Air fryers may well be the trendy new cooking appliance, but sometimes you can’t beat a bit of tradition. Centuries before we all became enamoured with convection cooking, terracotta pots were definitely the hottest cooking vessels in the kitchen. And in France, they’ve never gone out of style.
Cooking with nature
Terracotta is an Italian word that translates to ‘cooked earth’. The French have their own term meaning exactly the same thing: terre cuite. The pots – which have a telltale brown and orange hue – are made with natural clay, fired in a kiln to produce a hard and durable vessel ideal for cooking.
The terracotta tagine is also commonly found in kitchens throughout France, making its way into the very heart of French cooking from the former colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa.
Interestingly, the kitchen isn’t the only place you’ll find terracotta in France. While terracotta tiles are popular, many artists also hand-crafted sculptures out of this material in the 16th and 17th centuries. If you’re visiting Paris, you’ll be able to see one of the earliest examples of French terracotta artistry at the Louvre Museum: Vierge de Douleur (the mourning virgin) by Germain Pilon, created in 1586.
So why opt for this traditional form of cookware? Well, if you’re a fan of French cooking – and want to try whipping up some authentic dishes in your kitchen – terracotta pots can be your secret weapon.
Terracotta pots take longer to heat up than their metal counterparts, but once they’re hot, they retain this heat brilliantly. Heat is distributed evenly throughout the vessel, allowing for gentle, slow simmering that produces a moist, succulent, and tender result. There’s practically zero loss of flavour.
And when you think about it, isn’t that what many French dishes really need?
Think about cassoulet, which is better than ever when it’s been cooked low and slow for hours. Or daube, where the flavours of the herbs really develop when it’s been cooked for longer. Or beef bourguignon and coq au vin, which both melt in the mouth when cooked gently on the stove.
What’s more, terracotta pots even infuse a wonderfully unique earthiness into dishes. And the more it’s used, the more terracotta builds up a seasoning that gives foods a one-of-a-kind flavour. An experiment by Food & Wine Magazine found that ‘everything cooked in clay tasted better than the same recipes cooked in metal pans’. The researchers concluded that ‘beans were creamy and tender without their skins falling apart’, and ‘braises tasted snappy and fresh, not muddled and heavy’.
So the next time you’re buying French food online, don’t just focus on the ingredients themselves; think about how you’re going to cook them. Think about how you’re going to transform them from good to truly great. The answer is simple: add a touch of traditional terracotta. From natural clay wine coolers to rustic French terracotta jugs, at BonneBouffe we’ve got plenty of options.