Saturday, January 23, 2010


I have a delightful new cookbook, MEDITERRANEAN CLAY POT COOKING, by Paula Wolfert. Paula is friend, mentor and inspiration. She and I share a love for Mediterranean flavors and I am honored that she credits me in her book with a version of the Spanish tapas dish, Sizzling Shrimp with Garlic and Hot Pepper. She writes that she first prepared the shrimp for a party back in the late 1950s, attended by, amongst others, poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist Jack Kerouac. Kerouac, who enjoyed the shrimp, told Paula: “You’ve got great legs.”  

Paula’s book includes recipes from all round the Mediterranean (I’m trying out some of the Turkish dishes).  She gives a good description of various types of earthenware pots, crocks, casseroles, daubières, cazuelas and tagines. 

Cazuelas are Spain’s contribution to clay pot cooking.  They are wide, flat casseroles of low-fired clay, glazed on the inside, so liquids don’t escape through the porous clay, and unglazed on the bottom. Cazuelas come in many sizes, though they generally are not very deep. Rarely do they come with lids.

I use my cazuelas directly on a gas stove burner.  I don’t have any experience with electric or ceramic cooktops, so I suggest you follow Paula’s advice and always use a heat diffuser when cooking in earthenware on these types of stovetops.

You can use a cazuela in place of a skillet, a paella pan (a paella becomes “rice cazuela”), a sauté pan, an oven casserole. Earthenware holds a slow, steady heat, allowing foods to cook gently and evenly. Earthenware holds the heat, so food continues to cook even after you remove it from the stove. You can even sauté and brown foods in a cazuela—add enough oil to cover the bottom surface and heat the oil until very hot. Don’t crowd the pan with the foods to be browned.

New cazuelas taste of raw clay. Soak them in water for 24 hours. Dry well, then coat the inside with olive oil and place in a medium-low oven for 40 minutes. Frequent use is the best method for seasoning cazuelas.

Never heat an empty cazuela. Take care not to set a hot one down on a cold surface, as it might crack. Really big cazuelas are heavy and not easy to manoeuvre in and out of the oven. Small cazuelitas are fine for microwave cooking and reheating. 

Here in Spain, cazuela is both the name of the cooking vessel and of foods cooked in it. Most cazuela dishes start with a sauté, or sofrito, and finish braising with liquid.

My recipe for monkfish, clams and potatoes in almond sauce is a good example of cazuela cookery. The almonds both flavor and thicken the sauce. Monkfish is a sweet-fleshed, toothsome fish, easy to fillet, as it has no small bones. If you can get the whole fish, use the head to prepare a simple fish stock, which will add flavor to the finished dish. I cooked this recipe (as pictured below) in a 30-cm/ 12-in cazuela.

Cazuela de Rape y Patatas
Monkfish and Potatoes in Cazuela

Serves 4.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice bread, crusts removed
3 cloves garlic
25 almonds, blanched and skinned
½  cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped tomato
½ cup white wine
Pinch of crushed saffron
½ teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fish stock
1 pound boneless monkfish, cut in chunks
1 pound scrubbed clams
chopped parsley

Heat the oil in an earthenware cazuela. Fry the bread, garlic and almonds until golden. Skim out. Add the green pepper and onion to the cazuela and cook on medium heat until onion is softened, 10 minutes. Add the tomato and continue frying. Add the potatoes.

Combine the bread, garlic, almonds, wine, saffron and pimentón in a blender (or crush in a mortar). Blend to make a smooth sauce. Pour the sauce over the potatoes. Add salt and fish stock. Cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add more stock or water if necessary to keep the sauce from scorching. 

Turn up the heat and add the chunks of monkfish and clams. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fish is cooked and the clam shells open, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve. 


  1. Thanks for the primer on Cazuelas. Now I just need to get some. Next trip.

  2. Hey Janet,
    Mom mentioned that I should look at this and maybe make some cazuelas. I don't know if I have time now, but your food looks great though! Never used flame-ware clay to make something. It seems so mysterious to put clay directly over a flame. I know it can be done though, as you prove above. I'll have to try it some day!

