Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cookware. Le Creuset. (obsessions).

I first acquired a Le Creuset enameled cast-iron french oven a few years ago. It was on sale, but I still trembled a little as I paid for it. Quickly it became my favorite pot for making soups, stews, and braises. It became an obsession. Someone gave me a larger one. I use that one for making stock. A friend gave me a skillet, with a black enamel interior, that sears my steak perfectly each time. A trip to the outlet mall yielded a rectangular baking dish; another trip scored a grill pan, perfect for making grilled sandwiches or cooking bacon. Each piece is cherry-red, brightening my kitchen every time I use it, which is often. Sometimes I use several pots at once.

Of course all this enameled cast-iron weighs a bloody ton, even when empty. A pot of stew is extremely difficult to handle, especially when piping hot. If you haven't got any upper-body strength, you quickly gain some. And it's expensive. If you can afford a full set of it, good for you. My collection has slowly been culled together from kitchenware shop sales, outlet malls, gifts from generous friends and family. And I use it all. The pots are fantastic for making soups, because the heavy cast-iron keeps everything at a barely bubbling simmer on low heat and the equally heavy lid prevents evaporation; the chicken soup I make in the round french (dutch) oven is the best I have ever tasted, clear, golden, intense. (An ordinary pot of stainless steel comes to a boil too quickly; it's harder to control the heat and maintain a slow simmer). I have written at great length about the beef braised in Guinness in that same pot. My steak forms a deep brown, savory crust when cooked in the lightly oiled skillet. The grilled cheese sandwiches are perfectly striped, toasted bread oozing molten cheese. I bake lasagnes until bubbly around the edges and roast chickens in my baking dish. When I look at my cherry-red cookware stacked neatly in cupboards, lounging insouciantly on countertops (when I am too lazy to put them away) I keep thinking about all the good things I will make in them, the ingredients that will fill the pale beige-enameled interiors, sear and simmer in their weighty cast-iron embrace.

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