Simmering food using an unglazed clay pot is an ancient cooking method. Before cooking, the pot is soaked in water which is absorbed in the pores of the clay.
As the pot is slowly heated in the oven, the water evaporates, producing steam
inside and outside the pot, surrounding the food and preventing it from drying out.
Since the food cooked in the clay pot keeps moist and juicy, there is no need for any additional fat or liquid to be used.
Also the natural juices, flavours, nutrients and vitamins of foods are better preserved in clay pot cooking.
Today, clay pots designed for a variety of uses come in many different shapes and sizes. They are used from simmering stews, casseroles and soups to baking fruit and vegetables, even bread.
One of the best known brands of clay pots is the German Römertopf, that has been manufactured for decades (see the picture above).
Instructions for using a traditional Römertopf clay pot:
- Before the very first use, wash the pot with hot water, using a soft brush. Do not use soaps or detergents, since the clay may absorb them.
- Before each use, soak the bottom and the lid of the pot submerged in a sink filled with cold water for about 15 to 30 minutes.
- Pour off the excess liquid and place the cooking ingredients in the pot. Place the lid on top.
- Place the pot on an oven rack in the centre of a cold oven.
Note: if placed in a preheated oven, the sudden change in temperature may cause the pot to crack or break.
For the same reason, the pot may not be used or placed on a hot stovetop burner, over a gas flame or an open fire.
If using a microwave oven, preferably use pots especially designed for microwave use and follow the instructions in the pot's manual.
- Turn on the oven and set the correct temperature, according to the recipe used. The recommended oven temperature is between
190 °C and 250 °C. If the food needs a long cooking time, use lower heat.
Experiment to find out the optimal temperatures to suit your oven.
- If it is necessary to add more liquid to the pot during cooking, only add hot liquids. Adding cold liquids may cause the pot to crack.
- If you want the food to brown or crisp a bit more, remove the lid for the last 10 to 20 minutes of cooking time.
- Use oven mittens or pot holders when removing the hot pot from the oven. Always place the hot pot on a trivet, a folded towel, a wooden board, or something similar. Placing a hot pot on a cool surface may cause it to break.
- Be careful when lifting the lid, so that the rising steam will not hit your face and scald you.
- Do not store food in the pot, but empty it right after use.
- Allow the pot to cool before cleaning it or placing it into cold water.
- Wash the pot with hot water and a stiff brush after each use. Do not use soaps or detergents, since the clay may absorb them. The pot may be soaked overnight in water mixed with baking soda (use 3 tablespoons of baking soda for every 1 litre of hot water).
Storing and maintenance:
- Let the pot dry thoroughly before storing, to prevent the forming of mould. Store the pot in a well-ventilated place, the lid placed upside down inside the bottom part, allowing air to circulate.
- Over the years, the pot may darken in colour. This will not affect its cooking qualities.
- After the pot has been used for about 100 times, it should be cooked in boiling water for about 30 minutes to clean the pores.
- Avoid moving the pot from one extreme temperature to another, as this may cause the pot to crack or break. For the same reason, do not use the pot for freezing.
- Since the porous clay will absorb strong flavours and odours, a separate pot is recommended to be used for cooking eg fish dishes.