Which Cast Iron Casserole… or Dutch Oven?
“Karina fetched what I recognised as a Dutch oven, oval in shape and of heavy enamel, inside which were neatly packed many little dark green rolls, much like the Turkish dolmades. The pot had a reversible lid on which, Karina demonstrated, might be placed hot coals, permitting the rolls on top to cook at the same time as the rolls beneath.”
-Elizabeth Luard, Still Life
When I was researching (!) rognons au Brazier in Lyon last year, my kidneys were served in a beautiful little miniature cast iron Le Creuset type individual casserole.
I say ‘Le Creuset’ type because on closer inspection I discovered it was made by Staub. And with closer investigation it turned out I’ve been using the wrong nomenclature for these kind of cooking vessels for years.
Being a marketer myself I should have noticed that, in the same way I refer to ‘Hoovers’ instead of vacuum cleaners; or ‘Thermos’s’ instead of vacuum flasks, I was referring to one of the main brands of cast iron casseroles as being synonymous with the whole population of them. In fact I hadn’t even been aware there were any other manufacturers.
But then I needed to buy one, and I became aware that these cooking pots are also known as Dutch ovens, and that this term has another, less salubrious, meaning. For the full low-down on the derivation of the term, go to Word Detective’s brilliant blog. And read the comments at the bottom, left by others. They are just as informative as the main content.
Although one of the reasons given for the epithet ‘Dutch’ is that this type of pot was developed in The Netherlands where they had superior casting skills, these days the principal manufacturers are French.
Cast iron is a poor conductor of heat so these pans take time to heat up, but once hot, they hold the heat, hence they are excellent for slow cooking. They are heavy though – that’s the disadvantage, and Lakeland has started to make cast aluminium pots. It’s a good idea to get one which is large enough for a chicken (28cm), but I wouldn’t advise one much bigger unless you have the muscles of Superman.
By far the most beautiful of all is the Dutch oven designed by the Finn, Timo Sarpaneva – see the clip at the bottom of this post.
But for me the choice was between the Le Creusset and the Staub and in the end I went for the Staub. Why?
Three main reasons:
The Staub self-basting mechanism
It’s all to do with the self-basting mechanism. The Staub lid has specially designed bumps on it which result in the pot self basting, evenly and continuously, and, the manufacturers say, nine times more effectively that curved lids. The result is that, according to an independent lab report, after nearly an hour the Staub casserole retains 10% more moisture than any other make. Le Creuset makes a doufeu casserole with a flat lid containing an identation which you fill with ice – the ice melts resulting in condensation inside the casserole…. But it all sounds a bit fiddly to me.
Cleaning a dutch oven – why the Staub has the edge
Most casseroles have cream coloured insides which are hard to clean after a while. You can clean them by cutting a lemon in half, and spooning carefully a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda onto the cut surface of one of the cut halves. Squeeze gently until it begins to fizz and then use it to scrub the pan. For very obdurate stains leave the lemon-bicarb mix on the casserole for half an hour before rinsing off.
The Staub has a black interior and you don’t see the cooking stains.
The Staub looks gorgeous… the colours are a bit more sophisticated… and the blue version matches my Aga! Vintage Le Creuset pans are good but they stain, the modern ones aren’t so beautiful. The Timo Sarpaneva (see video at the bottom of this post) is probably the most beautiful of all.
“So, the Lava Lamp: design classic or design horror? “Well, it’s got some nostalgic value for 60s enthusiasts, but – meretricious crap,” he says. Moleskin notebooks? “Oh, an absolute must.” The Philippe Starck lemon squeezer?” Horror. Le Creuset pans? “Horror. The latest designs were by Raymond Loewy, a sort of huckster charlatan.”
-Laura Battle, interviewing design guru Stephen Bayley in The Financial Times
“I’m not a big fan of kitchen gadgets as I like to do things with my hands. The bit of kit in my kitchen that gets the most use if probably an old dark blue Le Creuset casserole pot with a lid. There’s something about using a serious, well-made, heavy piece of cooking apparatus that makes you attack a recipe with a heightened level of respect and intention – it makes me feel grown-up.”
-Merlin Labron-Johnson, Chef-Patron of Osip, quoted in The Telegraph
Cast Iron Casserole/Dutch Oven facts – what to look for
- Cast iron (therefore fine with induction hobs), enamelled to prevent rusting.
- Well fitting lid
- Can be used both on the hob and in the oven
- Look for metal knobs which will go in really hot, roasting ovens
- Slow cooking – soups, stews, braising etc.
- No knead bread
- Le Creuset
- Timo Sarpaneva – made by the Finnish company, Iittala
- In the States they also have Calphalon and Lodge