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Going Dutch: Dutch-oven cooking is perfect for winter

One of your favorite soups is now a main entree, French Onion Chicken. (Forum News Service photo)

GRAND FORKS, N.D.—Dutch-oven cooking is one of my favorite ways to prepare winter meals. Most of us think of a large cast-iron pot when you hear "Dutch oven," but in reality, a Dutch oven is any large pot with an oven-proof lid, making it easy to use both on the stovetop and in the oven.

The recipe I am going to share with you today is for French Onion Chicken. French onion soup is one of my favorite cold-weather soups, but I can only convince one of the three boys onion soup is delicious.

I know they will love it in time, but for now, I decided to sidestep the argument and combine the French onion flavor with another one of their favorite foods, braised chicken. I made this dish on a particularly chilly weekend at the lake, and everyone from the kids to the grandparents thought it was a keeper.

It does take some time, but it is so worth it. Get out a great bottle of red wine or a giant glass of milk and get ready to dive into the deliciously indulgent flavors of this dish.

French Onion Chicken

Serves 10

1 stick butter (8 tablespoons)

4 pounds yellow onions, sliced into rings or moons at ½-inch to ¾-inch thick

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

10 cloves garlic, fresh minced

2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1 large sprig of rosemary (or 2 4-inch sprigs if that's all you have)

2 cups water mixed with 2 teaspoons beef soup base (I used Better Than Bouillon brand.)

2 cups heavy red wine (cabernet or zinfandel)

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup dijon mustard

3 tablespoons olive oil

5-6 pounds boneless/skinless chicken thighs, seasoned with salt and pepper

1 cup grated cheese (Provolone, Gruyere or Parmesan would work.)

Place Dutch oven on burner over medium-high heat. Add butter, onions, salt and pepper.

As it heats up, reduce heat if needed and caramelize the onions, stirring occasionally. You will want them to turn a translucent beige/tan color. This will take about 45 minutes.

When they get to that color, add your garlic, thyme and rosemary. Turn heat to high or medium-high and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes and stir occasionally until the onions are mostly dark brown.

Add water/beef base mix to the pot and deglaze the pan. Use a wooden spoon to scrape all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Let cook over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half (about 10 minutes). Turn off the heat.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, sear the seasoned chicken thighs in the olive oil. Cook until browned on each side (about 3-4 minutes on each side). Cook in batches if you need to avoid overcrowding the pan.

Lay the chicken thighs in the dutch oven on top of the onions.

In a bowl, whisk together red wine, balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard. While the chicken pan is still hot, slowly add the mixture while again scraping with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan. Turn heat to high and let mixture reduce by half. Pour over the chicken and onions.

Cover the Dutch oven with its lid and bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and top with shredded cheese. Place the pot, without the lid, back in the oven and broil on high for 5 minutes or until the cheese bubbles.

Pick a pot

If you are in the market to purchase a Dutch oven, here are a few tips for finding the best one.

Choose your budget. Dutch ovens are the the workhorse of the kitchen, but that doesn't mean you have to pour your life savings into purchasing the right one. You can find $50 versions at Target or Walmart or $400 versions at specialty kitchen stores. While you want to pick the "best" one, does a $400 pot really make sense if you are on a tight budget? I have used all different types and can't say the less-expensive version prepares food any less delicious than the high-priced ones.

Do your research. Decide which type of Dutch oven you are looking for, because there are many different types and sizes. A 4-quart Dutch oven would be perfect if you are cooking for two, but if you have a family of five or six, you might want to look into a 6- or 8-quart version.

Shop around. Get up close and personal with your potential new culinary best friend. They can be so beautiful, but they are mighty heavy. Before you make your purchase, go to the store and take time lifting the pot. Hold it out in front of you like you would if you were placing it in your oven or taking it back out. Also think about adding the weight of a gallon of milk to that. Most of the dishes cooked in Dutch ovens are not light and fluffy like rice. They tend to have a heft to them, so make sure the handles are comfortable in your hands. You should also make sure the lid stays on tightly and won't easily come loose when you move it.

Get ready to fall in love. Start exploring cookbooks and the interwebs for recipes, then get to the grocery store.

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