When folks hear I work from my home and I’m a homesteader, they make some pretty lofty assumptions when it comes to my dinner table. It is true that I am lucky and blessed to have good food, good animals, and good people all around me and that makes for some amazing homegrown fare. However, as a single woman running a farm by herself, time isn’t always available to make sure everything is basted, brined, and tables are set with cloth napkins. In truth, some days are so long and exhausting on the farm that the last thing I want to do is cook. And that is why I am grateful for the amazing Dutch Oven.
The design has not changed in centuries, and why should it? A cast-iron dutch oven is all you need to create one-pot meals like chicken and biscuits or savory stews. During our harsh upstate winters, and even now in springtime, Cold Antler Farm depends on its dutch ovens more than ever. They are the original crock pot, the ideal slow cooker, and easy to care for while lasting forever. When people new to farm cooking ask me what they should get, I tell them before they even order a stove they should get a cast-iron skillet and dutch oven, because that is the original homesteader’s grill and oven.
The most basic chicken dinner this farm does happens in a cast-iron dutch oven. All that is needed is a defrosted whole chicken (small enough to fit inside the oven), some olive oil, chicken rub, and root vegetables of your choice. Around here everyone grows potatoes, parsnips, carrots and rutabagas: all make fine bottom veggies for your meal! I strongly encourage you to chop fresh kale as well, as there is no better way to enjoy kale than oiled under a chicken! I promise!
I roughly chop the carrots, taters, and other vegetables and place them in a pile, half filling the cast-iron container. (If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can do the same with a deep skillet.). All vegetables get a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of chicken-rub herbs and with my two clean hands I make sure all get a good coating of oil and herb. Once that is done, the bird is set on top. The root vegetables act as a natural lift for the chicken, letting the hot air circulate all around the bird and the juices and fats to drip onto the vegetables below, which is exactly what you want!
I preheat my oven to 425 and let the bird get a flash roast to brown the skin. This only lasts about fifteen minutes and then the temperature is lowered to 350. I let the bird sit in that oven while I do chores, go hunting in the back field, take the horse out for some training or a cart ride. That oven does all the work for you. In about two hours a fat chicken is falling off the bone and you know it is done when you can grab a back drumstick and it falls right off into your hands, separating from the rest of the roasted bird easily. Another test is to make sure that when you pierce the breast the juices that flow out are clear and not red or bloody at all. These are the ways homesteaders checked their birds before every kitchen had thermometers and cooking shows selling the latest electronic gadgets. They are good tips to know!
This all may sound involved and complicated, but it isn’t. Try it a few weekends and before you know it, it’ll take you less than five minutes to chop your vegetables, oil them, and place a bird on top. Then the oven does all the work for you! Easy.
So get some cast iron, get a fat farm chicken, and dice up those potatoes, folks, because after you start roasting birds in cast iron at home you’ll never go back to any other way. And the best part? Once the meal is done and everyone has had a good helping of meat and vegetables you can add a few cups of chicken stock and some salt and butter and set it on the stovetop to heat up into a fine stew. Meals need to stretch around here as long as a rooster’s tail feather. And to have a tool you can roast in, then set the same meal on the stovetop and make a hearty stew in is a farmer’s blessing.
Happy Spring to you all, and may it be filled with many fine meals!