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I was reading an article on the LA Times about these two kitchen historians who are experimenting with preparing British food really authentically, down to wearing period style clothing when cooking it. This is throwing up interesting insights into the cooking of the food in areas like the difference that original utensils made, particularly when it came to the metal used:

"We've found that bronze utensils cook beautifully," said Meltonville. "Certainly, they're immensely heavy, but if you were the king, that was no concern of yours.

"And when you need to fry onions really dark brown, you have to do it in iron. Stainless steel pans never get them as dark. And mincing meat really fine with a knife gives meatballs a much finer texture than grinding.

This reminds me of something you often hear with traditional Indian cooks, about how important it is to use certain types of metal utensils only. For example, my grandmother insists that certain types of Malayali dishes can only really be made in a heavy - and I mean HEAVY - brass urli (a squat, very wide mouthed pan).

Needless to say this is something that's increasingly being forgotten partly because of the difficulty and expense of getting these utensils and also because many of them were a real pain to use. Also, the utensils don't work with all heat sources - a really heavy urli just won't fit on a modern gas stove.

But I thought it would be interesting to collect examples of dishes where the type of metal used really does make a major difference to the dish, and perhaps suggestions on how one can continue to use these in a modern kitchen?

Vikram

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I've always wondered why people dont use the Urli for making Biryani. It's heavy gauge enough to deliver slow heat after switching off. It is wide in diameter so it doesnt 'stack' the cooked rice high and keeps the grains intact. I intend buying one for this purpose.

All these trad vessels are a bitch to clean though. My house used to have Brass vessels until a few decades ago. When I realized that they need to be "tinned" ( Kalai) and that the tin contains traces of lead, we put an end to their usage.

That Kalaiwallah operation was something, the guy would shout from the street, we would beckon him up and he would collect the pots. Then he would set up an impromptu 'Smithy' on the footpath or wherever he would find a dirt patch. He would then dig a hole that veered back up as a tunnel about 3-4 feet away. The pot would be upturned on the hole and fire heat would be blown with a hand bellow from the other end and a metal compound bar applied on the red hot insides to form a shiny coat. As soon as the neighbourhood brass ware was tinned, the smithy would be dismantled and moved on to the next area.

Do any you all remember this?

Kalaiwallahs are now found only in the villages.

Then there was the aluminium range of cookware which I discontinued some time back because....think..think.......I can't remember, I have forgotten. :biggrin:

Metal does play an important part as is the case of beating egg whites in copper where ions are released to add stability to the foam.

We have to do some research into the other metals to come to an informed conclusion.

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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My mom swears by these earthen pots whose inside bottom is speckled with tiny stones/pebbles to cook fish curry. Says though clay takes longer to heat up, it stays hot for longer. Thats easy physics. But what is not easy to understand is how a different cooking utensil can lead to such a dramatic change in taste when all other variables at left alone. Boy! that is one mean fish curry she cooks. The pots are from Tamil Nadu.

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Hi all,

God, have I missed this forum! Still, it's nice to have a backlog of posts to catch up on. Had some great food that I can't wait to replicate (or try to, anyway) in my kitchen. I so badly wanted to get back some traditional cooking utensils this time, but

a) didn't know where to find them in Blore

b) didn't have the time to go hunting for them

c) even if a) and b) were not the problem, wouldn't have wanted to pay the exorbitant excess baggage rates to Europe. You in the US are SO fortunate with the baggage allowance that you get - we get a measly 20 - 25 kgs. per ticket. :sad:

Yeah, there is something about cooking fish in the earthen 'chatti', isn't there? My grandma used to cook hers in an ancient black one - wonder where that's gone now? Apparently, the earthen pots also act like ACs and help keep the fish curry cool so that it wouldn't spoil easily.

As for the mobile 'smithy', it was one of my most favourite things to watch as a child. I used to find the whole process fascinating.

So happy to be back @ eGullet :rolleyes:

Suman

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  • 3 months later...

Dusting off an old thread, but my interest isn't metal vessels at the moment, but stone ones - of kal-chattis, as they're called in Tamil. I knew they were used for pickles and thought that was quaint, but perhaps not that practicable and anyway glass jars did the jobas well.

But I've begun to wonder if stone has any properties that make it suited for certain types of food operations? A friend in Madras recently showed me the small kal-chatti she used to make yoghurt and she swears that nothing else is as good. She added that the vessel did have to be seasoned first which she did by packing it with salt for six months and then it would be ready.

