The original casserole was a hole in the ground in which a large fire was built, allowed to burn down and then lined with leaves. The meal was placed in the hole, buried and left undisturbed until evening, when dinner was retrieved and served. Today's ceramic pots serve much the same function, sealing in moisture and mingling tastes.
Ceramic cooking pots come in dozens of designs and finishes, from plain terracotta to highly glazed slow-cooker liners. Ceramic pots are predominantly used for baking rather than on the stovetop, over direct heat. Choose a pot that's right for you and the way you use it.
Terracotta clay requires special techniques to keep it from absorbing unpleasant odors and grease, but uses less liquid to cook and brown meat. Look to a local potter for handmade, one-of-a-kind ceramic pots. Handmade pieces will carry a caution to use them gently in a warm, not hot, oven and never on range tops. Commercial crockery may be dishwasher-safe but the detergent will sink into clay and ruin finishes on artisan pieces, so wash special ceramics by hand.
Season ceramic pots by cooking a "stew" of garlic, onion and lemon juice or vinegar before using them for the first time. This will remove the "tinny" taste of the kiln. Wash commercial stoneware. Soak clay or unglazed ceramics in water before use. Wipe the interior with oil or butter if it will hold a food that may stick.
Fill the ceramic pot about three-quarters full to minimize "boil-over," and always put a ceramic dish in a cold, not preheated, oven. Real "casseroles" are covered with a dome-shaped lid that recirculates the food's moisture around the pot. Use open pots to cook roasts, bread and the holiday bird.
Crockery pots are thicker and conduct heat less efficiently than metal. Their great virtue is that they heat the same throughout the material, cooking food evenly. Plan more time for a dish cooked in a ceramic pot and remove the top of a casserole for the last 15 to 30 minutes so the dish can brown on top. Use ceramic pots for dishes that are best when cooked slowly: stews, soups, inexpensive roasts and one-pot dinners.
Set a large ceramic pot with a tight lid at a low temperature -- 300 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit -- for a day-long cook. Never rush a crockery pot by raising the heat above 350 F, which could crack it. Never set a ceramic pot on a stovetop burner unless the pot is clearly marked as safe for this use. Use heat-spreaders on hot surfaces and trivets to protect other surfaces, as ceramics hold heat longer than other materials.
- The Joy of Cooking; Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker
- Photo Credit TeodoraDjordjevic/iStock/Getty Images
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