The Joy of Clay Pot Cooking

Clay pot cooking is a versatile and gentle method that utilizes the slow heat transfer of ceramic vessels and the unique flavors of an open fire.

  • Clay Pots
    A small sampling from the global clay pot tradition, including examples from Turkey, Italy, Vietnam, England, and Thailand.
    Photo by Keller+Keller Photography
  • Cooking with Fire
    “Cooking with Fire” by Paula Marcoux combines personal experience, historical context and literary references to illustrate the possibilities of cooking outside the pan. From roasting on a spit to baking in a Tannur, these rediscovered techniques and recipes aim to capture the flavors of wood-fired cooking.
    Cover courtesy of Storey Publishing.

  • Clay Pots
  • Cooking with Fire

Clay pots have been gently settled in hearths for many generations, containing countless, varied recipes from diverse cultures. When it comes to food, technological advances don’t always yield better flavor, and there are many recipes to enjoy from methods including clay pot cooking. In Cooking with Fire, Paula Marcoux (Storey Publishing, 2014) shares the rich history and cultural context of open-fire cooking, with tips and best practices along the way. The following excerpt is from Chapter 3, “Pots and Pans.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Cooking with Fire

The Clay Pot

Even during the Neolithic Period, when widespread ceramic technology was new and developing, potters were already working out how to compose and fashion clay vessels in the service of cooking in some very sophisticated ways. Neolithic potters at Tell Sabi Abyad in Northern Syria, for example, used several strategies to increase the usefulness and lifespan of their wares. They selected clay types that were especially suited to the rigors of the hearth; isotope analysis shows that the clay for their best cooking pots was imported from a region over a hundred miles away. They tempered the clay with minerals or crushed pottery, now a time honored method for conferring resistance to heat-shock on cooking pots; then, cutting-edge technology. In building the pots, they strove for even wall thickness and smoothly arced forms, both helpful in creating resistance to thermal shock; they added lug handles to give the cook something to grab. The artisans enhanced the naturally low porosity of their special clay by burnishing, intentionally smoothing the surfaces of the cooking pots before firing them, improving their cooking and storage qualities. In short, to a startling degree, some of the earliest known cooking pots were highly functional, and often beautiful, implements.

Today, potters are still making great cooking pots all over the globe, even though cooks now have many other choices. I have acquired pots of all sorts on my travels and, although I’m fiercely protective of those from the remotest locations, I do use every one of them, whether in a hearth or in a wood-fired oven. And even here in the States, I never enter an ethnic market without inspecting the housewares aisle for a hidden pottery gem. Southeast Asian grocery stores are especially fruitful in this regard.

3/31/2015 12:58:11 PM

Great article on cooking! I love the chicken/wine idea, and will try that. As a potter, I have to disagree with the lead-glaze-being-ok-for-cooking part. There is too much evidence of lead leaching into foods from these glazes. While it might be safe at first, even the tiniest of scratches can compromise the safety of the glaze. That's my opinion, and I never use glazes with lead for food vessels. I do use glazed clay pots that I've made, and I have a friend who makes stove-top safe, unglazed pottery. I'm going to give this a go! Thanks for a great article, with many good hints!

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