Does the idea of cooking in a clay pot, known by any one of these names – cazuela, Chamba pot, chotti, romertopf pots, nai dat, palayak, tajine and ollade barro intrigue you at all? It sure intrigues me!
But what is the easiest way to get started? What should I make the first time? What container should I use? Where can I find simple recipes?
Let me take a stab at answering these questions.
First some clay pot cooking history
History shows us that this method has been used from at least as far back as 26,000 BCE. Evidence of 20,000+ year scorched pot fragments of pottery, also known as ceramic, used in cooking have been found in caves in China and in Japan around 15,000 BCE. Rough earthen pot ware was crafted and fired for use in cooking, storage and water containers.
As I mentioned in the blog Stoneware, Earthenware & Porcelain, the history of clay pot use is worldwide and goes back years and years. Even in today’s world many areas in the world have natives and indigenous people still using clay pots and making these pots themselves.
Most areas in the world still use clay cooking pots and many areas have clay pot use due to people bringing them when moving to live in other countries.
Basics to get started the first time
There are many choices of pots and recipes to try but given that I have not used these before I see two options. Just buy one that you absolutely love and jump in with gusto or borrow one to try, and see how you like it
The other things to consider are if you use a smaller container to cook in your first time, you know if it was easy to use and if you liked what was cooked, as well as was the product you choose to your liking and did it live up to the expectations you had. Of course, you would need to consider secondary items like seasoning the pot, size, weight, clean up too!
So what are my choices for a clay pot? First, you need to know a little about the options. There are many but for the purpose of “getting started” here, there will three examples, each with glazed and unglazed options. The glazed is ready to use and easy to clean where the unglazed require you to preseason and then soak 15 to 20 minutes before using. It should be noted that if your choice is an unglazed pot there will be an earthy, dirt flavour which when combined with what you cook will become somewhat nutty.
Start the cooking process from no preheating
All clay cooking pots should be started in a cold oven or very low temperature. If cooking on the stovetop or direct flame it is recommended to have a metal plate to diffuse the direct heat The pots may crack otherwise. Some of these are not recommended for direct heat. Be sure to check the manufacturers’ recommendations.
It is recommended that a new unglazed pot be used for non-meat food like rice or lentils for the first couple of times to allow the pot to naturally season and seal itself.
Tagines are pots that have a wide shallow base that can double as a serving dish with a lid that looks like an upside-down funnel. When cooking in these pots, steam is created as the pot and ingredients warm up. The steam then collects on the top part of the funnel on the inside and drips down onto the food thus keeping all the natural juices circulating throughout the cooking process and making for tender and juicy food once cooked.
These pots come in many sizes and are usually highly decorated. Here, just above is a picture of what they look like. The nice thing about this one is that you can serve right from the bottom and the heat retained will keep your food warm for quite a while.
Romertopf pots come in many different shapes and sizes and are made in Germany. The difference between the glazed and unglazed products is the bottom piece is glazed inside and the remaining parts are unglazed. Just like the tajines the steam collects on the top on the inside and drips down onto the food thus keeping all the natural juices circulating throughout the cooking process and making for tender and juicy food once cooked. By using a glazed bottom the clean-up is easier. Here is an example of one.
Black Clay La Chamba
Black Clay La Chamba comes from Columbia deep in the jungle on the shores of the Magdelena River. The clay is harvested from the banks of the river, dried and ground to a fine powder. It is then filtered of debris like sticks fine stones. From this stage, it made into a fine clay by adding water and kneading it as you would bread. A bowl maker takes a piece of clay and makes a cylinder round shaped disk. This is then put on a mold, fitted and trimmed. Once it has dried it goes to the handle maker.
The lid, if there is one, is done in the same manner as the bowl and then the lid knob is put on. Once all parts are dry the lid and bowl are sanded with quarters stones until they shine and squeak when fingers are pulled across.
Next, a red clay glaze is applied and allowed to dry, and then the pots are fired. Once cooled they are back to the black they started as. These pots are only glazed.
Where do I find a clay cooking pot?
There are many options for finding these pots. One is online and includes Amazon and specific manufactures’ websites. There are also specific kitchen and cooking stores that carry selections of these pots. Then there are the ones you can purchase in places that you travel to like Thailand, Asia and Mexico. Larger towns will have stores that promote this type of cooking and will have the pots, and accessories including recipe books.
One caution I do offer from having researched clay cooking pots is that there can be contamination of lead, cadmium and iron. Most countries making pots for International use do have to meet strict non-contamination regulations but do check just to be on the safe side. Calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium and sulphur are a few of the nutrients that leach from the clay into your food as it cooks. This process of moisture gathering on the inside of the lid and dripping down onto your food helps to balance the acidity in the food. Clay is also alkaline and thus, acts to neutralize the acidity in the food, making it easily digestible.
Good first-time recipes
The following are two basic recipes that are good, easy, first time options.
8 ingredients Produce – 1-hour · Gluten-free · Serves 4 · Easy Roast in A Clay Pot With Large Potatoes
- 1 1/4 tsp Garlic powder
- 1 tsp Onion powder
- 6 Yukon gold potatoes, large
- 1/3 tsp Chili powder
- 1 1/2 tsp Paprika
- 1/4 tsp Pepper
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1/4 cup Olive oil
8 ingredients Produce – 1-hour · Gluten-free · Serves 4 · Easy Roast Vegetables In A Clay Pot With Large Potatoes, Large Carrots, Onion, Garlic, Tarragon, Chicken Stock, Salt, Pepper
- 6 Carrots, large
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 1/2 Onion, large
- 4 Potatoes, large
- 2 tsp Tarragon
- 1 1/2 cups Chicken stock
- 1 Pepper
- 1 Salt
My choice of the pot is…..
I recently acquired an unglazed Romerpotf that is large and will be testing it out very soon. It is big enough for a large chicken or turkey. It has been used, so it is seasoned and ready to use. I may do a roast with vegetables
My 2 cents on this choice is the following:
- Using a pot like the Romerpotf is a good choice for 3 reasons ;
- 1) it is still mostly a ceramic clay pot with very little glazing so you still get the general concept and flavours, 2) if you use the unglazed one the learning curve and end result may not be the same as the glazed one and 3) it comes in many sizes and shapes
- I want to be able to try several different recipes to determine if it is a keeper and I will then expand my pot collection.
- Cost for me is not necessarily an issue. I should be able to get a medium-size pot for a decent price.
- As with anything you buy, take the time to do your research to know what will suit you.
- If using clay pots for cooking is a way for you to become more health-wise be sure to check out the mineral contents of what you are buying and remember glazed products don’t leach into your food but unglazed do. I’m off to cook in my pot. Leave me your thoughts below. Let’s continue this discussion.