they are still carrying it? It would really be worth a trip to check. It’s identical to the ‘real’ thing from Le Creuset and just as pretty. For that price, I stopped waiting and pining year after year and grabbed it on the spot! I have been making at least 2-3 soups a week in it already; I’m almost wishing I’d gotten two while I was at it.

  17. Teresa says

    I was at the Le Creuset outlet store today in Destin FL . The round dutch oven was on sale for $99.00 & the oval was $129. Variety of colors.

  18. Michelle says

    This is on my christmas list!!! I have two….a very large and a very small….hope santa brings the one in between. They stay on my stove top all of the time and we use them daily!! Great kitchen investment.

  19. Erin Noelle says

    If you are a student, just out of college, don’t make a lot of money, can’t afford a Le Creuset, don’t fret… The lodge enamel dutch oven is JUST AS GOOD. It is literally amazing, and they are always on sale. You can find them just about anywhere, and I bought mine for around 50. The red is very similar to the coveted Le Creuset, but the green is just lovely. I use this pot for everything, from soups, to pot roast, etc. I highly recommend it…

  20. Nancy says

    Ohmyword – I couldn’t live without my dutch oven. I purchased my Lodge brand oven on Amazon (no tax & free shipping!) some years ago and I wonder how I ever cooked without it. I use it for everything from stews to roasts and it never fails me. LOVE it!

  21. says

    WORD ladies! I, too, thoroughly enjoy my dutch oven and use it for EVERYTHING. I didn’t know that the risotto pan existed, and now I think I might have to beg santa for one of those! My only complaint with my dutch oven is that when it is full, it is HEAVY. Maybe I’m a wimp, but I can barely lift it. Otherwise, it is my favorite pan ever.

  22. karen says

    I have 2. A large and a small one. I love them so much that I bought my new daughter-in-law one for Christmas and I’m putting Pam’s “One Dish Meals” in it for her too. I can’t wait to see the look on her face on Christmas morning!

  23. says

    Okay. The Le Creuset was on my list, but now I’m moving it to the top of the list. I’d love to buy one for each of my daughters and DIL’s… Maybe I’ll shop around like Torrie did! Thanks. Sharon. You real should get a commission on each one you just sold! I like the meat tutorial idea too!

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