01 December 2011

Recipe box: Dutch Oven Tamale Pie

This recipe was suggested to me on #PrepperTalk by @ShelfRelianceOH as a worthwhile experiment for outdoor cooking in a Dutch oven, using only charcoal as a heat source. The "standard" ingredients shown below are not completely food-storage-friendly; however, check out the notes at the end for substitutions that will allow this to be made entirely from your long-term food storage (assuming you store waxed cheese or the like).

Ingredients (serves 6)

1 Tbs Vegetable Oil
1 Onion, chopped
1 lb Ground Sirloin/Beef
16 oz (1 can) Tomatoes, diced
16 oz (1 can) Corn, cream-style
1 cup Milk
1 cup Cornmeal, yellow
1-1/2 tsp Salt
1-1/2 Tbs Chili Powder
1/2 cup Ripe Olives, sliced
1/2 lb Monterey Jack cheese, cut in chunks or shredded
Salsa or Picante Sauce, as desired
Tortilla/Corn Chips, as desired

Setting Up Your Dutch Oven

First, consider your outdoor cooking environment. Breezes, winds, and other weather can significantly cool your Dutch oven. At minimum, you need a good fireproof windbreak protecting your pot.

When I use my Dutch oven outdoors, I use a clean metal trash can that I keep for these kinds of uses. Doing so allows me to more fully control the environment around the pot, and keep wind and/or light precipitation from cooling the oven.

For the Dutch oven, it's best to have one with legs underneath, so that the pot can stand over hot coals. Similarly, the lid should be fairly flat with a ridge around the edge to keep the charcoal and ash out of your food. For this recipe, I used a 10-inch (4-quart) Dutch oven, but a 12-inch (5-quart) one would work too, I think.

For ease of clean-up, I always put aluminum foil at the bottom of the can. That way, when I'm finished, I can let the coals fully cool, wrap them in the foil, and throw them away.

While heating the charcoal briquettes, I put the chimney starter (with the lit coals in it) inside the trash can. I then put the can's lid over the top, leaving it open a bit to allow adequate oxygen to the fire and coals. This protects the charcoal as it heats, and also warms the environment for the Dutch oven.

For most Dutch oven cooking, 350°F is a standard temperature. As a quick rule of thumb, you can achieve something close to 350°F by using twice as many charcoal briquettes as the diameter of your pot. For example, you'd use 20 briquettes for a 10-inch pot, and 24 for a 12-inch pot. Either way, you put 1/3 of the briquettes under the pot, and 2/3 on the lid. (You can also refer to this PDF file baking temperature chart from Lodge Manufacturing for more specific briquette number, temperature, and oven size combinations.)

You'll use a first set of coals to preheat the oven and to cook the ground beef and onion. Just before you start browning the ground beef, you'll want to start up a second set of charcoal briquettes that you'll use to actually cook the entire tamale pie.

Just like a grill or a real oven, you lower the Dutch oven's temperature considerably when you remove the lid. When adding the ingredients, or checking on the cooking progress, try to have the lid off no longer than absolutely necessary.

Cooking Directions
  1. Once your pot is preheated, put the vegetable oil, meat, and onion into it.

  2. Replace the cover and note the time.

  3. After a few minutes, gently lift off the lid and stir the ingredients. Replace the lid, rotating it a 1/4 or 1/3 of a turn to help even out the heat. Repeat this rotation in the same direction every time you remove and replace the lid.

  4. Once the meat is browned, drain as much of the liquid as possible. Stir in tomatoes (including their juice), corn, milk, cornmeal, salt, and chili powder. Mix thoroughly.

  5. Add olives and sprinkle cheese over top of mixture. Replace cover.

  6. At this point, remove first batch of coals from the cover and from under the pot. Replace with fresh coals from the second batch of briquettes.

  7. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes. The mixture should be thickened nicely when done.

  8. Serve immediately with salsa, picante sauce, and/or tortilla chips.

Consider substituting chicken in place of the ground sirloin or beef for a different flavor.

For the lactose-intolerant, try using coconut milk instead of milk, and Veggie Shreds instead of the regular cheese.

To use instant powdered milk instead of fresh, reconstitute 1/2 Tbs with 2 Tbs of water and use as described above.

Try using taco, chicken, or beef-flavored Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) in place of the meat. When substituting, use 4 oz  (roughly 3/4 cup) of dry TVP and reconstitute it as described below, and then use it in place of the meat above:
  1. Measure the TVP crumbles into a large bowl.
  2. Pour 3/4 cup of boiling water over the TVP.
  3. Allow the TVP to absorb the water for 10 minutes.
  4. Drain the TVP of extra water.

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