Would you be able to spot Spanish Cazuelas?
Spot a Spanish Cazuela!
You’ll find one in just about every traditional Spanish restaurant! The Secret to Real Mediterranean Flavour!
Not many visitors coming to Spain from other countries will realise just how versatile, and useful, the ‘Spanish Cazuela’ can be.
Go into any Spanish restaurant and order a dish of garlic mushrooms or prawns, and more likely than not, your food will be served piping hot in a Cazuela. See tapas on display in most Spanish bars, and you’ll not be able to miss a Cazuela. But do you really give a thought about the Cazuela, apart from thinking it would be useful under a house plant!
1 tbsp olive oil
12 large raw prawns
2 garlic cloves, crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
small handful parsley, chopped
In a Cazuela, heat oil and butter;
Add the prawns and garlic and stir well;
Stir fry until the prawns are pink (about 4-5 minutes);
Season with salt, and freshly ground black pepper;
Scatter the chopped parsley over.
Pondering the name, ‘Cazuela’, it’s clear to see where the English word ‘Casserole’ comes from. Officially, translation of the Spanish Cazuelas means ‘Spanish cooking pot’, or ‘Spanish casserole’.
When early man discovered fire, and started cooking his food, the first vessel he used was a clay pot, and he’s been using terracotta ever since. Therefore, it would be correct to say; that no one appears to know precisely when the first Cazuela was fired. Throughout millennia we’ve been using versions of the Cazuela to healthily cook our food. It’s suffice to say that all Spanish Cazuelas made today, are of course more refined than the early primitive kind, now they are built for durability, and for modern cooking practices.
The Cazuela, used in many kitchens throughout Spain, became known as ‘cocina pobre’, or ‘poor cooking’. Such was the common cooking style throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in Spain after a series of wars and turbulent political changes left the nation in economic turmoil. For centuries, provincial cooking techniques remained largely the same for countryside people who were used to living frugally, eating whatever they had on hand. Their diets appeared very healthy as they dined on bread, olive oil, regional vegetables, and local small game. It’s fair to say cooking with a Spanish Cazuela is simple, unpretentious, and delicious when used with fresh seasonal ingredients. The Cazuela is as robust as any cookware you could purchase, it fits easily into a modern kitchen, with the added bonus of being very cheap to buy.
First off, after you have purchased your new Cazuela, you will need to ‘Season’ or ‘Cure’ it:
Your new Cazuela would have been delivered to the Cazuela shop direct from the Spanish Factory. It will probably be relatively light in weight, and it will possibly be fragile! Therefore, it is important to ‘Season’, or ‘Cure’ the pot before using. Seasoned pots are much stronger than unseasoned ones. Don’t worry though, this process couldn’t be simpler.
The main thing you need to do, is to soak your pot, fully submerged in water overnight, or between 4 to 12 hours. The thickness of the terracotta has to be considered, the thicker the terracotta the more soaking time is needed. Water has the ability to ‘cure’ terracotta. Although Cazuelas, and other terracotta cookware are fired at quite high temperatures, they have to be soaked to toughen them.
Once it’s been soaked you’ll notice your pot is much heavier. Dry your pot normally with a tea-towel.
Traditionalists say to rub the bottom of the pot with a garlic clove. We say; “Why argue with tradition!” Traditionalists believe that the garlic kills bacteria, and hardens the unglazed areas of the pot. For over a thousand years, Spanish cooks have been rubbing the base of their Cazuelas with garlic.
Your pot is now ready for the next stage, which is to apply heat. Choose one of the two methods below:
Method One – Fill the pot with water to within half an inch from the rim. One school of thought says to add half a cup of vinegar to the water, while others say it’s not necessary – we say; “Why not!” Heat the pot slowly, subjecting the pot to minimum thermal shock.
Method Two – Rub the inside of the base (and lid if your pot has one) with olive oil, put into a cold oven, then set to heat at 150 degrees C (300 degrees F, Gas 29) for one and half hours. When finished ‘cooking’, turn off the heat and let the oven cool.
Either of the above methods will strengthen your Cazuela, though you still have to keep in mind that terracotta expands and contracts with temperature.
If you haven’t used your Cazuela for a while, it would be advisable to re-season it before using it again..
Cleaning Spanish Cazuelas
Cazuelas are dishwasher safe. Though for hard baked on food, soak the pot in soapy water, scrape off the food as it softens, then wash as normal. Try not to use too much soap, or any for that matter, as Cazuelas pick up flavours, and some flavours like ‘soap’ are not nice!
Take Care When Cooking With Your Cazuela
Cazuelas, not only were man’s first cooking implement, they were the first ‘oven to table’ wear. Be careful though, while Cazuelas take quite a while getting up to temperature, they can get very hot, and can take some time to cool down. This means your food will remain hot for longer than maybe expected. Since it’s made from earth, terracotta actually absorbs and radiates heat naturally and healthily.
Introducing cold food to a heated Cazuela could cause it to crack through a thermal shock. It’s not a good idea to heat up your Cazuela, then toss in some frozen food!
Be careful that you don’t place your hot Cazuela onto a cold surface. Again this could cause the dreaded thermal shock.
Terracotta cookware can withstand hot temperatures on the BBQ, on an open fire, a clay oven, or gas hob; providing the pot is not subject to adverse temperatures. A word of caution for cooks who use electric or ceramic hobs, you must use a defuser on a low heat as a buffer for the first few minutes, then the heat can be raised to medium.
Freezing Food With Your Cazuela
A Cazuela that is well seasoned can handle being frozen brilliantly. Make your dish; a fish pie, meat pie, or a casserole for instance, be sure to let it cool, then freeze. To heat the food, make sure the pot and food is thawed, then pop the Cazuela into a cool oven, heating the oven slowly after 20 to 30 minutes to the required temperature.
Sizes of Cazuelas
Cazuelas come in various sizes, from 6cm to lovely big cooking vessels of up to 46cm. The smaller ones are generally used for tapas, while the bigger ones can amply cook a leg of lamb, including a mountain of ingredients for roasting at the same time.