Visit any market in any town the world over; and you will find clay cooking pots for sale. Some will be rough, rustic items, only suitable for display, but others – like the Spanish cazuela or the North Africa tagine b- will be intended tourist trade, but for everyday cooking. Before buying, always seek local advice as to the durability and safety of the items, especially as regards any glazes that might be used. Buying a boxed item from a repotable store may not be as romantic, but it is probably more sensible. Clay cooking pots need special treatment, and it makes sense to follow the instructions that come with your particular utensil.
Perhops the most familiar unglazed clay pots are those produced by Romertopf. Their extensive range includes items suitable for cooking meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, even bread and cakes. The classic Romertopf is a rectangular pot with a deep, wide base and a domed lid. These come in several sizes. Other shapes include a long oval, suitable for accommodating a whole fish. This has a glazed base, to prevent liquid from penetrating the porous clay and leaving behind a lingering fishy smell. Lids are designed to fit snugly, so that they cannot accidentally slip off, but there is a narrow gap between the lid and the base that allow any excess steam to escape from the clay pot.
Above: The classic, high, domed Romertopf dish (top) and a large oval clay pot
that is especially designed for cooking whole fish.
Left: This deep, pan-shaped clay pot is designed for cooking bean dishes, but would also be good for baking potatoes, and for cooking soups and stews that have lots of liquid.
Bean Pot/Potato Brick:
There are several shapes of these deep, round pots. Some have a handle for easy lifting. Made entirely from clay, the pots have a domed lid. Although these pots are especially suitable for slowly cooking beans and pulses, they can also be used for soups and stews, and the shape is ideal for cooking both large and small potatoes. The potatoes are bathed in a layer of steam, which keeps them moist during cooking.
Whatever you are cooking, the pot and lid should first be soaked in water then placed in a cold oven after the ingredients have been added.
Above: The shape of these deep-based clay pots makes them ideal for baking potatoes and cooking beans and pulses.
This small terracotta dish with a domed lid is used for baking garlic. Like all clay pots, it must be placed in a cold oven and heated gradually. There is no need to soak the pot in water first. The inside of the dish is glazed, so the garlic juices will not permeate it. The baker will accommodate four to six garlic bulbs. A small cross must be cut in the top of each garlic bulb, or the tops can be sliced off, to prevent them from bursting during cooking. The steam they release will be trapped under the domed lid of the garlic baker, and will keep the garlic cloves beautifully moist and tender. The garlic baker can also be used in a microwave oven.
Right: The onion baker (left) and the garlic baker both have high, domed lids that are designed to trap steam during cooking
This clay pot looks like a larger version of the garlic baker. It consists of a shallow terracotta dish with a high, domed lid; it will accommodate four medium-sized onion, and can also be used for cooking onion wedges, shallots or baby onions. The lid can be soaked in water first, so that it releases steam during cooking. The steam helps to tenderize the onions. Towards the end o cooking, the lid should be removed so that the onions turn brown and become caramelized.
This is a large, unglazed fire clay cooking dish with a high lid. The largest ones are designed to hold a whole chicken, guinea fowl or duck, but can also be used to cook any large piece of meat or poultry. Smaller chicken bricks are ideal for small birds and portions. There is no need to add fat or liquid to the pot unless the recipe specifically requires this.
Above: This large chicken brick is designed to hold a whole bird.
to be continue…