Clay Pot Cooking
Most people associate clay pot cooking with the Römertopf* – the very successful clay pot developed in Germany in 1967. Römertopf is a brand of clay pot and is sold world–wide; over 20 million in 40 countries! That says a lot for this method of cooking, which allows food to steam and roast in its own juices.
Preparing foods in a clay pot is not a modern invention; it dates back several thousand years when food in an earthenware pot was put in the glowing ashes of an open fire. Clay pot cooking is commonly used in several cuisines in Europe and Southeast and East Asia. In Japan they use the Donabe, in India the Chatti, in the Philippines the Palayok, and in Morocco the Tagine.
Not all clay cooking pots are the same – glazed and unglazed, different shapes, stove–top or oven only. They do have one thing in common though; clay pot cooking is a technique, and a very healthy one at that. Very little, if any, oil is needed and results in lower fat content. Unless specified by the recipe, foods cooked by this method do not require added liquid and produce natural juices.
For many years, we have used the Römertopf. We have it in three sizes and use them for roasting chicken, meat, fish, and making bread. Prior to each usage, the unglazed pot and lid are submerged in water for ten or fifteen minutes. After presoaking, the food is placed into the pot, covered with the lid and placed into a cold oven. The food is baked at a high heat (400 to 450 degrees) and the end results are wonderful. One pot cooking!
During the submersion, the unglazed clay pot absorbs water, which is later released in the form of steam throughout the baking process. This produces moist, tender and flavorful chicken, meat (great for less tender cuts) or fish. When used for baking bread, the crust is crispy and the inside moist. For bread making, we suggest lining the bottom of the pot with parchment paper for easy removal.
There are several guidelines to follow when using the Römertopf:
• Completely immerse the top and bottom in water for 10 to 15 minutes before each use.
• Place it in a cold oven (do not preheat the oven).
• Reach the correct temperature in stages: For an electric oven, set the temperature required by the recipe. The oven will heat up gradually. With gas ovens, set at low temperature and increase gradually over 5 to 10 minutes.
• Put the Römertopf on a folded towel or wooden board when you remove it from the oven. Sudden changes of temperature should be avoided. It should not be placed on a cold surface.
• Do not put in the dishwasher. Clean with hot water and a brush.
• Never use over a burner.
The Römertopf can be used in the microwave, although we have never tried it. It is available in several sizes, including the 6-1/2 quart Maxi which can hold a large turkey.
While reading Joan Nathan's cookbook, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, we especially liked her description of a luncheon visit to a house in Annecy, France. The hostess prepared Lamb with Potatoes, Zucchini, and Tomatoes in a Römertopf! She brought the finished dish to the table, took off the lid and "we were enveloped in the steam and aromas of the finished dish."
We love the aromas and taste of foods prepared in the Römertopf and do suggest treating yourself to this wonderful way of cooking. Your Römertopf will become an old friend -– after several usages it will start to lose the new look and show spots that reflect cooking – it will have a history.
Enjoy the following recipes and please share your Römertopft recipes with us: One Perfect Loaf (bread), Spiced Fish with Spinach and Country Chicken.
The Römertopf is available in department stores, specialty cooking stores and on Amazon.com: Romertopf 3-Quart Clay Baker, Romertopf 4-Quart Clay Baker, Romertopf 6-1/2-Quart Clay Baker, Reco International Fish Baker, and Reco International Vegetable Baker. For additional product information, please visit Reco.com.
*Reco International, Cambridge, OH is the exclusive distributor of Römertopf for the US, Canada, Central and South America.