Three bucks, well spent

The other day, I invested in more kitchenware.

No, I don’t have the space, and have had to be creative about storage, but it’s going to be money incredibly well spent.

Schlemmertopf closedAnyone else out there old (or young) enough to remember clay baking pots? They were fashionable in the 1970s in the UK (and possibly elsewhere, I can only speak of my own knowledge), but these days the main source is eBay, gumtree and other online options. A clay baking pot is essentially a fired, unglazed terracotta casserole with a high domed lid. When new and unused, you plunge it into a bath of water for half an hour to absorb moisture before using it to cook in the oven. After that, you only have to soak the lid for about 15 minutes for each subsequent use. The idea is that the moisture absorbed into the unglazed terracotta is converted into steam, and this helps to cook the food, as well as the radiant heat of the hot pot itself.

Schlemmertopf openMy mother had one. I can recall the serious “stand back, it’s incredibly hot” command when she removed it from the oven and placed it on the wooden chopping board, protected by a tea towel.  She had an especially thick pair of oven gloves for this big red monster, and the lid was always opened away from herself to ensure the resulting billow of steam wafted out away without burning her. The smell was always indescribably good. There sat a meltingly tender piece of meat or a roast chicken on a bed of vegetables, a stew or a ‘fridge dinner’ (you know, creative use of leftovers…).  The meats had produced at least 300ml/10 fl.oz of broth, full of flavour and only such fat as the meat itself contained, since she added none before cooking. If there was no meat in the pot, she’d  have added liquid to rice in appropriate amounts, or a little stock to roasted vegetables, for example, to help prevent sticking. Fond memories, awesome meals…

Schlemmertopf baseAnyway, I was checking out one of our local op shops (aka charity or thrift shops) for something completely different, and as I walked out, my eye fell on a Schlemmertopf. A brand new one. There are two main brands of clay baking pots: Römertopf, the royalty of the genre, and Schlemmertopf, the aristocracy. All others are pale imitations. This, the 832 size, big enough for, say, a 2.5kg/5½ pound chicken and some vegies, was pristine, never used and rather than the $100+ plus postage you’d be paying if you bought it new online, it was three whole dollars. So of course, I bought it. Like cast iron cookware, a lot of people don’t know how to use or care for them and they end up in charity shops or being used as planters.

We christened it with a leisurely bath in the kitchen sink, and then plonked into it the chook I’d been planning to roast in my small electric oven. A sprinkle of salt, a minimal spritz of olive oil, lid on, and into a cold oven. Yup, you heard right. You put your cool, water-saturated pot into a cold oven, and then turn on the heat. Put a cold pot in a hot oven and it cracks. Put a hot pot on a cold surface and ditto. You also have your oven about 50°C/ 120°F hotter than normal, but cook for about half an hour less. So this chook got 1.5 hours at Mark 7 or 220°C /425°F in my gas oven, mainly because the lid is too tall for my small electric oven. One more bonus: no splatters, no oven cleaning! When I went to investigate, there sat my lightly bronzed chook in a delicate bath of self-generated stock, literally falling off the bone, juicy and tender. We attacked it like wild beasts… Clean up? Fill with warm water only, leave to stand for 20 mins, and then scrub off any residue with a brush. No soap. No dishwasher. No hassle. The more you use it, the better seasoned it becomes and the less things stick.

Two days later, the leftovers are still moist and juicy, and the bones, skin and scraps have made a wonderful stock. (I wonder how long I should decently wait till I roast another one…?) So, on the To Try list for the same treatment I have beef brisket, lamb shoulder, lamb shanks, shin beef, etc. All those cuts where normally you need long, slow cooking to break down the connective tissue and deliver a moist, tender result. In addition to the meat, I’ll roast vegetables, bake apples, and maybe even one of these days try baking bread. I’m told you get a wonderfully moist loaf with a tremendous crispy crust. It may require considerable experimentation, considering I’d be making a gluten free loaf, but still worth a try, wouldn’t you say?

I’ll keep you posted. And if you see anything that looks like the object above, grab it. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

55 thoughts on “Three bucks, well spent

  1. Oh definitely worth the effort! Good for you, what great luck! Jim and I got one (brand? no idea) for a wedding present in 1981. We lived in small apartments then and for the next few years, and such a thing didn’t fit. 🙂 And we donated it somewhere sometime. Presumably it’s had a good owner or two since then. I haven’t missed it but I have thought more than once about cooking with one. I’m sure you’ll enjoy yours!

