It’s the time of year that I crave all things bigger, richer, and heavier, whether it’s a hearty stew, a massive chili or a classic oven roast. I like to justify it by saying it helps build a nice layer of padding between myself and the elements, though as my mother likes to point out, it’s not like I really need any help in that department. Either way, if the flavours and heartiness of these winter dishes aren’t enough for you, don’t forget the potential savings of combining your cooking and heating bills into one.
Electric slow-cookers are often touted as the ideal tool for preparing food like this, but they have a number of drawbacks. For one, you can rarely use the cooking vessel on the stovetop, meaning you’ve got to use a second pan if you want to brown your meat. Cleanup can also be a hassle given the cheap metal often used in their production. Private chef and Cook Culture instructor Michael Williams, on the other hand, disagrees with the whole premise. “The whole marketing campaign with slow cookers is set it and forget it, but I much prefer to be paying attention, close to the food and the recipe, smelling the amazing smells coming out of the oven and permeating through the whole house,” he says. “It actually feels like you’re cooking.”
Though there are several ways to slow-cook, Chef Michael and I agree that the ideal technique is often braising. “People may have never done it before and be intimidated but it’s dead simple,” he says. Braising is a combination cooking process in which you leave half of a roast simmering in liquid, while the other half bakes uncovered in the oven. Submerging part of the meat ensures it stays moist while also moderating the heat, allowing you to use a higher temperature and thus a shorter cooking time than a dry roast. “In the end you’re left with meat that you can cut with a fork,” says Michael. “It’s magical.”
In the colder months, Chef Michael teaches a course at the store on just this topic, and highlights a star of our test kitchen: Staub enameled cast-iron cookware.
When it comes to kitchen tools it’s easy to get excited about the newest and latest tech. New knife designs, pot constructions, and gadgetry all promise to save you time in the kitchen while improving the flavour of your dishes, and often they do just that. Once in a while though, you come across a product that’s just so well designed for its purpose that it’s still made in much the same form as it was forty years ago. Staub cookware is one of these.
Staub pots are made of high-quality cast iron, giving them excellent heat distribution and incredible longevity. They also feature matte black internal enamel, which requires no seasoning, makes for easy cleaning and also hides cooking marks, unlike Le Creuset’s cream finish. The dutch ovens also have self-basting spikes in the lid, so cooking liquid condenses and drips back down onto your roast — plus, they come in a range of gorgeous finishes to fit any kitchen’s décor.
These designs have changed remarkably little since they started production in France in 1974, and pieces often become life-long parts of people’s kitchens. Whether you’re looking to start your own collection or contribute to someone else’s, the dutch ovens are a great place to start.