I'm not sure what stone is used for these kal-chattis - something relatively soft, I'm guessing, or they'd go mad making them. But could stone really have the water absorbing powers that I can see earthenware would have? Are there other benefits of using stone? And does the 'seasoning' really add anything?

Vikram

PS: As a slight sidelight, I've just recovered a set of kal-chatti toys I bought ages back in Bangalore. There was this old man who used to sit on Mahatma Gandhi Road (would anyone understand if I said South Parade?) and I can almost pinpoint the location, it was close to where St.Mark's Rd starts, near that excellent pork shop and he sold these kitchen sets for kids - miniature grinding stones, jars, a stove, plates, iddli vessels, the works - all neatly carved out of stone. I thought my mother had thrown them away, but I've just found them again and am taking them off to Bombay to join the metal kids cookery set I picked up in the mill areas recently. Does anyone have memories of these kids cooking sets?

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me too! we had several of these sets when we were kids:

silver, brightly colored anodized aluminium, etc.

now i bought for my dd: stone, mud, and plastic :)

i had to explain the grinding stone to her.

i've been searching for a good urli, but am scared that

they may not be well made and the food will taste

bad, or we'll all get some kind of poisoning.

any advice? i'm also considering getting a kalchatti

to make rasam, and a mann-chatti (mud vessel) to

generally cook in.

sure, i'm old enough to remember the kalaiwala, and also

the dhunaiwala who refluffed and remade razais

(we used to call him the toin toin wala because of the sound

his instrument made)....

milagai

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brightly colored anodized aluminium, etc.

:huh::laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh: : anodised eh?! :hmmm: you will also recall how the loverly colours rubbed off with the lighest touch!

there are lots of new urli esque vessels to be found since they seem to have become quite trendy in the last few years.how many are safe to cook in i really can't tell but since i don't cook on gas i have to limit the use the few i have to serving only.it's quite amusing/amazing how much the flavour of the food is enhanced :wink: !

i do have a beautiful earthenware dish for curd though.

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me too! we had several of these sets when we were kids:

silver, brightly colored anodized aluminium, etc.

now i bought for my dd: stone, mud, and plastic :)

i had to explain the grinding stone to her.

i've been searching for a good urli, but am scared that

they may not be well made and the food will taste

bad, or we'll all get some kind of poisoning.

any advice? i'm also considering getting a kalchatti

to make rasam, and a mann-chatti (mud vessel) to

generally cook in.

sure, i'm old enough to remember the kalaiwala, and also

the dhunaiwala who refluffed and remade razais

(we used to call him the toin toin wala because of the sound

his instrument made)....

milagai

Hmmmm....... so you are now operating on 220 V.

Milagai, please locate a Kal Chatti and Mann( Meen?) Chatti for me also. I went to Adam Square(Russell market) and City market but I could not find them. I also have the same trepidations for Urli bell metal.

The 'refluffer'( Re Ginner?)

I've always been at a loss of words to describe him, thanks for doing that. Like you, I always used to call him the toing toing wallah. Surprisingly, this instrument never made it into the music world. It is a Ektara after all.

So many more tradesmen are going extinct- Baloonwallahs, Cotton candywallahs( candy floss)........

Still existing(thankfully!) are the vendors who magically materialise out of thin air and situate outside schools at intervals selling raw mango, carambola, tamarind, peanuts, bor and a variety of strange fare that defies sociological classification. Teenage pregnancy?

Where are they during the rest of the day, I've often wondered. Probably selling school children DNA samples to the Martians for research. :biggrin:

I am PM -ing my contact nos. and inviting you and your family over for dinner.

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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I've just picked up an excellent looking book on traditional Udipi recipes - 'Udipi Cuisine' by U.B.Rajalakshmi. Its a bit like 'Samaithu Par' and 'Rasachandrika', lots of traditional recipes along with hints on how to cook healthy food and medicinal recipes, notes on the ingredients used, details about the rituals behind serving the food and even some of the mythology behind Udipi food.