    • katechiconi says:

      They are a bit huge, aren’t they, especially the turkey-sized ones? Mine’s about right for two of us plus ample leftovers. And once I’ve rinsed it out, I keep it in the gas oven. Space problem solved…

  2. Good find! I will keep my eyes peeled during my op shop trawls.

    • katechiconi says:

      I have to say, the charm of a cooking method that not only delivers yummy results but also doesn’t produce a sticky pan and roasting rack is considerable…. After my heavy frying pan and stock pot this may in time become my favourite cooking item.

  3. pattisj says:

    Great find and great price, too!

    • katechiconi says:

      I know! I was shocked when I saw how much they were new – I went in search of correct cooking times and temps, and instead turned up ads for new ones. Eeeek! Plus, anything that delivers dinner half an hour quicker is going to be a firm favourite with both self and Husband!

  4. That Schlemmertopf was waiting for you 🙂
    I’ve never used one but certainly trawl enough charity shops these days to find one if it’s out there.

  5. Lucky you! Re bread:: the principle sounds good. Before I had the bread machine, I used to put a little bowl of water in the bottom of the oven when baking bread.

    A French friend of ours uses a North African terra cotta pot called a tajine (pronounced Taheen) and the results are delicious.

  6. tialys says:

    Well spotted! I have (maybe ‘had’ – I’ll have to have a look) a tagine but the fact there is a little chimney at the top to let the steam out puzzles me. Doesn’t that defeat the object? I suppose the North Africans can’t have been wrong about them all these years.
    I love your fond memories of Mum’s cooking. My mother was (and is) a stranger to the arts of the kitchen but she did used to make a good bread and butter pudding.

    • katechiconi says:

      A tagine isn’t the same; as you point out, there’s a hole in the top, plus it’s glazed. It’s a different cooking process… Ma could rustle up something tasty from very unpromising looking ingredients, and she taught me a lot. Even now, I love the challenge of ‘fridge dinner’, and have achieved some of my most memorable results from stuff other people would have thrown away.

  7. Lovely pot, my Swiss mother in law tried to ‘sell’ me one the other day, but I had never used one and didn’t take it, now I wished I did.

  8. Thimberlina says:

    I felt like I was almost in your kitchen reading your post and could smell it cooking! 😃

  9. knettycraft says:

    Lucky you. I know it as “Römertopf” = Roman’s pot. But I never owned one.

  10. I’ve never seen such a cookware creature before. I’m entranced. I can only imagine the basic idea has a loooong history, stemming back to when clay was first shaped into cooking vessels. Our Stone Age ancestors would surely nod in acknowledgement to see the pot you have today.

    • katechiconi says:

      I’ve always believed the idea originated from encasing whole small animals like rabbits in clay and cooking them in the fire, which continued to be done up till the 20th century in rural parts of the UK. The clay is cracked to release the cooked food, but it meant destroying the vessel, hence the development of a version with a lid. The Romans certainly used them…

  11. Conor Bofin says:

    I want! But, you know that….

    • katechiconi says:

      Mwahaha! I have a kitchen gadget you don’t! Ahem, sorry about that… Try eBay, see if any of your European audience might have one they don’t want, lurking in the back of a cupboard…

      • Conor Bofin says:

        I could swap it for any number of devices including ice cream maker, bread maker, mini chopper, smoothie maker etc. etc.

      • katechiconi says:

        Nah. Got them. I feel a quite unseemly amount of glee at getting there ahead of you, but then, you DO have the sous vide… It’s on my Christmas list. The Husband wants to try it too.

  12. dayphoto says:

    Geez, I wish I knew you wanted one, I just gave mine away!


  13. Magpie Sue says:

    This sounds like something my husband would like to have and use. He’s completely sold on cast iron for food prep. I can barely lift the frying pan! Wonder if either of these brands would turn up in the US thrift shops?

    • katechiconi says:

      I think Römertopfs were sold in the US quite extensively in the 1970s and 80s. I bet there are loads of them hidden away in kitchen cabinets everywhere. Have a look on eBay too…

  14. I bought mine (brand new) in a charity shop too! I often use it for baking bread but line it with greaseproof paper before putting in the dough otherwise the bread sticks to it 😕

    • katechiconi says:

      Yes, that would be my plan too – especially with GF bread dough, which is even stickier than the usual stuff. I can’t wait to try it with apple crumble and rice pudding, too!

