In my last post I mentioned how nice it would be to have a summer kitchen for when canning or cooking are too hot or smelly to be done indoors. Almost immediately after that it occurred to me that we can and do cook outdoors and I’m not talking about the grill. Last evening I wanted to make some braised sauerkraut but didn’t want to risk another case of “outhouse kitchen”–Enter the Dutch oven!
I started by setting up a cooking area on our patio. I laid out some of the leftover pavers we’ve got lying around to make an elevated, fireproof platform for the coals. Cooking directly on the patio would have scorched it. When we are camping and cook in the Dutch oven we just place the coals directly on a patch of bare ground.
We had just enough charcoal left over to do one round of cooking. For dishes that take more than an hour or so, we usually end up lighting a new batch to replace the burned down coals but I didn’t anticipate needing to do that with this dish. I piled them up and put a match to them. We’ve always used briquettes because Dutch oven cooking recipes are often calibrated to the number to use. There is a bag of real hardwood charcoal laying around here somewhere and I’m thinking some time I may give it a try and see how the process compares. Incidentally, it was about this time a light breeze kicked up and I was starting to question the wisdom of doing this with a thick layer of dry leaves all over the back yard.
When the coals all had some ash on them I arranged two thirds in a rough circle just a bit smaller than the Dutch Oven. They’re spaced so they aren’t touching so air can circulate. This particular Dutch oven has three short legs that elevate it just above the coals. The one we us indoors in the oven doesn’t have legs.
The Dutch oven is placed on the cooking area and the remaining third of the coals arranged evenly around the edge of the lid. As you can see, this oven has another feature the one for indoor use lacks. There is a lip around the edge of the lid to hold the coals on. Heating from both the top and bottom are probably more important when baking, but I thought since it was getting cold out a little extra heat wouldn’t hurt.
Meanwhile back in the kitchen, we unwrapped the much-anticipated special ingredient. At yesterday’s Market we picked up a package of smoked bratwurst from Pecatonica Valley Farm.
To get a little extra flavor out of the brats we seared them a bit –in cast iron, of course, but they were on the dry side and I think if I were to do this again I’d skip this step. It really didn’t seem to add anything to the dish.
Dutch Oven Braised Sauerkraut and Bratwurst
- 1/2 White Onion, Sliced
- 1 Pint Home-Fermented and Canned Sauerkraut (substitute other if you absolutely must)
- 1/2 Cup Local Beer
- 1 1/2" Cups Chicken Stock
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Caraway Seed
- 1/2 teaspoon Dried Thyme
- Black Pepper to Taste
- 2 Delicious, Local, pasture-raised-pork bratwurst
Start and arrange coals as described above. You will need sixteen coals for under the oven and seven for the lid, a total of twenty-three.
Place sauerkraut in a colander or strainer and rinse off salty brine. Add to Dutch oven along with the beer, stock, herbs and pepper.
Place oven on coals. Note: Do not preheat oven and then add cold ingredients. Shocking the hot metal thusly just isn’t good for it. Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Slice bratwurst into thirds and add to simmering sauerkraut. Allow to simmer for an additional 2o minutes.
Serve with a delicious starchy side dish and more local beer.