Here's a note on how the metal of the cooking vessels affects health:

Cooking in copper vessels is healthy. Rice cooked in copper vessels will relieve rheumatism, ailments of the spleen. But it will cause biliousness. Eating rice cooked in an iron vessel will cure tuberculosis and leukoderma. Eating rice cooked in bronze vessels will not only cure TB and leukoderma but also remove toxic effects. If cooked in a gold vessel, toxic elements will be removed and acidity will decrease and also leukoderma will be cured. Virility will increase and rheumatism will be relieved. Eating rice cooked in a silver vessel will relieve phlegm, liver and bowel movements will be faciliated. Rice cooked in an eartne pot will prevent liver complaints.
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came across these listed as some traditional utensils in an iyengar home-

kalchetti-for sambar

cast iron frying pan-for frying and curries

narrow mouthed brass vessel-rice and pongal

lead-for rasam

wooden bowls -salads(kosumallies)

about soapstone-

This natural quarried stone, is softer than most other natural stones. Although a soft stone, soapstone is a very dense (non porous) stone. Many people wrongly associate softness with porosity, soapstone is denser than marble, slate, limestone and even granite. Because soapstone is so dense, it will not stain, in other words if anything is spilled on the stone, it will stay only on the surface and will not penetrate the stone. Other natural stones, including granite, if not properly sealed will stain. Soapstone is widely used in chemistry lab tops and acid rooms due to it’s density.

Maintanance :

The only maintenance required for soapstone, is the application of mineral oil , to enhance the natural darkening process the stone goes through. Soapstone(Steatite) in it’s natural state, only comes in shades of gray, unlike Talc, which comes in a variety of colors. Once mineral oil is applied, the stone will turn into a very dark charcoal gray, and in a short period of time , it will turn black. Some varieites of soapstone will keep a hint of green.

Also used in the construction of masonry heaters, due to it’s excellent thermal qualities, soapstone is virtually heat proof. It is also used as pizza stones, cooking pots, inside bake ovens and many other related applications. You can take a pot right from your stove, and place it on your soapstone countertops and it will not harm it.

a number of temples are carved from this stone,including those at belur and halebid.

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Thanks gingerly, interesting post on soapstone. You're right, that's what the kal-chattis are made from. I picked up three yesterday from Dakshinachitra, the south Indian crafts village down the East Coast Road.

Its an excellent place (admittedly not entirely objective here, I know some of the ladies who started it). Its one place you can still get kal-chattis, but even more its worth seeing because they've been reconstructing traditional houses from different parts of the south - these are the actual houses, which they buy, take apart and put back together in Dakshinachitra with as much of the furniture and other stuff inside as they can get or assemble from other sources.

And that includes the kitchens - in fact the kitchens are usually the one part of the house which really contains stuff. Wonderful huge brass vessels for heating water, mud pots and kal-chattis and metal urlis for cooking, wood and metal coconut graters, idiappam presses and lots of other great things.

Its also fascinating seeing how the kitchens are laid out - the Malayali ones, for example, are usually built with a well just outside the window so you could draw the water straight into the kitchen (Dakshinachitra has dug well in the appropriate places). My mother remembers her grandmother using exactly such a kitchen.

But back to soapstone, does what your extract say mean that they don't need more tempering beyond the oil application. Because everyone I know - my grandmother, my friend who makes yoghurt in her kal-chatti, the stonemason I bought it from and sundry other people all insist I have to season it before using it, or its going to crack or worse just explode.

They differ on how to season it. My friend who uses hers for yoghurt says you have to fill it with salt and leave it for three months or so. The stonemason said I should fill it with hot water and leave it, replenishing it once a day for about a week. Most other people say I need to fill it with kanji (the starchy water left over from boiling rice) and leave it for a couple of weeks, changing the kanji every now and then.

Are these all myths do you suppose, or should I do it before using the kal-chatti? I'm eager to start using it for youghurt at least, but on the other hand I don't want them exploding especially after I'm breaking my back lugging them back to Bombay?

Vikram

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Vikram-the soapstone info is from the site of a brazilian exporter of soapstone products-countertops primarily but here's another with some rather nice cookware.

as to the question of seasoning,from what i can tell,soapstone needs hardening more than sealing to make it cookworthy.hence your friends method of packing with salt( steatite+sodium chloride-insert equation here) and the stonemasons' directive to fill with hot water are probably the way to go.the kanji thing i suspect is a carry over from the seasoning of earthenware vessels that are very porous and need the starchy water to seal the surface.it's probably the hot,liquid part that does the job.personally i would go with the masons' advice since i'd trust him to know his material.good luck and enjoy!

(turning an unbecoming shade of soapstone envy green.)

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