Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Cult of the Clay Pot

When people think of clay pot cooking, most often, they think of grandma’s ceramic casserole or crock-pot. But for those in the know, clay pot cooking invokes impassioned responses and cult-like zeal. “I found my first clay pot, a French triperie, [for cooking tripe], at a shop in New York City years ago. I didn’t even know what tripe was!” exclaimed iconic food writer, Paula Wolfert. The Sonoma, California resident and self-proclaimed clay pot “junkie” has been collecting clay pots from her travels around the world for over fifty years. “It’s a personal sickness” she confessed, “I have hundreds of clay pots”.

The history of clay pot cooking runs as rich and deep as civilization itself, from ancient times to present day and from Indonesia to Egypt. Even the United States has its own history with earthenware. ‘Boston’ Baked Beans, originally a native American dish, were cooked in earthen bean pots. Traditional micacious pots of the American Southwest Indians have a cult status all their own. But clay pot cooking is getting a renewed look as of late as chefs such as Deborah Madison and Richard Olney extol the virtues of these earthen wonders in their cookbooks. Steve Sando, founder of Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans in Napa, readily admits to his obsession. He’ll use any one of his eighty-plus bean pots on a daily basis. Tom Wirt, of Clay Coyote, recently launched a line of clay cookware and believes that as people make more conscious food choices, they’ll want cookware with a conscience too. On a recent walk through Sonoma, Paula Wolfert quipped “of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…” upon stumbling upon the new store, Bram. Bram, the Egyptian word for a clay pot, is dedicated entirely to clay pot cookware from around the world. The timing and location couldn’t be more auspicious as Wolfert’s latest cookbook, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, (Wiley, 2009), is due out this fall.

What fuels such an emphatic following? Enthusiasts claim that clay pots lend a taste of the earth to whatever is cooked in them; a “fingerprint” of the clay, Wolfert calls it. La Chamba, the jet-black earthenware from Columbia, is smoked in rice husks, imparting a smoky flavor into the pot’s contents. Mineral qualities are said to infuse into the dishes cooked in the clay pots from Egypt, Morocco and Mexico. Micacious clay pots are said to lend a “sweet” or “balanced” quality to whatever is cooked in them. As well, clay distributes heat evenly and then holds its temperature making it ideal for cooking low, and slow, and developing flavor; whereas, cast-iron or steel pots continue to heat up unless they’re moved away from their heat source. Enthusiasts often describe feeling an almost ‘primal connection’ to their food when they cook with clay. Although Wolfert is quick to dismiss the notion that clay pot cooking is anything more than a niche market for an impassioned group of cooks, some might beg to differ…

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The chef has moved!

I admit, I'm a slacker blogger! But, if you're really jonesing for me - you can read my latest article from The Crew Report on the Top 10 Kitchen Gadgets every chef needs! It's posted over at my new blog (which is still mid-rebuild)...

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And you can read my articles from The Crew Report here:

And, and, and... very soon, I'll be a regular food writer for their website


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