While clay and other earthenware cooking dishes have been used for centuries around the world, clay pots (sometimes also called clay bakers or clay roasters) were first introduced in 1967 at a trade fair in Hannover Germany, as the 'Römertopf" (which loosely translates to Roman Pot).
Essentially a roasting dish that employs steam cooking, these clay baking dishes were billed as the ideal cooking vessel for those searching for a hands-off cooking experience and requiring no additional fat.
With a naturally porous surface, clay pots use a unique method of steaming foods inside the enclosed pot to gently simmer and braise foods of all kinds without the use of added oil or fats.
Vegetables, grains, meats, and fish are all excellent options for cooking inside a Römertopf. You can even make soups, bread and desserts such as puddings, stewed fruit, or baked apples! The German Römertopf website has a fantastic recipe section, and we hope to create our own clay pot recipes as well!
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A Little History
As mentioned above, the original Römertopf brand of clay cookers was originally developed and produced by the Eduard Bay company in Germany in 1967.
They later sold the North American rights of the Römertopf brand to Reco International, while the European rights of the brand were transferred to Römertopf Ceramic GmbH in 1997. Reco International produced and sold the clay cookers exclusively throughout Canada and the US until they went bankrupt in 2013.
Following the bankruptcy of Reco International, Reston Lloyd held exclusive rights to the Römertopf brand name in North America, but due to recent international manufacturing challenges have created their own line of clay baking dishes called Eurita Cookware.
While other companies have made similar looking clay bakers over the years, the Römertopf and Eurita brand stand out as offering a superior cooking experience while using only pure, natural clay.
So What Makes These Clay Pots So Special?
The secret to the clay pots' excellent cooking capabilities lies in its construction and design.
Produced from high-quality clay, the naturally porous surface allows water to steam the food as the clay baker heats up in the oven. (This is why Römertopfs and other clay bakers should always be soaked in water before using them.)
This steaming action locks in flavour and nutrition, all without the need for added oil or fat, resulting in a very healthy cooking method. A small gap between the lid and the bottom half helps regulate steam pressure and allows the outside of your roasts to form a crisp crust.
As the food cooks inside the Römertopf, it will naturally create a delicious braising liquid in the bottom section, perfect for use in gravies or as a jus over your cooked food.
Various Sizes and Models
Available in varying sizes from small (1.5 quarts, which holds 3.3 pounds of food) to extra large (7.3 quarts, which holds 18 pounds of food), you can find a model to suit any need. The extra-large model can even cook a whole turkey!
All clay cookers have a bottom half and a top lid. Older Römertopf models in particular are completely unglazed, while the newer models employ a glass glaze in the bottom half to make clean up easier without affecting the cooking process.
Both glazed and unglazed models work the same, just take note that any glazed parts do not need to be soaked in water before cooking. Older unglazed models will need both halves soaked before cooking to avoid damaging the clay.
You can even purchase specialty mini garlic roasters or baked fruit dishes that use the same steaming principle!
How To Use A Clay Pot
Think of these clay bakers as the original slow cooker. You put everything inside, meat, veggies, starch etc., and then walk away while the pot cooks in the oven for 45 to 90 minutes (depending on the food inside of course).
Before using one for the first time though, there are a few things to know.
First Time Use
If you purchased a new Römertopf or another clay baker, you'll want to follow the specific instructions included with it.
This will generally mean soaking the pot in water for 30-40 minutes and then scrubbing it with a stiff bristle brush to remove any clay dust or particles left over from production. This is the longest you'll ever have to soak the pot for.
The pot is then ready for use as described in a relevant recipe.
If you already have a clay pot, found one at a thrift store, or had one handed down to you which hasn't been used in a while, it's best to soak the pot for 15-20 minutes and scrub the pot well, to remove any dirt and ensure it has absorbed enough water.
Note: Newer models will come with the bottom half glazed with a glass surface. The glazed half does not need to be soaked in water, but the un-glazed lid does.
While the pot is soaking in water, prepare any food items you plan on cooking in the clay baker. Place these in the bottom half of the Romertopf without adding any oil or fat of any kind.
Place the wet lid on the clay pot and place the entire clay pot in a COLD oven. Set the oven temperature, and heat the oven up with the Romertopf inside it. Placing the filled clay dish in the COLD oven is important to prevent the clay from cracking and breaking.
Cook the food as per the specific recipe instructions, then remove the dish from the oven being careful not to burn yourself on the hot clay. Place the dish on a wood board or dish towel, to prevent sudden temperature change (and hence any cracking). Remove the lid and serve! Any natural juices created can be turned into delicious gravies or soups.
The Clean Up
The great thing about the Römertopf or any clay cooker for that matter is the ease with which they clean up.
To clean your clay pot, simply remove any leftover food from the dish and scrub it with a hard bristle brush under very warm water. Avoid using metal scrubbers as they can create gouges in the clay. Non-abrasive sponges are fine.
As no extra fat is added to these clay bakers before cooking, there is no need for any special soaps or degreasers to remove excess, baked-on grease. A good hard scrubbing is all that's required!
Let both the lid and the base, dry on the counter for a day to ensure no moisture is left in the clay before storing.
Stains and discoloration in the clay are normal, and will build a sort of patina after several uses, preventing any food from sticking to the clay sides. This is my parent's well used Römertopf!
If you find the clay baker is not absorbing water as well as it used to, simply place the entire clay pot (lid and all) in a larger pot, and boil it in clean water for 30 minutes. This will act as a deep-cleaning of sorts, re-opening the pores in the clay and allowing the clay to steam food as intended.
If your specific model is too large to boil inside another pot, fill the bottom section with water and baking soda (4 cups water to : 2 tablespoon baking soda) and place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes at 400°F. Don't forget to start with a cold oven though!
Our Clay Pot Recipes
Just purchased a new clay baker? Try one of our own recipes!
Check back often for new recipes!
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