How to Use Clay Cooking Pans? All You Need to Know!

No matter how modern your kitchen is, it deserves at least one clay cooking pot. It won’t only improve the quality and nutritional value of your diet but also make cooking less stressful and more fun.

The trend of cooking in clay pans has recently made a comeback in both household kitchens and gourmet restaurants. The method of cooking is slightly different from traditional ways and so, you must know how to use clay cooking pans the right way.

Let’s get started!

Preparing a Clay Pan before First Use

Unglazed clay pans require some preparation before you use them. Follow these steps:

  • Immerse your clay pot in a bucket of clean water for at least an hour
  • You may leave it in the sink overnight, fully covered with water
  • Take the pan out of the water and dry it properly

Seasoning a Clay Pan

To continue enjoying food with a distinct taste and maximum nutritional value for long, you must season your clay pan regularly. This simple procedure makes the pan harder and more crack-resistant, improving its durability. It also helps in getting rid of the initial clay smell that some users find unpleasant.

Before first use, you should wipe all unglazed areas of the pan and apply a thin layer of vegetable or olive oil. Then, fill ¾ of the pan with clean water and cover it with a lid. Put it in the oven and start heating it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Allow it to bake for two to three hours before turning the heat off. Allow the pan to cool down completely at room temperature. Then, wash it with clean water and store it in a cool, dry place.

Cooking in Clay Pans

You can safely use unglazed cooking pans in ovens and microwaves. The ones that are only intended for stovetop and grill cooking have clear labels on them. So, make sure you pay attention to the instructions provided by the manufacturer before buying a clay pan. You’ll also find instructions on how to clean and maintain the pan on the packaging itself.

You need to follow specific rules when cooking with clay pots/pans.

Before You Start Cooking

Before you start preparing your meal, you must soak the clay cooking pan along with its lid in water for 15 minutes. Make sure it’s completely submerged in water so that the unglazed, porous pan absorbs as much moisture as possible.

Once you start heating the pan on a low flame, clay releases steam. This indicates that your food has gently started to cook. The steam also prevents food from drying out.

When you’re cooking in a clay pan, natural juices and flavors are retained while all essential nutrients and vitamins are preserved.

Important: Setting the right temperature is crucial when you’re cooking in a clay pan. A sudden rise or fall of heat increases the risk of cracking for the pan.

If using an oven, you should always keep your clay pan in the center, ensuring that it heats gradually with the oven. Never let the pan come in contact with the sides of the oven.

One significant difference between cooking with clay pots/pans and conventional cookware is that clay pans are always heated on medium or low heat. Ideally, you should start with low heat and then gradually increase the temperature over five to ten minutes.

During Cooking

The recommended oven temperature for clay cooking pan cooking is 190-250 degrees Celsius. You may choose the best temperature as per the recipe.

Since clay pans don’t heat up as quickly and as much as metal cooking pans, you should be ready to compensate for the time required to heat the oven. You’ll probably have to cook for 20-30 minutes longer than usual.

Generally, when you’re working with clay pans, you should set the oven temperature on average 40 degrees Celsius higher than what you usually do. If the food takes more time to cook, consider lowering the heat. On the other hand, if you want your food to come out brown and crisp, try removing the lid during the last 10-20 minutes of cooking.

Disclaimer: Do NOT add cold water to a clay pan that’s already heated. It will cause the surface of the pan to crack. If it is necessary to add water to the pan during cooking, make sure you add warm water that doesn’t cause an instant, major temperature change.

After You’re Done Cooking

Once the food is cooked, you should take the clay cooking pan out of the oven carefully. You should never touch and remove the pan without wearing oven mitts or baker’s pads to ensure maximum safety.

You should keep the hot pan on a heat-resistant trivet or wooden board after taking it out of the oven. Never throw it in the sink after taking it out of the oven. Even when you’re placing it on some other surface, make sure it’s not cold and wet.

Remove the lid carefully to prevent yourself from being scalded by the rising steam.

