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Cooking beans in clay pots

I really wish you wouldn't read this until you are already a regular "bean freak" and are confident in the your bean cookery. I am very slowly opening a door that you may not be ready to enter!

I have no allegiance to any one method of bean cooking and I use all kinds of pots, a pressure cooker and even a slow cooker. I like them all for different reasons. But if I have the time, onions and a bag of beans handy, my favorite way to cook is in clay, right on the stovetop. Maybe I'm nuts and maybe the beans do taste better. I'm not going to say for sure, but I've never made a bad pot of beans in an earthenware pot.

You'll need to "cure" the pot according to the maker's suggestions. Normally it's an initial soak overnight, but you'll need to double check. As for cooking, there are a few little tricks but otherwise it's like any cooking vessel, only it's more attractive! Assuming the pot is cold, always start on the lowest setting and turn up the heat gradually, as needed. These pots heat up pretty fast and maintain a good heat so you may find you can keep the heat on low for the entire cooking time. You'll want to avoid setting a hot pot on a cold surface. It's handy to have some kind of heat diffuser if you have a "hot" stove and want to maintain a really low heat. In general, after an initial boil for five minutes or so, I turn the heat down as low as it will go and then use a cast iron heat diffuser I purchased at a hardware store. Then I leave things alone!

Here are my clay pots, so far.....

This very large Italian pot was my first clay piece. It's glazed inside and out and despite being Italian, it isn't very attractive. I really dislike the hippie dippy dark brown glaze on the outside. But it makes good beans and I would travel with it if needed. I purchased it at Sur la Table but I think they have dropped them for the time being.

This beautiful piece is also from Italy and despite being sold as a bean pot, I don't think it is.

I love this one, also from Italy. The knob on the lid is too small to be functional and it chips easily, otherwise this is a fine pot and it smells of caramel when cooking. This is the pot I tend to use when cooking European-style beans, Runner Cannellini in particular.

This pot is from Spain. It's perfectly nice and has a neutral flavor.

This is a classic Mexican olla. I found it in the village of Tzintzuntzan, in the state of Michoacan. The clay is thin but not too thin and I like the sloppy glaze work. Beans tend to just plain look good in this pot. I wish it had a lid. I use a salad plate, at least until I bring it up to an initial boil.


I love these Spanish ollas a lot. I just imagine all the different layers of flavor brewing in the long, tall body. The soft shoulders help to circulate the moisture and the lid is handy. They are very thick, even on the bottom but they don't take noticeably longer to heat up. Best of all, the smaller one, which I use most often, was very reasonable, about $25 if I remember correctly, from The Spanish Table in Berkeley.

These pieces of black chamba are pretty great. I also have several casseroles, comales and serving pieces because I'm a wee bit obsessive. But I don't regret a single purchase! You have to get these from the wonderful store Nuestra Tierra by either mail order or visiting. The pots have a distinct smoky flavor that wears off a bit as you use the pieces.

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