French oven vs Dutch oven

bean_counter_z4December 27, 2006

What's the difference? Is there a difference? I was calling my new Schulte Ufer cast iron pot a dutch oven but it is oval and has a glass lid. Does that make it a (German) French oven? Are Dutch ovens only round? I'm confused.

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My take is that it's Le Creuset's marketing. Can't have a French company with all its Gallic pride calling its products 'Dutch'--sacre bleu! Quelle horreur!

A heavy metal (usually cast iron) vessel with a snug-fitting lid that can be used stove top or in the oven--most cooks I know would call that a Dutch oven.

The distinction reminds me of the old legal joke: the law professor asks the student what the difference is between adultery and fornication. (The distinction is that in the former, at least one of the participants is married; in the latter, neither are.)

The law student scratches his head and says, "Well, I don't know. I've tried them both and couldn't tell much difference between them...."

    Bookmark   December 27, 2006 at 2:34PM
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Bean Counter it's nothing more than yet another example of Gallic arrogance.

The term originated because the Dutch were the big producers of such ware in the early days of North American settlement, and thousands of pieces of Dutch hearthware were shipped here.

The specialized, three-legged pot designed for baking (because it could be surrounded by dry heat) therefore became known as a Dutch oven. Later, when cast iron stoves started to become commonplace, the legs and recessed lid no longer were needed. So the legs were removed (thus allowing the pot to sit flat), and a domed lid installed.

Although the result is actually a flat-bottomed kettle, the name Dutch oven stuck, and nowadays applies to any heavy pot of that nature---as Arley points out. Cast iron are the best of them, but other materials are used.

In their erroneous belief that all good things culinary must be of French origination, they'd like to claim that such a pot, with a porcelin enamel coating, is a French oven. While this reflects French snobbery, the reality is, they didn't even invent that process.

Nowadays, porcelin coated iron is available from several countries, including Germany, Italy, and the U.S. So there is no need to worry about country of origin issues. You can skip the Le Creuset without sacrificing that kind of cookware.

The question arises as to whether procelin coated iron has any advantages. From a cooking standpoint it does not. But there are two benefits that standard cast-iron lacks. One is fashion; the enameled stuff is pretty, and can fit one's decor. The second is ease of maintainance. Standard cast iron requires a lot of prep work when it's new, and is relatively high-maintainance to maintain. Enameled iron is easy to clean, and requires no special treatment.

Balanceing cost, long term efficiency, and range of available designs, however, standard cast iron takes the prize hands-down.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2006 at 5:08PM
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There is another important reason to use enameled cast iron, and that is because it's non reactive. Raw cast iron reacts with acidic ingredients such as wine, lemon, tomatoes, and vinegar. It can leach iron into the food imparting a metallic taste. The porcelain coating solves that problem, and is totally non reactive.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2006 at 9:58PM
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Those of us who use cast iron all the time know that the "metallic taste" issue is more theory than reality. It just doesn't happen with a well-cured piece of ironware---even if acidic foods are cooked in it.

But, yes, cast iron is technically reactive, and the coating does make it non-reactive---for as long as the integrity of the enamel is maintained. The porcelain coating is subject to cracking, chipping, and crazing. And once that happens, the pot is no longer non-reactive. In fact, if you continue to use it it is likely to be more reactive, because the exposed iron isn't cured.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2006 at 6:56AM
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I love regular cast iron, especially for searing meats. But for long, slow cooking, I prefer enameled cast-iron ovens. I don't have to season them, I don't have to worry about chemical reactions, I can store food in them in the fridge, they're easy to clean, and yes, they are beautiful. :-) I have not had any problems with the enamel so far.

I have two Staub oval enameled cast-iron dutch ovens (or French, who cares?) and one round Le Creuset, all of which I love for braising. I have no "country of origin" problems with either of them.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2006 at 10:38AM
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FWIW, the February issue of Cooks Illustrated tested several Dutch ovens. The Le Creuset at over $200 was near the top of their list; however, to their surprise a $39 Dutch oven from Target performed nearly as well. If you're in the market, you might want to take a look at Target's item.

Suzyq3, I don't have a 'country of origin' problem either. I have Le Creuset and Bourgeat items in my kitchen and use them all the time.

Whatever arrogance I've encountered in France has been in Paris; that's like judging all of the USA by your encounters with New Yorkers. Go to Normandy and there are people there who remember what Americans, Brits and Canadians did in 1944, and they're very nice to you.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2006 at 8:42AM
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"Whatever arrogance I've encountered in France has been in Paris"

If arrogance is the problem, then, gee, I encounter a bit of arrogance right here where I live in the good ol' USA sometimes, arley, so yes, I agree.

And if I were to have "country of origin" problems, they would be for more dire humanitarian reasons -- you know, like mass killings and oppression -- than for any perceived arrogance or similar attitudes. Guess I won't be buying any Dutch ovens from the Taliban anytime soon. :-)

    Bookmark   December 29, 2006 at 11:24AM
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Re: the Target dutch ovens. I ran right out to Target after reading the Cooks Illustrated review, and the dutch ovens are nowhere to be found...apparently Target has told CI they will be having them soon.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2006 at 3:22PM
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