Cooking Tips and Techniques for Clay Pans

  • Always soak the pan in cold water for 10-15 minutes before use
  • Do NOT put your pan in a preheated oven to prevent it from cracking due to temperature shock
  • Baking at high temperatures ranging from 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit will slowly convert the moisture into steam
  • You don’t need added fats while cooking with clay pots and pans. In case you’re cooking in a microwave, you can use added fats for seasoning
  • Clay cooking pans shouldn’t be used on top of the stoves
  • Don’t add liquids in large quantities during cooking to prevent the pot from overflowing, as the food itself will throw off liquids
  • Don’t place a hot pan on a cold surface to prevent it from cracking
  • After you’re done the cooking and you take the clay pot/pan out of the oven, it will continue to cook as it retains heat. So, make sure you count this in your cooking time or remove the food as soon as you take the pan out of the oven

What You Can Cook in a Clay Pan

Considering the fact that food is cooked with steam at high temperatures in a clay pan, some dishes are ideal for this type of cooking.

Here’s a list of a few dishes you can cook in a clay pan.

  • Baked potatoes
  • Stews and casseroles
  • Meatloaf
  • Whole chickens, hens, and ducks with vegetables
  • Vegetable ragouts and ratatouille
  • Bread puddings
  • Lasagna
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Baked cheese

Since the clay is porous and highly absorbing, a clay pan tends to absorb the flavors of food. Hence, if you’re cooking fish or anything with strong flavors, don’t forget to soak the pan for longer after you’re done the cooking.

How to Clean a Clay Cooking Pots/Pans

While some people believe a clay pan is safe to be used in a dishwasher, it’s recommended to wash it by hand. Exposing your clay cookware to harsh detergents and extreme temperatures can strip its seasoning and damage its surface.

After taking your pan out of the oven, place it on a heat-resistant surface for a few minutes and allow it to cool down at room temperature. Once it has completely cooled down, soak it in warm water for a few minutes to loosen any food residue or baked-on bits.

If you feel the food stains are stubborn, consider using hot water without detergent and a gentle abrasive pad for scrubbing.

If strong smells of food linger behind after cooking, you can neutralize them by pouring warm water and adding two tablespoons of baking soda in the pan. Leave it aside, allowing it to soak the mixture for at least 15 minutes.

Furthermore, for deep and general cleaning, you can soak the earthenware clay cooking pans overnight in warm water mixed with baking soda. Three tablespoons of baking soda should be added per liter of water. You can scrub the surface of the pan with a soft, brittle brush or non-metallic pad. Do NOT use abrasive cleaning powders to keep the pores from clogging.

Instead of chemical cleaners, it’s better to use salt as a non-toxic alternative. Simply, sprinkle some salt on the surface of the pan and gently scrub it with a scouring pad. Allow it to dry after rinsing it with warm water.

In case you see any mold growth on your stored clay pan, sprinkle some baking soda on it and then rinse it with warm water. Gentle scrubbing with a soft brush will help remove the mold easily.

Moreover, if the pores of your earthenware cooking pans become clogged, you should cook it in boiling water for half an hour.

Important: You should never use soap or detergent for cleaning a clay pan because the soap will be absorbed in the pores. More often than not, detergents have a soapy taste and an unpleasant flavor that may linger behind on your pan. As a result, your next clay pot meal will smell and taste a bit like soap.

Apart from this, please note that your clay pan may start to darken over time, retaining stains and scorch marks. This shouldn’t affect its cooking qualities though.

Storing Your Clay Cooking Pans

Once you’re done cooking in and washing a clay pan, you should dry it thoroughly to prevent the growth of mold inside the pan.

You must always store your clay pan with the lid off to allow maximum circulation of air. Alternatively, you can invert the lid and place a fresh paper towel in between the lid and the pan to keep the surface from chipping. It’s recommended to store your clay cookware in dry and well-ventilated areas.

Not only cooking but also cleaning is much easier with clay cooking pots and pans as compared to conventional cooking pans. Clay pots and pans are naturally non-stick and so, you don’t have to worry about food sticking to the surface either. You just need to know the right way of using them and your cooking experiences will be so much better! 

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