    John Ellefson

  3. John, as a ceramist, you really should try cooking in clay. Spanish Table sells cazuelas--

  4. thanks for clearing up a mystery for me re clay. i tried cooking in a cazuela a couple of yrs ago on an elec stove and it cracked-- never used one after that. yr delish looking recipe has inspired me to try again!

  5. Janet, you have inspired me to cook this for my 89 year old, seafood loving, Mother tonight. I like the touch of picada.

  6. Hi Janet,
    Great article. We had the pleasure of working a bit with Paula on this wonderful book, and she led us into making cazuelas here in the U.S. from a type of stoneware called flameware...specially formulated to work on a direct flame. Your readers might be interested in some notes on using flameware and earthenware clay pots that we have put up on our blog.

  7. Great article--a recent trip to Barcelona and nearby environs completely rekindled my passion for cooking which had, alas, gotten distracted by other aspects of life.

    But I just bought my 1st cazuela just a few weeks ago and I find it so versatile, so useful, that I'm considering getting a couple more of various sizes.

  8. Janet - Thanks for this post! I was poking around for tips on cazuela cooking, to make a paella. But when I saw your recipe, I added it to the menu.

    As usual, I like to think about recipes before making them and imagine the flavors; the part that stood out like a sore thumb to me was the green pepper. The flavor profile didn't fit in my head.

    So I moved forward with the dish, excluding the pepper; my only other change was to use sea bass instead of monkfish; only because I didn't have monkfish on hand. It worked out well because after deboning the sea bass I used the remnant to make the fish stock.

    It is a beautiful recipe! My wife, guests, and I all loved it and used some crusty bread to sop up every last bit of the sauce.


  9. Lon--glad you liked this cazuela recipe. Green pepper gives an interesting bittersweet contrast. Try the recipe also with chunks of cuttlefish in place of the fish--

  10. Hi Janet: I have a question maybe you can help me with. At least I hope so!

    I don't know whether you have ever made the Catalan burnt rum and coffee punch known as "rom cremat" or just "cremat" for short. I have made it before in a Dutch oven, but traditionally it is supposed to be made in a cazuela. For my Halloween party coming up, I have bought a very large cazuela that holds a bit over 3 liters of liquid, so I can make a large batch for my guests in the traditional style.

    When I have made the cremat before, typically what I do is warm the rum and other ingredients up in a Dutch oven on the stove, until I can see some evaporation just starting. Then I take the Dutch oven out to the back yard well away from the house to light the alcohol and let it burn, placing the pot on a large, concrete-topped coffee table I have back there.

    If I am to make the cremat in my new cazuela, I am a little bit worried about it cracking when I try to warm the liquid on my (gas) stovetop, and then take the cazuela outside and put it on the cold concrete table, and then lighting it. Or maybe I am just being paranoid. I have used cazuelas for years but not in this sort of application, where you go from the heat of the flame on the stovetop out to the cold of the back yard in October, with the flame of the flambeed ingredients. I should have asked last time I was on the Costa Brava.

    Anyway, thanks for your time!

    Do you have any suggestions on how to avoid this danger?

  11. William: I've never made cremat, but I have made similar Galician queimada in a deep earthenware pot. What sounds dangerous to me is carrying the heavy and very hot cazuela from the stove to the back yard. I use earthenware right on a gas flame--but if you feel safer, use a heat diffusor/flame-tamer. Place the hot cazuela on a wooden board or on a thick towel, instead of directly on the cold concrete table. Colman Andrews in CATALAN CUISINE says not to use a cazuela that has been used for cooking,as the olive oil permeates the earthenware. Personally, I don't think this would detract---

  12. Hi Janet - Thank you so much for taking the time to write back. And no worries about the weight! The kitchen has a patio door directly into the patio area where we will be, so it's only a few feet. I think what we'll do is put the cazuela on top of a thick towel on top of a big board of pressure-treated lumber, and then carry it Egyptian-style. You should definitely try making cremat sometime, it is wonderful and there are some fun variations for it. Thanks for your help y buen aproveche!