Clay Cooking for Winter Weather
Every home kitchen has its pots and pans, knives, spatulas and spoons. It has bowls, beaters, blender and maybe a food processor.
But, how about a clay pot?
It’s long been one of my favorite tools, ever since I received my first Romertopf (literally, Roman pot) as a Christmas present nearly 30 years ago. Back then, I didn’t have a clue what to do with it.
Today, I’m on my third Romertopf. Porous, unglazed and a little unwieldy, it has a way of falling and breaking into pieces. Think of a flower pot.
I’ve always been quick to replace it because, as I discovered many years ago, it provides some of the most nurturing, delicious food on the planet. Food scientists speculate that it may have to do with the even diffusion of heat.
In the porous clay, evaporating water bathes the food in a cloud of steam so that it does not stick to the pot. Food cooks with a minimum of liquid and no additional fat. All nutrients remain in the pot.
Clay cooking comes with a venerable history that will make you feel like part of a long chain. It dates back to the cavemen (who had to break the clay covering to get at the food), followed by the Etruscans (master builders of terra cotta) – whose civilization was destroyed by Ancient Rome, which knew enough to keep their clay pots.
Over the years, I’ve relied on mine to make everything from stuffed cabbage to bread pudding. This method has been so dependable that guests who’ve eaten the results typically go home and within a week buy their own clay pot.
Here’s how to do it:
Soak both halves in water for at least 15 minutes, while you assemble the ingredients. When everything is ready to go, put the clay pot in a cold oven and only then turn it on – to a high temperature, typically 450 degrees.
My family’s favorite is brisket with apples and onions, perfect for a winter evening. This dish is adapted from The Great Cooks’ Guide to Clay Cookery.
Sarah Solovitch is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.
Brisket With Apples and Caraway
- 4 unpeeled apples, thinly sliced
- 2 cups sliced onion
- 2 slices rye bread
- 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
- 3 pounds beef brisket, trimmed but with a little bit of fat
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Soak a clay pot in water for 15 minutes.
Tear up the bread and arrange on the bottom of the pot, along with half the apples, half the onions and 1 teaspoon caraway seeds.
Lay the meat, dusted in flour, on top, and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.
Spread the remaining apples, onions and caraways seeds on top.
Place the pot in the oven, turn the heat to 450 degrees and bake for 2 ½ hours or until meat is very tender.
Remove the brisket from the pot. Be careful removing the cover; a lot of steam will escape.
Skim off any fat and ladle the apple-onion mixture into a food processor or blender. Add vinegar and additional salt and pepper to taste. Thin the puree, if necessary, with water.
Slice the meat and arrange it on a heated platter. Serve with the sauce and enjoy.