Guide to Spanish Terracotta
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:
Retailers Guide to Terracotta
Step 1 – Receipt of your terracotta
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…
Step 2 – Immerse in water
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.
Step 3 – Gently heat
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.
Cooking in Terracotta
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.
Types of Spanish Cazuela
Cazuelas ‘Abombadas’ are a very different design of Spanish cazuela. Besdides from the more curved appearance cazuela abombadas are usually fully glazed. Fully glazed cazuelas have a full glaze on the inside and also on the outer edge – only the base of the cazuela remains unglazed to allow for soaking in water. Soaking in water is good practice before the first use as this cures or ‘seasons’ your terracotta before it is introduced to heat for the first time.
The cazuela abombada comes in sizes from 10cm – 30cm and a convex shape, the inner walls of the dish are however straight with only the outer edge being curved. This particular design also has handles from 17cm upwards making handling easier when placing in and out of the oven
The word ‘plana’ in Spanish translates as ‘flat’ and this design of cazuela is exactly that. The depth of cazuelas planas remains pretty much the same through the size range unlike standard cazuelas which get deeper the wider the dish. This particular design comes partially glazed being fully glazed on the inside and around the rim, the rest of the outer is predominantly bare terracotta (including the base) with a few runs and drips giving this type of cazuela a very rustic appearance.
Cazuelas planas are good for cooking over all types of flame where an even distribution of heat is required, a good example would be searing meats or frying prawns in garlic and chilli. A good all round cazuela suitable for cooking with indoors and out.
Cazuelas ‘Super Planas’
As the name suggests cazuelas ‘super planas’ are very flat! These pieces of Spanish terracotta again come in a range of sizes from around 15cm – 30cm. They are glazed in the same way as their slightly deeper cousins with a full glaze on the inner and a bare rustic appearance on the shallow outer edge.
This design or terracotta cazuela has number of unique characteristics and uses and can be used for tasks such as cooking pizza in clay ovens or even as a place mat for other terracotta cooking vessels such as casseroles or Spanish ollas. These cazuelas are barely 2cm deep so can also be used for serving and presenting barbequed meats as well as for frying over naked or gas flame indoors or out, larger versions have small handles on the rim for ease of use.
Deep cazuelas or sometimes known as ‘cuencos Americanos’ are made from the same clay as other cazuelas and are glazed and fired in the same way. Deep cazuelas are around 6cm in depth and come with a 13cm diameter. The dimensions of these cazuelas make them suitable not just for serving food and Spanish tapas but also for cooking food where perhaps a level of oil is required. Chili garlic prawns or ‘gambas al pil pil is a good example.
Deep cazuelas come either fully or partially glazed and have two small handles on the outer rim. As with all types of terracotta these cazuelas require a good soak in water before their first introduction to heat. Versatile terracotta good for both cooking and serving.
Cazuelas with Handles (sartenes)
The word ‘sarten’ translates as frying pan in Spanish and these pieces of terracotta resemble frying pans due to their long handles. The sarten is essentially a terracotta cazuela with a long handle, the handle itself has a hollow centre running its length which prevents the handle from becoming too hot (we do however always advise using oven gloves or a towel). Sizes of the sarten are not vast although there is a choice of 12cm, 14cm, 16cm, 18cm and 20cm examples to choose from.
The sarten boasts all the functionality of the cazuela and has the same heat retaining properties as all good terracotta cookware. For serving tapas the smaller sartenes will make a pleasant addition to the table.
Gres cazuelas come in the same shape and size range as the standard cazuelas detailed at the top of this page, one distinct difference besides from the colour is that gres cazuelas are fully glazed with the exception of the base. Gres cazuelas are tougher and more durable than their brown terracotta cousins and although the same clay is used for both the gres range is fired at much higher temperatures not just once but twice.
The glaze on these examples is a different colour and also slightly different to the standard brown. The gres range also includes the sarten/cazuela frying pan as well as many other types of terracotta cookware. Ideal for cooking where higher temperatures are required, clay ovens or directly over hot coals.
Sizes of Spanish Cazuelas
Spanish cazuela’s come in a variety of different sizes from the mini cazuela which range from 6cm to the lovely big cooking vessels measuring up to 46cm. One extreme to the other but why not? Mini cazuelas are perfect for serving tapas and their infinitely larger cousins happy to accommodate a hefty leg of lamb in its entirety or a large roast with all the vegetables thrown in. In between there is almost every measurement available although this does vary depending on the manufacturer. Common sizes of cazuela include the 12cm and 14cm which are particularly popular for serving Spanish tapas in restaurant environments then we jump up to the larger diameters of 18cm and 23cm which are used for cooking, Spanish meatballs remaining a firm favourite. Cazuelas of larger diameter are also suited for the barbeque to cook meats, salsas or simply to retain heat in rice or couscous.
There are of course other types of terracotta cookware which need to be prepared and seasoned in exactly the same way, the ‘sarten’ is one such example, essentially a cazuela with a handle the sarten (or terracotta frying pan) is designed for cooking, however the same ‘seasoning’ principles apply for best results and longevity of your purchase.
Other Types of Terracotta Cookware
All types of terracotta cooking equipment need a good soak prior to use and it is even a good idea to do this even if your cazuela, platter, bowl, casserole or wine cooler etc is simply being used a server for tapas, as said above a good soaking in water will help toughen up your terracotta and give it the longevity it deserves for continued appearances on the table, outdoors at the barbeque or simple every day use.