Out for the muzzleloader deer hunt this past weekend, it got cold! It was in the mid-70s on Friday afternoon. For a fall October afternoon, it was one of those days reminiscent of summer. It didn’t feel possible for the sky to be so blue and clear. The sun had a direct path to my face, and the day just felt, well, hot!
Come Saturday morning, it was like Friday never existed. A cold front blew in, and the sky filled with black, thick, heavy clouds and rain tickled the desert sand. On Friday, I was out in a camp chair, reading books in the sun while taking a break from hiking the desert in search of mule deer. On Saturday, I wanted to sit by a fire, a cup of hot chocolate warming my hands, and a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. It was dark and windy and cloudy, but most importantly it was COLD! Gone was a warm fall afternoon, and instead it was replaced by the 50s, and quickly dropping to the 30s by sundown.
I was so happy come Saturday evening to have a spicy, warm, rich dutch oven dinner ready to share with the hunting camp. This recipe takes a bit of time to cook, but is worth the wait and is very simple to put together. It is perfect for a chilly evening and a tired, maybe even exhausted, camp full of people.
Heat a 14 inch dutch oven over a significant number of coals, like 14 to 16. You want the pot to be hot enough to brown the chicken. Pour in two tablespoons of cooking oil and two tablespoons of butter. You want an oil that can handle getting hot since you are browning the meat. Canola oil works great, but other good options are vegetable, avocado, and peanut oil. Get the oil hot before dropping the chicken in. For this recipe, I used a dozen chicken drumsticks, but wings and thighs would also be good additions. The other nice thing about this recipe is you can make it as big or as small as needed. The recipe creates a lot of sauce, so you could add up to six or eight more pieces of chicken to the pot and still have plenty of room.
Pull the chicken and set it aside. Add the sliced onions and minced garlic to the pot, and cook them for about five minutes. If the oil is too hot from frying the chicken, you might consider removing a couple of coals from beneath the oven and drop the heat a bit.
Now comes the fun part. Drop in a cup and half of rum. I love this part! The rum will hit the pan with a sizzle, pulling a bunch of flavor from the chicken, onions, and garlic from the bottom of the pan, and then it will bubble. Just the sound is delicious! You can use whatever type of rum you have on hand, white or dark, or you could substitute the rum for whiskey or bourbon, maybe get a little adventurous with some brandy. If you aren’t a liquor cabinet type person, you could also use chicken stock, which will still add tons of flavor to the dish.
Allow the rum to simmer the onions for a few moments, this will also cook off the alcohol. After a few minutes, like three or four, pour in the entire bottle of barbeque sauce. In order to create the heat in this dish, you want to get a spicy barbeque sauce. I used chipotle, and it paired so wonderfully with the apricot and rum flavor. The spicy really enhances the subtle sweetness found in apricots.
There are a couple of options for the apricot part of this recipe. I was fortunate to have an abundance of fruit available to me this summer, and juiced my own apricots. I used an entire quart of the apricot juice for the recipe. You could also purchase apricot juice at the super market. My suggested brand is the Santa Cruz Apricot Nectar, which comes in a 32oz jar. I would probably start with half the jar, check the sweetness level, and then see if you want more apricot. Another option is a jar of apricot jam. If you use jam, you will need to add a cup of water to the pot.
To finish things off, add two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce. If you used unsweetened apricot juice like I did, you will also need to add a tablespoon or two of honey to add a bit more sweetness to the dish. Give everything a good whisk, add the chicken back to the oven, and place the lid over it. Add about ten coals to the top of the oven. This dish is designed to cook for a long time, so the flavors can really develop and gain some depth, and also so the chicken gets tender and starts to fall of the bone. Mmmmmm…
There are several ways to finish this meal. You could always just eat the chicken by itself, but I like to serve it over the top of something. For this weekend’s trip, I poured the sauce and placed the chicken thighs over sweet potatoes. I baked the sweet potatoes in a dutch oven for about an hour and a half. When they were soft, I split them and mashed them up a bit, then scooped spoonful after spoonful of the spicy sweet sauce directly on the mashed sweet potato and then added two to three chicken thighs. You could also do a russet potato or even rice.
Well, I hope you enjoy this easy and delicious dutch oven recipe. If you give it a try, let me know how it goes or if you have any questions.