Eat Good Food

Cooking in Poterie Digoin

Founded in 1875, Poterie Digoin originated as a family business in the northern Loire valley, quickly establishing itself as the heart of the French kitchen. Each piece of Digoin stoneware and earthenware is hand-shaped and glazed by artisans, bringing a bit of tradition into the modern home.

Food just tastes better baked in clay. Perhaps it is the even diffusion of heat that coddles the food and brings it to its full potential. Perhaps it’s the accumulation of flavors that build in a particular pot when it is used to cook the same dish time and time again. According to some writers, earthenware transfers gout de terroir, or a “taste of the earth.”

Here is a guide to some of our favorite stoneware pieces from Digoin, with tips from writer, cook, and teacher Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking.

Gratin

The word “gratin” literally means “scratch” or “scrape.” In French family-style farmhouse cooking, dishes were assembled at home in these earthenware vessels and carried to a communal wood-burning bread oven.

Spinach, chard, eggplant, zucchini, leeks, and potatoes are some of the centerpieces of these dishes. To add flavor and form a good top crust, herbs, oil, butter, cream, bread crumbs, and cheese are often added. Additional ingredients might include eggs, meat, poultry, salt cod, or anchovies.

On the sweet side, the depth of these glazed vessels is well-suited to baking fruit cobblers and crisps to highlight fruit at the peak of flavor.

Tian

More oval in shape and slightly shallower than gratins, tians are perfect vessels for showcasing ripe summer vegetables.

For a simple but satisfying dish, assemble layers of small heirloom tomatoes, sweet bulb onions, thin skinned eggplant, and fresh salty cheese such as ricotta or chévre for baking. Wolfert suggests preparing this tian in the morning and serving it no sooner than 6 hours after it has emerged from the oven, at room temperature, to allow flavors to meld.

Unglazed Roaster

Dating back to Roman times, this traditional unglazed terra cotta roaster, known as a “four crétois,” is one of the oldest methods of cooking. Ideal for baking bread, roasting chicken, preparing a stuffed breast of lamb or other tough cuts of meat, the high-domed lid allows air to circulate while keeping heat and steam in.

Prior to each use, soak the roaster in water until thoroughly saturated. When heated in the oven, the clay will first release steam, which keeps the food moist, and then, when all the moisture has evaporated, act as a dry roaster.

While unglazed roasters are easy to clean, sooner or later they will develop clogged pores. To remedy, simply combine ¼ cup distilled white vinegar with two quarts of water, pour into the pot, and let soak overnight. The next day, rinse well and use a natural brush to scour the insides of both the pot and the lid with baking soda and water if necessary. Drain and dry well before storing.

Unglazed Roasting Pot

This French earthenware roaster, known as a “Diable Phenix,” works like a stove-top oven to perfectly roast potatoes, beets, chestnuts, coffee beans, and more without adding water, fat, or oil.

To cook potatoes, place one or two layers of washed and thoroughly dried potatoes inside, add a few tablespoons sea salt, cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, or until the clay turns quite hot. Raise the heat to medium and cook the potatoes for another 45 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally to ensure uniform cooking.

After cooking with the roasting pot, place on a wooden surface or folded kitchen towel to prevent cracking. Nothing cold should ever touch or be added to the hot pot. To clean, simply wipe out the interior with a dry towel.

Learn more about Manufacture de Digoin Stoneware

Eat Good Food

Cast Iron Care, a Love Story

Cast iron care is the key to creating a cook’s best friend. Properly cared for, a cast iron pan will reward your efforts for a lifetime — and beyond. Cast iron conducts and holds heat well, making it ideal for both frying and simmering on the stovetop or roasting in the oven. It’s great for searing meat, for stir-frying, roasting vegetables, scrambling eggs, frying chicken, baking cornbread. . . . this essential pan really is an endlessly useful tool.

Moreover, a cast iron pan is one of those kitchen items that, if taken care of properly, only improves with age. SHED owners Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton still use Doug’s grandmother’s skillet in their daily cooking and each of their sons received a new pan upon leaving home, hopefully to use for the rest of their lives.

Whether or not you pass yours on to the grandkids, here are a few simple tips for cleaning and maintaining your cast iron pan:

Season it when you get it. Even pre-seasoned cast iron can do with some extra protection. To season your pan, heat it up on the stovetop until it’s smoking hot, then rub a little oil into it and let it cool. Repeat this process a few times and let cool completely before storing.

Clean it after each use. Clean your pan by rubbing it with kosher salt and a kitchen towel while it’s still warm, then wiping it out with vegetable oil. If you need a more thorough cleaning, wash using a tiny amount of dish soap and warm-to-hot water, scrubbing out any gunk or debris from the bottom. Use a non-abrasive scrubber for this. Don’t use steel wool unless the goal is to bring the pan back to a raw state for re-seasoning.

Don’t let it stay wet. Water is the natural enemy of iron. Letting even a drop of water sit in your pan when you put it away can lead to a rust spot. Always dry out your pan with a paper towel and coat it with a tiny amount of oil before storage.

Re-season it. Re-season your pan to counteract signs of rust. Start with a clean dry pan and place over a burner set to high heat. When the surface has warmed, add a half teaspoon of such neutral oil as vegetable, canola, flaxseed, or shortening. Rub it around with a paper towel. Continue heating the pan until it just starts to smoke — then give it one more good rub with the oiled towel. Let it cool and store away from water.

Fry and Sear in it. The best way to keep your seasoned pan maintained is to use it a lot! The more you fry, sear, or bake in it, the better its seasoning will become.

Remember: Never ever put your cast iron pan in the dishwasher!

Want more? Learn to make Buttermilk Cornbread like Cindy’s mother and grandmother.