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Clay Cookware

Clay Cooking: Basic Principles You Need to Know

Cooking methods

Stove

Do I need a heat diffuser?

See When and Why do I need to use a Heat Diffuser?

Electric stoves (coil, glass cooktop & induction) – YES, always.

Gas stoves – YES, if your pot is not well seasoned or if your cooking time if over one hour. With a well seasoned pot and cook time under one hour, a diffuser is not necessary.

Will a diffuser change the cooking time, or require a higher heat source?

Yes, energy transfer is not as efficient. If I’m cooking with a heat diffuser, I will turn my gas stove temperature control up a number – or – use the same number on a bigger burner.

Types of Diffusers

Miriam says the SimmerMat works best for gas and induction stoves. For induction stoves, the diffuser must be contain magnetic material such as cast iron, steel, or magnetic stainless steel. Ventilated diffusers work best for ceramic/glass. Read Mirma’s blog post on different types of diffusers.

How to use the SimmerMat

Miriam clearly says to follow her instructions, not the instructions that come with the SimmerMat. However, I was initially worried because I read the SimmerMat instructions and it said only to use on low heat. I wondered why Miriam was telling me to use it on medium heat? Miriam explained the SimmerMat instructions are designed for metal pots, and clay pots are different.

Simply place diffuser on the burner, place your pot on the diffuser, start on low heat and go to medium heat in a few minutes.With pure-clay you can use the SimmerMat at medium for many hours.

Heat settings and cooking time

When the pot is new, start cooking on low heat. After 5 minutes, you can increase to medium heat.

After the pot is well seasoned, you can start cooking on medium.

Never go above medium heat

Cracks are the biggest problem I’ve had with my clay cookware. They can happen if your pot is exposed to high heat (especially if the pot is saturated with water) or uneven heat.

Clay cooking usually takes 5-10 minutes less than traditional pots. The more a clay pot is used, the faster it will cook. A clay pot “holds memory”. So if you have cooked beans in a clay pot, the next time, they will cook a bit faster.

Stirring

Stirring is usually required. However, clay cookware needs less stirring than metal cookware.

I’ve tried testing to see if I could get away without stirring my green beans. It didn’t work. I used my large pot and filled it with cut green beans and ~1 cup of water. When consuming the beans, some beans were obviously more cooked than others. I should have stirred the beans at least once.

Miriam likes natural utensils for a natural pot. This means it’s best to stir with a wooden spoon. However, it’s O.K. to stir with metal or heat resistant silicone — especially if the contact time is short.

I hardly use my oven

I use to use my oven for certain dishes. However I’ve discovered that most of them turn out delicious on my stove in a clay pot. Plus I save energy because my stove uses less energy than my oven.

Oven

Start at 250 °F, then increase to desired temperature in 10 minutes. Recommended max temperature is 450 °F.

Baking

You can oil your pot, flour may not be necessary but you can if you want. We recommend putting it in the oven at 250 and increasing to 350 after 10 mins, because this is a stovetop & oven pot. If only oven pot, and was seasoned you could start at 350.

MEC

Other

Clay can be used with solar ovens, wood stoves, and outdoor grills. Is a diffuser necessary with wood stoves and outdoor grills? Traditionally clay was used directly over an open fire.

Miriam does not recommend using clay in a microwave. Pots can develop “hot spots” because on the uneven heat. Hot spots can result in cracking.

Good to know

Preventing food from sticking

Miriam says oil is to stainless pots as water is to clay. Just sprinkle water in your clay pot before adding food. Instead of sprinkling water, I swished water (like I do before heating milk for yogurt), and when I made a frittata, my pot was coated with egg residue which was hard to remove.

Miriam gently pointed out… “Swishing water has a different effect to sprinkling. When sprinkling, some water stays inside, and lifts food off the pot. With swishing the water in the walls acts as a non-stick barrier between the heating milk and the pot’s walls.”

Initially I was putting in way too much oil in my clay pot (like I would do in a stainless pot). It worked, but my pot didn’t need so much oil. Some of the oil went through the clay, and my pot was dripping oily liquid on my gas stove. If you are going to use oil, just use a little.

When I was having a “sticking” issue when cooking eggs, Miriam commented “If it is the same pot for both (grains & soup), then a sprinkle of water will create a non-stick surface. If it’s the soup pot, you may not have to sprinkle water.”

Cooking oil

There are two things to keep in mind when it comes to adding oil while cooking: choosing a healthy oil. And when is it best to add the oil?

