One-pot meals are awesome. A whole industry exists around slow cookers and crock pots, and casseroles, cassoulets, baked beans and pot roasts have been satisfying fans of the single-dish supper for ages. We’ve written about Dutch Ovens before, and every winter it gets a great workout, but today we’re having a look at another classic one-pot cooker; the Römertopf.
The Römertopf is made of terra-cotta clay, porous and unglazed, and its simple but ingenious design allows for the cooking to be done by combining hot air and steam.
They come in various sizes, ranging from a 2.5 lb size, -perfect for a couple- to the largest size which can handle a seventeen pound turkey. Clay pot cooking is typically faster than conventional oven cooking because the system is smaller and concentrated and the hot air inside the vessel is super steamy; also you can crank up the heat to 450 F without worrying about things burning or drying out.
To cook with a Römertopf you soak both the top and bottom completely in cold water for at least fifteen minutes before adding the ingredients to the pot. During the soaking, water is absorbed by the porous clay, and slowly steams out during the cooking, ensuring that anything in the vessel is subject to lovely, hot steam, a combination of roasting and steaming.
Another interesting (and vital) process in clay vessel cooking is that the pot is put into a cold oven, and gradually brought up to the desired temperature, usually 400-450 F. Cooking meats and/or vegetables this way also ensures that no nutrients escape during the cooking process, no vitamins dissolve in boiling water, all the goodness of the meal is sealed in under the snug lid. There is a lot of moisture and juice in meats and vegetables, and this also contributes to the cooking process, as the contents of the pot are literally cooked in their own juices.
For these reasons no extra water is needed, but you can add stock to the dish before you put the Römentopf in the oven if you are making a stew, or pot roast, or wish to have enough liquid to make a gravy; the added bonus of this is that the veggies will be cooked in and thus absorb the flavours of whatever stock you add to the pot. Because the food is largely steamed, you will not get a crispy golden skin on your chicken or turkey unless you remove the lid for about the last twenty minutes of cooking, and this is also a good time to baste the topmost pieces if so desired.
When the cooking is done, the dinner can be served as is, in the table-friendly beautiful dish, or, if you have added stock, the liquid can be removed from the pot, reduced on the stove in a separate saucepan if desired and or made into a gravy. Just make a little roux during the last moments of cooking then pour the liquid into the saucepan while whisking.
If you’ve never cooked with a clay pot before and are not sure what to prepare, have a look here for some great recipe ideas. At any rate, cooking with the Römertopf is quick, fun and easy. Here’s a one pot chicken dinner made the other night; we had never cooked with one before and everything was done to perfection.
Römertopf Chicken Dinner
1 chicken leg (separate thigh from drumstick)
1 chicken breast (cut in two)
2 potatoes quartered or eight mini-potatoes
2 carrots cut into chunks, or 4 small carrots left whole
2 onions, quartered, or 8 mini onions
2 cloves garlic, quartered
2 small tomatoes, quartered
1 ½ cups chicken stock
½ half lemon, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
4 bay leaves
salt and pepper to season
1 cup butternut squash, cut into 1 inch chunks
½ red or yellow pepper, cut into wedges
¼ cup white wine
Soak top and bottom of Römertopf for 15 minutes, remove from water. Add potatoes to pot and spread out evenly. Layer carrots over potatoes. Add squash and peppers if using, and layer onions and garlic over. Season chicken pieces and place on top. Arrange tomato and lemon slices in and around chicken. Pour stock (and wine, if using) over entire dish. Dress with olive oil, slide bay leaf down the 4 sides of the pot, and sprinke herbs over top.
Place Römertopf in cold oven and set to 425 F. Cook for 1 hr and 20 minutes; remove lid from pot for final 20 minutes, basting twice. Remove from oven and serve as is, or make a gravy with the liquid.