What Is It?
A clay baker—for baking meats and veggies and fishies and other good things in the oven. Apparently, you can even do bread in them. The idea is to return to how things were cooked way back when. You know, before the Bronze Age and the smelting of metal.
How Does It Work?
It’s made out of clay (hence the name), so it retains moisture like a champ. You soak it for at least 15 minutes before each use. Once you have your dinner items inside, you put it in a cold oven and set the temperature. Depending on the recipe, in an hour or so, your goose (or whatever) is cooked. Now, obviously, the oven part is a bit post-Bronze, if you will. But, I think the clay baker gives you the illusion of cooking like a newly non-nomadic tribesperson without all the hassle of hunting down your food, building a fire, AND then soaking your pottery in the nearest creek.
I’m not going to pretend to understand the science behind the combo of steam and dry heat (see the heat from the oven eventually dries the clay). And, I was skeptical, to be sure. But my first recipe in the clay baker came out really well—not over or under cooked, moist chicken with crispy skin. Now, the magic of clay is no longer confined to Gumby and Pokey.
The only creepy thing about clay bakers is that you’re not supposed to use soap to clean them. (Well, some web sites say it’s OK and others say it’s not.) The reasoning is that the clay holds onto flavors, and then could give your dinner a soapy taste. This is the same reason they recommend having a separate fish clay baker. The oils from cooking will eventually season and seal the clay. But, it’s a bit creepy to me to just flush something with hot water and scrub with a plastic brush.
Do I Really Need It?
No, but now that I have one, I’m kind of in love. I think this may be how people feel when they get crock pots. Look, it does all of this amazing stuff! And, then you make three recipes and they all taste the same. (At least, that’s how it was for me.) So, you lose a bit of interest. I’ll let you know after a few more recipes whether it holds up to wear and tear.
Also, if you’re weak-limbed, you should probably stay away. These suckers are heavy little beasts.
Where Can I Buy My Very Own?
Mine is made by Römertopf (it’s German, it must be good!) and was a gift so I’m not sure how much they typically cost. If you want to give clay roasting and baking a whirl, but don’t want to shell out the cash, start with a small potato or garlic roaster. (I bought one for my parents a while ago and they swear by it for perfect potatoes.)