When cooking in metals and ceramics oil is needed as a separator or grease to not allow food to stick to the pot. With MEC you don’t have that problem, water is to pure-clay what oil is to metals and oxides (ceramics). So just a sprinkle of water is enough to separate food from the pot, no oil is needed to start the cooking. You can add oil if you want and in that case, you want to choose a healthy oil.

Heavily processed oils like vegetable oil & canola oil are bad and can do quite a bit of damage to the system. Also check the ingredient list; if anything beside the oil itself is listed, you don’t want to use it. For example, coconut oil should read, 100% coconut oil. Coconut oil, sesame seed oil, peanut oil, olive oil are much better options. Cold pressed is a better option, glass bottles are best for storing oil. Oil reacts to metals and plastic.

And finally, because MEC gives you this option, it is better to add oil in the end instead of in the beginning. If oil is exposed to heat for a long time it breaks down to trans-fat — the artery clogging fat! Add oil in the end, and it stays whole, it’s flavor is retained, and is better utilized in the body!

Miriam’s Earthen Cookware

Techniques

Do not do deep fry with clay

Dry heat

Do not do until your pot is fully seasoned. It is a good idea to cook water based recipes like soups, occasionally

Sauteing – dry or oil (nuts, onions, spices)

When sauteing onions or spices in oil, do so for just a few minutes (less time than metals), with the lid on. They get sauted faster in clay

MEC

A side benefit is you’ll notice less mess in the kitchen with this method.

Stir Frying

Roasting

Wet heat

Braising

Stewing?

Steaming (vegetables), poaching (fish, eggs)

Choose any vegetables of your choice, chop them all to a similar size. Add very little water — about ¼ inch of water for half pot of vegetables and ½ inch for ¾ pot of veggies. Add the vegetables, close the lid and let it steam. Don’t need to wait for the water to come to a boil to add the vegetables.

Cook on medium to low.

Carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, string beans etc. cook in about the same time (20-25 minutes to steam in a seasoned pot on gas stove, 30-35 on electric). Peas, bell peppers, cabbage, broccoli etc., will be done in about 10 minutes less.

It’s far-infrared heat cooking so the vegetables might look fresh & uncooked even when they’re fully done – they don’t loose their shape or color. So to make sure they are done, smash one or two different vegetables with a wooden spoon against the wall of the pot or with a fork cutting into the vegetable.

OPTIONAL: When the vegetables are almost done, season with your choice of seasoning (we’ve used turmeric, paprika powder and salt in the picture). Turn the stove off!

Your delicious steamed vegetables are ready.

Use left over water, if any for other soups/stews.

MEC

I like to top my vegetables with some type of fish — making it an easy one pot meal.

Boiling (vegetables, hard-boiled eggs)

For potatoes, yams, eggs, corn, and such, add water till 1/4 way up in the pot and you can even fill the pot up with these ingredients. You don’t need to have then submerged in water — water 1/4 way up in the pot is enough.

MEC

Combination methods

This is what makes clay so easy and food so delicious

Ex: Brussels sprouts… seared/sautéed and braised

Foods

Grains and pasta

For grains use just as much as you did before when cooking in metals. When the pot is new however, use 1/2 cup more. For example, if cooking par-boiled basmati rice, the water to rice ratio is 2:1, respectively.

The water to pasta ratio is usually 1.5: 1 respectively or till pasta is covered almost till the top with water.

MEC

Bone broth

Broth goes for 40 minutes on medium before you turn it down to low. See my bone broth recipe.

Beans

  • Let bubble for 10 minutes then turn to medium-low to finish cooking. The medium-low heat at the end allows the beans to soften.
  • If beans take 40 minutes in a pressure cooker, they will take about 60 minutes in a clay pot.

Soups/broth

Stews

Search the Internet for “tangine recipes”. They turn out equally delicious in clay pots.

For soups it’s a good idea to let the pot gently simmer a bit towards the end of the cooking process. Perhaps 10 mins or so…

Yogurt

When writing Miriam to confirm that I don’t need a diffuser on my gas stove, she responds, “The diffuser will cause less scorching of the milk, but the difference is minimal. You can avoid scorching by just swooshing some water in the pot” (before adding milk to be heated).

When heating milk for yogurt, I use to keep the thermometer in the pot and watch it rise — this wasn’t the best. Now I gauge the heat by the look of the bubbles. If I want to see if the milk is cool enough for the yogurt culture, I see if I see if I can comfortably dip my finger in the milk.

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