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Clay pot cooking: What's most flexible?


Emily Johnston
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So after stumbling around the web and deciding I needed a Romertopf and persuading a friend to get me one for Christmas, I stumbled into eGullet and found some postings by Paula W. on curing clay pots. That led me to her book, and now I'm excited to try some serious clay pot cooking. Till now, I've been a cast iron partisan--I bake all my own naturally leavened bread, for which I use 2 lodge dutch ovens. I also have a lodge skillet, a couple of small le creuset sauce pans, and a big enameled cast iron DO from Costco. I'm curious what all my soups (mostly veg, some fish) & beans will be like in clay. So far I've used the Romertopf once for bread, which came out okay but stuck a bit, and I'm reluctant to use it for fish, lest I never again be able to use it for anything else, so I clearly need at least one more clay pot.

The question is, which one? What is the most flexible--oven to stove, bread to stew? I'm thinking maybe a large La Chamba casserole (I entertain a lot, so it needs to be big), because it seems like it would be great for soups/beans/roasting/AND casseroles. Do you think that's true?

Both money and space are greatly limiting factors (that's why probably just one for now), but if I like it enough, at least one of my 3 cast iron DO's could go.

I've read the Wolfert intro where she describes the different pots, but I'm still not sure why I'd want a glazed one, for example, or why stoneware instead of the La Chamba.

Would only a glazed one (perhaps a cazuela) keep me from needing a separate fish pot? Would any of these be better than cast iron for bread, and if so, why? Wolfert at one point says to use an UNsoaked Romertopf for artisan bread, and at another point (for an olive oil bread) seems to use a soaked one: again, why?

And finally, do I need something like the La Chamba skillet? It looks like that would be a lovely replacement for my cast iron skillet (for eggs, pancakes, sautéed veg), but again, I'm not sure about benefits/drawbacks.

Many thanks!

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Of course, clay pot cooking goes farther than either Romertops or cazuelas. I recently purchased (as a replacement for a broken one) a Chinese clay pot, which cost much less than $10 (and wrote about it here).

While I don't think it's used for baking bread in China, it definitely works for all the other purposes mentioned; oven, stove-top, for soups, casseroles, roasting, etc.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

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Emily, I do quite a bit of clay pot cooking but with a Chinese clay pot. I grew up eating out of it so it does not strike me as a special utensil. As weinoo said - it is also very cheap!

Clay pots are porous. You want a glazed pot to stop flavours from penetrating the pot. As for soaking the pot - the pot will emit steam as it is heated up. I suppose the steam is good for different types of breads. I wouldn't know - my clay pot isn't big enough to bake bread in.

Clay pots are wonderful for one pot meals. I put uncooked rice, chicken stock, ginger, chinese sausage, and marinaded chicken pieces in the pot. Cover and simmer at low heat for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir and you have a delicious healthy meal.

There is no love more sincere than the love of food - George Bernard Shaw
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Thanks to you both--yes, that's something else I thought of. I guess I haven't seen them large, though (I've only seen them on Amazon, so far, though I know they're widely available), so I didn't think of them as something for huge pots of stew/beans/etc. And since space as well as cash is in very limited supply, I was hoping to just get one more for now....maybe I should stick with my cast iron for larger things, though, and get a small Chinese clay pot for experimenting with smaller dishes...

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I've definitely seen them larger than the one on Amazon (2.5 quarts) in the Chinatown shops where I've bought them before. But I don't think it's a bad idea to buy a smaller one and experiment with it! Do you have a Chinatown where you live?

Welcome to eGullet, by the way.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I'd urge you to go unglazed, for at least one pot. It's a different thing and as Paula says, it retains the memory of everything you've ever cooked in it. I promise you it will become your favorite.

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

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I think I have 4 clay pots, oldest is the cazuela, I use that for bean dip & casseroles, used at least monthly, it's probably 10 years old, so it's paid for itself. I have a romertopf, purchased at a thrift store, used once, a new Chinese clay pot, only purchased a month ago & used once, & this past year for Xmas, got a La Chamba covered casserole (2x/ so far). The cazuela is my favorite, probably because of longevity. I don't notice a huge difference in the use of clay cookware, but the runner-up is the La Chamba casserole-it's just beautiful! Personally, I wouldn't bother buying a clay skillet-regular ss or nonstick are fine for quick sautes.

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  • 2 years later...

Very interested in learning more about this type of cooking.  Was at my sisters this weekend and this is all her neighbor cooks in.  The food tastes great (we got to try some) and she says its nutritionally rich too.  Her pots sure look beautiful in her kitchen.  She even told me where she got them (pureclaypots.com), wanted to know a little bit more before getting some myself. 

 

Thank you,

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I would be worried about thermal shock or breakage. I have never had long life from clay pots or glazed pottery.

 

I started using the Emile Henry tagine several years ago and it is almost bulletproof In comparison.

 

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Paula Wolfert wrote a "clay pot primer" in the intro for her cookbook, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking. That intro is available for reading on Google Books. Here:
http://books.google.com/books?id=iHh19M8YNxEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=paula+wolfert&hl=en&sa=X&ei=PPOEU4OoA4mgogSr54KwDg&ved=0CD8Q6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=paula%20wolfert&f=false

 

In general, it helps to remember that earthenware is slow to heat and slow to cool. No sudden changes in temperature, like refrigerator to hot oven, or the dish may crack. Put earthenware is a low oven and allow it to heat up. Put hot earthenware on a cloth pad or wooden board to let it cool. A cold surface, like marble or granite, may also cause the hot dish to crack. Always use a heat diffuser on the stovetop. Don't use earthenware, even stoneware, for dry cooking, e.g., roasting. The pan may crack from the uneven heat distribution of food to pan. (I lost 2 large Emile Henry casserole dishes before I figured this one out.)

 

This may sound more complicated than it is. Once you get the principle of slow to heat up, slow to cool, and act accordingly, your claypots will work well.

 

I buy my claypots from Bram in Sonoma, Ca. The pots I've bought there are extremely well-made, with excellent heat distribution.
http://www.bramcookware.com/index.php

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Hi AnnieLo, and welcome to eGullet!

 

I have several sizes of the Romertopf unglazed clay pots. I have used one to bake no-knead bread for years (I don't even soak it first) and the other two are for chicken, lamb, all sorts of things. I got all three of my Romertopfs at Value Village or Goodwill for not much money at all (two of them were brand new in their boxes - I think they must have been gifts the receiver wasn't interested in trying), and I'd suggest that you start there. Get one, try it out!

 

 

K

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Let me add my "Welcome, AnnieLo!" to the others'.  You've asked a great question.  There's been a lot of discussion about cooking in clay pots over the years.  I have the eG Forums in general and Paula Wolfert in particular to thank for getting me started on clay pot cooking.  The comments above about thermal shock are valid; however, I've had (and used) many clay pots for years, with no breakage or mishaps.  Those 'pots' include glazed ceramic casserole dishes as well as unglazed fired clay pots, a tagine, and a Romertopf covered dish.

 

You may want to look into the Moroccan Tagine Cooking topic to see some of the earlier discussions about cooking in clay.  Despite the title, the comments also wandered into cooking in other shapes of clay pots, and the food is not restricted to Moroccan meals.  There are links to related topics that seemed to deserve their own titles, and in fact the topic was generated by a braising course in the eGullet Culinary Institute.

 

You may also be interested in this topic:  Cooking with Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, in which members cooked from the book and compared results.  

 

Don't be shy about asking questions; come on in and join the fun!

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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