The Spanish cazuela is one of the most versatile terracotta cooking pots available from Spain. These clay dishes are tough and can be seen in every Spanish kitchen, such is the appeal of the cazuela it has almost become a necessity for every Spanish themed restaurant, tapas bar and delicatessen both in Spain and all over the world. The humble terracotta cazuela can be used for a multitude of tasks from serving tapas to cooking, for the latter your Spanish terracotta will need some seasoning which we will cover in this article.
Seasoning Spanish cazuelas or indeed any Spanish terracotta cookware is a very simple process, there are however a few pointers that the ceramics manufacturers themselves like to point out to ensure the longevity of your purchase. You will also find a few varying methods on how to season your Spanish cazuela in books and on the internet, some involve onions, some garlic, others olive oil and these methods are fine. There is however only one thing you need to season your cazuela and that is water.
Andalucian Exports works closely with five different manufacturers of cazuelas and terracotta in Spain and each have the same advice for seasoning your terracotta cookware:
Upon receipt of your terracotta it may be tempting to start cooking! However your cazuelas or cookware will be very much as they left the production factory so will need a little care. Unseasoned cazuelas are more fragile than seasoned ones and especially those that have been used for cooking. When your terracotta arrives the best thing to do is start running the tap…
How long your terracotta cazuela needs to be immersed in water for varies, the general rule is the longer the better – particularly for larger pieces. Water ‘cures’ the terracotta and needs time to soak in effectively which will add both strength and weight. Our suppliers recommend four hours of soaking for larger, thicker cazuelas and a couple of hours for smaller examples up to 16cm in diameter. Even if your cazuelas are destined for cooking purposes a good soaking is always recommended as it will ‘toughen up’ your terracotta.
Once your cazuelas have been soaked in water they can be introduced to heat. Fill your cazuelas with water to just below the rim and heat gently on the hob before turning up the heat gradually.
Your cazuela has now had its first seasoning and is ready for use. The process of immersing in water only needs to be done once (not before every time it is used). Cooking in the cazuela will continue to season and cure the terracotta so the more you enjoy cooking in your clay dishes the better, they will last longer the more you use them.
Although your cazuela is now seasoned it is worth bearing in mind that due to the very nature of terracotta it will still be fragile even to temperature. Our Spanish cazuela suppliers agree with the following when cooking in your cazuela:
Never heat up your cazuela then introduce cold food for cooking, the difference in temperature may cause the cazuela to crack. You can however heat olive oil/cooking oil before adding your ingredients.
For flash frying food or quickly searing meat the cazuela is not suitable however terracotta cookware can withstand hot temperatures on the barbeque, open fire, clay oven or hob etc providing it is not subject to adverse temperatures at the same time.
Once properly seasoned your Spanish cazuela will be at home on the gas hob, indeed even in the oven, microwave, on the barbeque and even over naked flame (the Spanish regularly cook outdoors with terracotta). The terracotta absorbs the heat so well that the cazuela is favoured for serving many dishes as the insulating properties keep food hot for a long time after the dish has been removed from the heat.
One of the more common designs of cazuela is the half glazed variety, sizes range from the very small 8cm examples which are often used for serving tapas such as nuts or olives through to the giant 46cm cazuela which can only be a described as very substantial piece of Spanish terracotta.
Standard cazuelas such as these usually (but not always) come with small handles on the rim, the extra large version mentioned above comes with four as once full would take two people to lift. Sizes can also vary depending on the manufacturer with some producers using even numbers to measure the diameter and some using odd numbers. The dimension is usually taken from one side of the outer rim to the other.