There are, as the expression goes, two types of people: those who eat to live and those who live to eat.
I am of the latter. I’m a totally unapologetic foodie. I put myself through 10 years of university and two degrees in English literature cooking in restaurants. I have experimented with cooking my entire adult life. There’s nothing I love more than a good meal, paired with a good wine, and shared with good company. To me, food is the fuel of civilization.
You will understand, then, why I was so pumped a few months back to find a large cazuela, with lid, while hunting for a stock pot at a local restaurant supply on Calle 24 de Mayo in Manta. It’s the one item every South American kitchen requires.
Mine had a price of $16 written on the clay handle. I talked the vendor down to $12 when I bought it and my stock pot together. He didn’t seem happy with my offer. But he accepted it when his wife, who was clearly in charge of that relationship, gave him a good elbow to the ribs. Poor bastard. Lucky me.
Think of a cazuela as an infinitely more versatile Crock-Pot. It takes direct and ambient heat. You can use it on an open flame, on an electric stovetop element, on a BBQ, in an oven. You can bury it with embers and pit-cook. You can sauté, deep fry, boil, bake, and slow cook. Apparently, you can also use a cazuela to cure meats, but I haven’t tried that yet.
The most interesting thing about cooking with an unglazed cazuela, such as mine, is the flavour. Because this is a porous earthenware vessel, it gives food a savoury depth that is impossible to replicate with contemporary cookware. Its aromas during a slow cook are ancient and evocative, especially when you season foods with curry or chili or cumin.
I start every cook by rubbing a half-clove of garlic inside my cazuela, until it is glazed and pungent. I will assemble my dish on a direct propane flame and let it come to a bubble. Then it goes into my oven at 160 C for however many hours I need to improve the flavour and consistency of Ecuador’s tougher meats.
So far, I have used my cazuela to prepare chili, skirt steak for tacos, chicken curry, chicken peanut stew, and pasta sauce. In the coming weeks I will post recipes. That’ll give you time to find your own cazuela, and we can cook together.