Terracotta is one of the oldest cooking vessels out there, dating back all the way to 24,000 BC . Made of earthenware clay, many people today continue to use it for slow cooking, simmering and roasting due to its unique properties of retaining heat, moisture and nutrients well. Terracotta cookware are also great for baking, creating a golden crispy crust.
In this post I’ll go over all you need to know about terracotta cookware, from its benefits, how to clean and season them, to some mouth watering recipes you can use with your new terracotta cookware.
What Is Terracotta Cookware?
Coming from an Italian word meaning “baked earth”, terracotta is a type of earthenware that is characterized by its brown-orange color.
Types of Terracotta Cookware
There are several types of terracotta cookware based on their shape and country of origin.
A tagine is a traditional slow cooker with a high conical or dome-shaped cover and a wide, shallow base. During cooking, the steam gets collected at the top of the uniquely-shaped lid. It then condenses and drips back into the food. This natural way of basting allows the food to cook in their own juices, resulting in moist and tender dishes.
Tagines can be used to make roasts, stews, and to cook rice and beans. Some beautifully crafted tagines can also go from oven to table for serving.
The cazuela is a shallow, round earthenware pot that originated in Spain. It is available in different sizes with the 10, 11, and 12-inch ones being the most popular. Aside from its ability to function as a skillet or a shallow pot, this versatile cookware can be used on the stove, in the oven, or over a campfire.
This type of terracotta is usually glazed and has good insulating properties that can keep food warm for a long time. It has a rustic appeal to it that makes it good for serving food directly as well. You can use the cazuela for baking, roasting, and slow-cooking stews and soups.
Micaceous Clay Cookware
This refers to terracotta cookware that uses micaceous clay. The end product has a lovely sheen so it is usually left unglazed. It comes in many forms – pots, skillets, baking pans, and casseroles. Like other terracotta cookware, it retains heat well and can even stand being placed over direct fire.
Clay and Stone in general are great for baking and roasting. When baking loaves of bread, you’ll get perfectly crispy crusts because of the slow evaporation of your bread’s water content. As for roasting, just make sure to slowly heat it up to get evenly done, moist, and tender roasts.
Glazed vs Unglazed Terracotta Cookware
When selecting terracotta cookware, the first thing to decide is whether to go with unglazed or glazed terraccota.
First, let’s talk about the unglazed terracotta.
One of the advantages of unglazed terracotta cookware is its ability to balance the pH of some foods. For example, cooking naturally acidic ingredients like tomato sauce in earthenware will give it a slight sweetness.
Unglazed gerracotta is also porous, which lets you soak it with water before cooking to release the water as steam during cooking. Because of the steam, you can add less liquid and oil, letting the food simmer in its own juice to make it juicier and more tender.
Its porosity is a double-edged sword, however, since it makes it hold on to odors and become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. To balance its porosity, season your unglazed terracotta cookware to make it nonstick and easier to clean.
So, what about glazed terracotta pots and pans?
Glazing the terracotta cookware eliminates the need for seasoning, gives the cookware a shiny appearance, and allows for even heat distribution and easy cleanup.
However, glazing can reduce the terracotta’s ability to absorb water and encourage good steam circulation.
Some low-quality glazed terracotta use finishes that contain harmful chemicals like cadmium and lead that can leach into your food. To be on the safe side, it’s best to check if the glazed terracotta cookware is compliant to FDA and California Proposition 65 requirements.
Benefits of Cooking in Terracotta Cookware
Next, let’s check out the main advantages that come with cooking in terracotta cookware.
Fired clay cookware is suitable for a variety of cooking techniques like baking, boiling, frying, roasting, simmering, and slow cooking. Different types of terracotta cookware are compatible with different cooking surfaces and even the oven.
Makes Food More Delicious
Because of its thick walls, terracotta heats up the food slowly and evenly, with the steam gently circulating inside the pot to cook the food in their own juices. This thermal inertia helps the meat stay moist as the muscle proteins break down.
Terracotta cookware offers excellent heat retention as well. It can keep your food warm long after cooking as long as you keep the lid on.
Aside from slow-cooking methods, terracotta is also an excellent baker. Traditionally, bread was baked in brick ovens because it helps draw the moisture slowly from the dough to create a crispy crust. Terracotta has this same effect during baking.
Healthier and Safer
Using terracotta cookware is good for your health because it allows you to cook with less oil once they are seasoned. The food will also cook in their natural juices because of the gentle steam. This means that aside from getting full-flavored dishes, the nutrients get locked in, reducing the nutritive loss during cooking.
Clay is alkaline as well, so it can neutralize the acidity in the food to make it taste better and easier to digest.
In terms of safety, terracotta cookware made from pure clay are extremely safe. Having said that, some low-quality terracotta cookware are finished with cadmium or lead-based glazes. The key is to select from reputable companies that test the clay composition consistently to ensure there are no known harmful impurities in the composition. Check our list of trustworthy terracotta cookware brands below.
Terracotta is considered eco-friendly cookware because it doesn’t have as much carbon footprint as other types of cookware. Plus, it doesn’t pollute the environment since it doesn’t use harmful chemicals like PTFE and PFOA. More importantly, they are biodegradable so won’t get stuck in landfills for millions of years.
Terracotta cookware, with its brown-orange color, has an earthy and rustic appeal to it that would look good in most kitchens. You can even use it to directly serve the food you cooked in it to minimize your cleanup.
