Artisan Producers, Cooking, Craftsmanship, Eat Good Food, Field Notes

Clay Cooking Transcends Time and Tradition

Clay cookware brings traditions to the kitchen and tenderness to recipes. Since their invention about 12,000 years ago, clay pots have been used for good cooking and good eating across cultures and geographies. Clay vessels have unique properties that make them ideal for roasting, baking, steaming, and braising. The porousness of the material allows for heat and moisture to slowly circulate around the dish while it cooks. This makes the resulting food more tender, juicy, and delicious.

There are health benefits associated with clay cooking. Recipes do not require as much oil or fat because clay naturally draws out the rich flavors by heating evenly and recirculating steam. Some claim that clay cooking retains vitamins and minerals that otherwise would be lost in the process. Also, the alkaline in clay balances out the acidity in food, which makes the flavors more coherent and rounded.

Cooking and serving in clay cookware encourages a certain thoughtfulness in the kitchen. Gathering for a slow-cooked meal becomes a sought-often moment of respite. We offer a selection of clay cookware pieces, each with a unique story to tell. These made-to-last vessels are a way to connect to traditional cooking techniques from around the world and make your own memories.


Chamba (La Chamba, Colombia)
Chamba cookware is handmade by local artisans in La Chamba, Colombia, out of natural clay. Each piece is burnished with stones and fired on site. Chamba earthenware pieces are unglazed; their distinctive black color coming from the clay and how they are fired in the kiln. We use Chamba dishes in our Café because they retain the heat well from our oven to your table. The smooth black finish makes the vessels appear strikingly modern. However, the origins of the vessel’s design can be traced back 700 years to pre-Columbian archaeological sites.

The Chamba roaster and bean pots are designed for cooking meats, stews, and pulses. The lid-less options are the Chamba Oval Platter for roasting and baking, and the Chamba Comal for heating tortillas and roasting chilies.


Oaxacan Collection (San Marcos Tlapazola, Oaxaca, Mexico)
We are proud to offer a selection of clay earthenware from Oaxaca. These pieces were created in San Marcos Tlapazola in collaboration with Colectivo 1050º, a design guild devoted to maintaining and advancing Oaxacan craft tradition. There are over seventy pottery villages in Oaxaca, each with distinct workshops and artisans. Eric Mindling’s book Fire and Clay: The Art of Oaxacan Pottery is an essential introduction to the culture imbued in Oaxacan pottery.

The Elia Cooking Pot is suited for beans, soups, and braising meat. The Elia Rice Pot can be used for rice and other grains. The Clay Grill is a portable grill for meat and vegetables, as well as a mobile stovetop for cooking soup and warming tortillas. It is an intricately made and striking to watch in action.


Manufacture de Digoin (Burgundy, France)
Founded in 1875, Manufacture de Digoin originated as a family ceramic business in the northern Loire valley and established itself crafting staples of the French kitchen. Digoin specializes in earthenware and stoneware made from local materials. Each piece of pottery is hand-shaped by artisans and made to stand the test of time.

We’re honored to be Manufacture de Digoin’s first collaboration with a U.S. company. Digoin’s selection of clay cookware includes unglazed and glazed pieces that serve a variety of functions. The Unglazed Roasting Pot works like a stove-top to roast potatoes, beets, and even chestnuts and coffee beans. The Unglazed Terracotta Roaster is ideal for baking bread (the clay will keep the insides soft and the make crust crispy) and roasting chicken – check out our roast chicken recipe. This type of roaster dates back to Roman times and is nicknamed the “four crétois,” which translates as “the Cretan oven” or “Mediterranean oven.”


Nagatani-en Pottery (Iga, Japan)
We source our donabes, traditional Japanese clay pots, from the Nagatani-en clayware house founded in 1832. Nagatani-en is the leading producer of Iga-yaki pottery, which is crafted from clay from the 4-million-year-old seabed of Lake Biwa. Iga-yaki donabes are handcrafted, each taking two weeks to complete. Donabe cooking has been traced by 10,000 years, yet the vessel remains a modern kitchen staple.

The Donabe Clay Smoker can be used for grilling vegetables and fish (here’s our getting started guide). Due to its thick clay body, the Donabe Rice Cooker steam-cooks rice even after it is removed from the heat source, making the rice extra fluffy. The Donabe Clay Steamer is an impressive cooking and serving vessel well-suited for fish, chicken, or vegetables.

Eat Good Food

Roast Chicken Recipe: Digoin Terracotta

When you are cooking something as simple as roast chicken, opting for a traditional method is often best. Such is the case with this roast chicken in Digoin terracotta roaster.

Ideal for roasting chicken, the traditional unglazed terracotta roaster utilizes one of the oldest known methods of cooking, dating back to Roman times. The high-domed lid allows air to circulate while keeping heat and steam in, resulting in a very moist, flavorful dish.

We love to use Digoin’s unglazed terracotta roasters. They take on the flavor of your kitchen over the years and reliably result in an excellent meal. They are an heirloom in the making.

For this recipe select a pastured bird that lived a regular chicken’s life, pecking and roaming around. You’ll be astounded by the difference in flavor — and this method really highlights it.

Note: Before using your Digoin terracotta roaster you must soak both parts of the cooking vessel in cold water for at least 10 minutes prior to use. Also, the roaster must always be placed in a cold, not pre-heated, oven.

Roast Chicken

1 large free-range chicken, about 4 pounds
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 large head garlic
1 organic lemon, cut into quarters
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
2-4 fresh sprigs rosemary
SHED Green Salt to finish, plus more fresh herbs for garnish

To prepare the chicken, season the bird 1 to 2 days before cooking.

First rinse the chicken and pat very dry. Using about 3/4 teaspoon sea salt per pound of chicken, season the chicken liberally all over with salt and the pepper, including inside the cavity. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

When you’re ready to cook the chicken, wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the terra cotta roaster.

Peel the outer layers of the garlic to separate the individual cloves, but don’t peel the cloves themselves. Arrange the garlic, lemon, and herbs around the chicken.

Put the lid of the roaster on and slip the pot in a cold (not preheated) oven. Set the oven to  425°F.

Bake the chicken for about 1 ½ hours, or until cooked through, basting the chicken with its own juices every 30-45 minutes or so. If you have a meat thermometer, insert it in the inner part of a thigh. The chicken is done when the thermometer registers 180°F.

If the skin of the chicken is still rather pale, remove the lid, and put the pot back in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until it turns brown.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Carve the different serving parts, and transfer to a warm serving dish. Finish with SHED Green Salt and garnish with fresh herbs.

Transfer the juices, herbs, and cloves to a gravy boat and serve immediately to pour over chicken and perhaps a side of mashed potatoes.

Note: To warm your serving dish, fill it with hot water from the kettle previous to plating. Drain off and wipe dry.

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

Preserve the Season

Make Your Own Vinegar at Home

Making your own vinegar at home is easy – all it takes is wine and patience! Having beautiful stoneware in which to age and store your homemade vinegar just makes it all the better.

We are proud to be the only U.S. purveyor of Poterie de Digoin, an artisanal ceramic business founded in 1875 in the region of Digoin and Paray-le-Monial, known as “the valley of ceramics” in Burgundy, France.

For 141 years, Digoin have specialized in the everyday ceramic batterie de cuisine that comprise the French family kitchen: vinegar crocks, yogurt and mustard pots, salt cellars, terrines, pitchers, bowls, jugs, all made of the natural materials of that region – clay, feldspar, and kaolin.

This recipe from Poterie de Digoin pairs a humble but essential condiment with their handsome crocks. Make your own vinegar at home today!

Preparing the Crock

Submerge the cork and tap in lukewarm water for 20 minutes. Insert the cork as far as possible into the spout of the vinegar crock, then add the tap. Never leave the vinegar crock empty. The join between the cork and the tap will dry and lose its water-tightness (and then will drip or leak).

Preparing the “Mother”

The simplest thing is to procure a piece of “mother,” the central fermentation deposit that forms in the making of wine. However, you can make your own by mixing one or two cups of vinegar with wine and leaving the mixture in an open bottle or uncovered vinegar crock. You will then obtain the “mother” used for the preparation of vinegar. From time to time, check on its thickness. If it becomes too thick then remove half of the mother.

Preparing the Vinegar

Pour two liters of good red or white wine in the vinegar crock, placing the mother delicately on top, covering the opening of the crock with cheesecloth. Wait two months. The vinegar will then be converted from the wine. You may remove one liter of vinegar that you may season with rosemary, thyme, basil, pepper, garlic, cassis, etc. Add wine as needed to continue to make the vinegar and keep the mother and tap moist.

Store the vinegar crock in a cool place and use often, adding your own homemade flavors to your own homemade foods.