  15. norma says:

    Looks interesting. I’ve never seen one before but I’ll look out for one.

  16. Great find! I have a pale imitation myself, bought for cheap after hearing my dad gush about his Römertopf. I’m sure neither he nor I paid anything near to as low as you did! I forget to use mine, so thanks for the reminder!

  17. Lynda says:

    Kate, I do remember these. I haven’t seen one in a very long time and I must admit that I had no idea they were so very expensive! What a wonderful find! I think the last item even remotely like this was a tall crock for keeping a chilled bottle of wine in. With it came instructions for cooking asparagus inside. (Which, BTW, I think is a silly notion as asparagus is so easily prepared without the fuss of the crock.)

    I will be keeping my eyes open for one of these now. Thanks!

    • katechiconi says:

      As I write, I have two pounds of brisket in mine, slowly cooking over two medium quartered onions, three large carrots in chunks and three quartered small potatoes. The brisket was rubbed on both sides with a dry mix of ras-al-hanout, smoked paprika, sage, thyme and oregano, and there’s a half cup of vegetable broth in the bottom. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  18. Grannymar says:

    I first became aware of the “Römertopf” dishes when I lived in Germany back in the early ’70s. I am now on my second one since coming back to Ireland. I had a mishap with the first one. Never thought to bake bread in it but will give it a try!

  19. Every time I come here I have to do some kind of research. 🙂 I think I’ve seen these but never knew what to do with them. I’m not a cook by any measure. I looked them up and they go from $35-$59 on the internet. Not sure it would be worth it to me at that price since the meal I make most often is reservations with leftovers after. 😦 Such a sad state but it’s just me cooking for me mostly. If I see one not so expensive, I might give it a go. Thanks for more education and the little scissors went right through airport security. 🙂

    • katechiconi says:

      I have bought an entire beef brisket (much cheaper bought in bulk), which I shall cook in large portions with root vegetables in the bottom. The two of us would probably eat a quarter of each portion, the rest will be frozen to make quick and easy meals for when I’m busy. I do recommend it, based on the absolutely delicious chicken the other day. There’s a brisket in the oven right now, I’ll let you know how I go.

  20. rutigt says:

    In the 70s I used the pot very often. we cooked mostly chicken in it, with tomatoes and onions. Ahhh it tasted so good 🙂 Now I had to run downstairs to see if my clay pot is Römetopf or Schlemmertopf! Just wait a minute…………….or neither! I must have thrown it away 🙂

  21. EllaDee says:

    Good shopping. I love my Romy… and the G.O. loves the soft white sourdough bread it makes.

    • katechiconi says:

      It was a bit of a barg, eh? Believe me, if I could make GF sourdough, my Schlemmer would barely get a look in at the roast chook, but since it’s not possible, I do at least get extremely succulent roast meat 🙂

  22. Erik Forsling says:

    What a lovely text you produced here, and I was smiling while reading it, sitting by my computer with a Schlemmertopf, unwashed after the last use – but dry, up-side down, googling on Schlemmertopf. It had just your size, 832, as well. [But here I am sorry to make a remark. Your text and your photo don´t really harmonize above.

    The text says “This, the 382 size,” No matter of importance. I recognize a lot in your text, memories from the 1980:s. These clay pots began to be forgotten after a while, and unfortunately Rubbish became their name. But I kept mine – and began to use it again, more often now, than before.

    Lovely smell, lovely taste – but I agree with your mother, good glooves are needed! Or they are at least a good idea. So, sometime ago I went to a second hand store, or rather a small second hand warehouse, and found me a smaller version (833) – I intended to use a clay pot only for fish. Cheap price. Instead of scrapping my clay pot life I expanded.

    Life made me walk another path, unemployed and all. Economy is a ruin compared to a former life. And now I am stationed at the very same shop where i bought my second pot. Today the third one arrived to my house. Size 848, price – almost for free, Use – only for small cooking. I realise that I have to leave that story behind, but I´ll return if it´s all right.

    I sign above so I can see if you notice this, and I add my proper e-mail adress, just in case. I beg you excuses for my loss of the english language. I´m getting old!

    • katechiconi says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment, and for pointing out the text error, which I shall fix now! I shall hope to find a larger Schlemmertopf some time, as I’d like to be able to cook larger things, but such things are not very common here in Australia.

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