Terracotta Cookware Maintenance
Despite coming with a lot of benefits, terracotta cookware does require more maintenance than say granite or stainless steel cookware.
Dropping or bumping it against hard surfaces can break terracotta cookware. Sudden temperature changes can make it crack as well.
Due to this, it’s best to soak your terracotta (both pot and lid) for at least 15 minutes each time you cook with it. Not only will this prevent cracking, the porous clay will absorb some of the water and release it as steam during cooking. You can do this while preparing your ingredients to save time.
Make sure to start with low heat when cooking with terracotta before gradually increasing the temperature.
When using your terracotta for baking, make sure to place your food-filled pot in a cold oven to allow for gradual heating. By the same token, let your terracotta cookware cool down first before soaking it in water for washing as well.
Terracotta pots usually require a heat diffuser before you can place them on your stovetop burner. It evenly spreads out the heat from your burner to the bottom of your pot to prevent breaking and encourage even cooking.
Cleaning and Seasoning
Pots and pans made of fired clay are porous, so they have a tendency to transfer the flavor and odor of pungent foods like garlic, hot spices, hot peppers, and onions to the next dish you cook. Seasoning your terracotta will reduce, not eliminate this while making it nonstick at the same time.
To clean, don’t use soap or normal liquid detergent or you might end up with a soap-tasting dish the next time you cook. Instead, hot water and a stiff brush should do the job of removing sticky bits. You can also use a paste made of baking soda and water to remove any existing smell.
Another thing you have to remember is to properly dry your pots and pans before storing to prevent mold growth.
Temperature and Cooking Time Adjustment
Like we’ve mentioned before, terracotta heats up slowly and has excellent heat retention. This means that you need to adjust your recipes accordingly.
You’ll have to tweak the cooking time to accommodate starting at a low temperature. Also, because of its heat retention, you need to turn off your burner just before your food is fully cooked to avoid overcooking.
Baking With Terracotta Pots
When baking in terracotta, you need to increase the oven temperature and the cooking time. The rule of thumb is to increase the temperature by 100°F and add 30 minutes to the baking time.
Also, you do not need to preheat your oven since your terracotta bakeware should go into a cold oven to prevent temperature shock.
How to Season Unglazed Terracotta Cookware
Just like how you need to season your cast iron cookware to keep it in tip-top shape, you also need to season your unglazed terracotta pots and pans. Their glazed counterparts do no need seasoning.
There are two ways to season terracotta. The method that you’ll use will depend on whether your terracotta is made for stove or oven use.
- To season on the stove: Fill your clay pot ¾ full with water. Using a heat diffuser if needed, place the pot on your stovetop and set it on low heat for two hours. Let it cool down to room temperature before drying and storing.
- To season in the oven: Fill your clay pot ¾ full with water before placing it in the oven, uncovered. Bake for two hours at 225°F. Cool down and dry before storing.
Watch the video below for a better idea of how to season your terracotta:
Trustworthy Terracotta Brands
To give you an idea of where to start in your search for the right terracotta cookware, here are some popular and trustworthy brands that you can check out.
- Piral: An earthenware company that has a 140-year history, Piral manufactures quality terracotta cookware in Albisola, Italy. The company uses purified and refined clay while their glazes are certified to abide by the strictest regulations. They offer pot, saucepans, bakeware, and more, in various colors, sizes, and designs.
- Romertopf by Reston Lloyd: Romertopf is a brand of German clay bakers that was first sold internationally in 1967. They use natural clay and the bottom of their cookware are glazed with a glass material that is completely safe to cook in.
- Ancient Cookware: Ancient Cookware offers different terracotta cookware lines that are handmade by artisans from around the world using pure clay. Some of their products are from India while their most famous line, the La Chamba, is handcrafted in La Chamba, Espinal, Colombia. They offer both glaze and unglazed clay cookware.
Terracotta Cooking Pots Recipes
Here are a few awesome recipes you can enjoy using your terracotta cookware:
- Moroccan Fish Tagine
- Lamb Tagine With Dates
- Chicken Tarragon
- Roasted Chicken with Leeks & Apples
- Lamb Stew
- Beer Poached Salmon
- Curry Chicken
A little History on Terracotta
Since clay is easily available, terracotta cookware has been used since the early civilizations with the earliest samples dating back all the way to 24,000 BC.
Instead of being hardened directly over fire or baked in a kiln, terracotta in the early ages were dried under the sun.
Aside from cookware, it was used for pottery, sculptures like China’s Terracotta Army, plumbing lines, roofing tiles, and even entire buildings.
How is Terracotta Cookware Made?
Making terracotta cookware is an easy but long process.
- Clay is harvested from creek and river banks or underground by digging. Reputable companies test if the clay from the area is free from chemicals and pollutants.
- Aside from removing big stones, the clay is prepared by wetting and pugging to remove trapped air. The resulting clay is manageable and left to sit for about 2 days.
- The clay is then thrown on the wheel, the potter carefully shaping it into pots and lids. Some manufacturers prefer using hydraulic presses to form the cookware since this takes less skill and time. However, throwing is better for making durable terracotta that heats up evenly.
- The shaped clay is left to dry for several weeks before being pre-heated and kiln-baked in temperatures of up to 1750 to 2000°F. The firing process can take up to 24 hours.
- After it has cooled down to room temperature, the terracotta cookware can be glazed to improve its appearance and placed back in the kiln.
- The finished product is then quality inspected before being packed for shipment.
To see how terracotta cookware is made by machine, you can watch the video below: