Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Color is Your Le Creuset?

As you can just sort of barely tell from that shot, mine is blue. Cooks become attached to their tools. I have a deep respect for my sauté pans, my go-to All-Clad saucier, a ready-to-hand paring knife, my baking stones. But I find, considering the question here and now, that I have actual affection for only four items:

**My Global Asian chef's knife which, to my utter astonishment, sat my once beloved Sabatier down in the drawer, rarely to emerge, practically the day I got it, probably ten years ago.

**My exceedingly well-seasoned wok, a dumpster dive find from the alley between Harriet and Garfield Avenues just south of 28th Street in south Minneapolis, twenty...two...years...ago--it didn't come well-seasoned, that's what the twenty-two years have been about.

**A magnificent black cast iron skillet, low-sided and about sixteen inches across, a true heirloom that was given to Mary by a friend, Karen, because Karen knew she wouldn't ever use it, and knew we would--what generosity there.

**And my Le Creuset seven-quart dutch oven, a birthday or Christmas present from Mary in a year I do not precisely recall.

Of those four, only one has a name. It's the dutch oven; we call it "Big Blue." There are a lot of reasons that from among all the saucepans, cocottes, terrines, skillets, gratin dishes, knives and cleavers and spatulas of all kinds, from all the drawers and cupboards full of tools, this one vessel has so distinguished itself, become almost more of a family member than a pot. To wit: it is beautiful, it is venerable, it is French. It is versatile in performing many tasks, and it is indispensible in a few.

It is stock pot, confit pot, bean pot, soup pot, stew pot. It is braising vessel, best when tucked into a low oven for some slow hours filled with oxtails in Belgian beer or short ribs simmering in red wine, pork shoulder soaking up cider. It is chicken in vinegar and rabbit in mustard sauce.

Big borscht, white beans and sausage, fish chowder. Choucroute garni, moules marinière, pot au feu, boeuf à la bourguignonne, poule au pot (I did mention that it's French, didn't I?).

It is classic and comfort; the ideal vessel for a precisely calibrated cassoulet or a tossed-off soup of refrigerator miscellany.

Last night it was a variation on garbure, inspired by Sally Vincent's excellent webite
Raining Sideways.

(Here I digress, abruptly, to note that I've recently added several great sites to the "We Read These" column at right. El is a former Minnesotan now living la vida local--and how--in southwestern Michigan and writing about it in
fast grow the weeds ; Sylvie is "French by birth, Virginian by choice," gardening, cooking, and expressing the joie de vivre of it all at Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener ; Patrick mixes Duck Fat & Politics very appetizingly and literately down in beautiful Northfield, MN; and Amy Thielen, a familiar byline to Star Tribune readers (most recently reporting on Red Lake walleye), writes compellingly of life and food in northern Minnesota at Recipe-Phile. All well worth a bookmark, and the rest of that stuff over there, the old stuff, well that's all good, too. I'll bet they all have Le Creusets; I wonder what color theirs are...?)

Back to garbure, a hearty vegetable, bean, and meat soup that is either Basque, Béarnaise, "French country," or southwestern, depending on how the Google rolls. Ours was Saint Paul, Dunn County,
Midtown Farmers' Market , and Seward co-op. It's frequently made with duck, or confit thereof, but we just used a ham hock from Hilltop Pastures Family Farm and a hunk of our own home-smoked bacon. The beans are de rigeur in a true garbure, it would seem; in our variation we subbed some sprouted wheat berries that Renée Bartz grows out in Connorsville, WI (Bolen Vale Cheese ), on the road to Bide-A-Wee.

Then the vegetables were carrots, leeks, and potatoes from our gardens, onion and garlic from the market, turnips, parnips, and cabbage from Seward, all local stuff. Simmer an hour or so. Grate some cheese (Roth Kase Wisconsin "gruyère here), and the soup-filled, cheese-topped oven-proof bowls go in for a melting--or a browning under the broiler, if you prefer.

Mary was kind of stressed yesterday about various life and work issues, and sat down to supper in a bit of a funk. After a few bites of cheesy veg, bacon and deeply delicious broth (and, yes, a couple sips of wine), she looked over at me and sort of sighed, and she said, "You know, it's gonna be all right."

Big Blue has that effect on people.

Little Bide-A-Wee spudlettes, "La Ratte," keeping well in the cellar.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


Emily said...

lovely pot it is. speaking of dumpster finds, my hubby came home on his bike one afternoon with a red le crueset baking dish, in perfect condition, found in our alley! who would throw such an expensive, long-lasting item away? well, not me, it is now one of my favorite bakeware items.

el said...

Blue, blue, flame orange and off-white (3.5, 4.5, monster 5 qt saute, & 7 quart). Funny: they were all gifts or they'd all be lemon yellow! And the I like them, but if the house was burning I would probably leave them behind, excepting the orange one which is an heirloom. The baby of the family is stewing the Irish beef right this minute...they are quite handy! Especially when it's *not* summer.

Anonymous said...

Rockin the 5 qt braiser and I fire it up pretty much every time I watch Lidia Bastianich on PBS. Perfect rosemary chicken-everytime.

mdmnm said...

My LeCrueset is blue as well and I've had it only a bit more than a year. I resisted such a very expensive dutch oven for a long time and was going to go with Lodge, but their ceramic coated line is made in China. I have to say, the Le Crueset has become a real favorite, more versatile than I had imagined and reached-for more often than I would have supposed.

Can't imagine Emily's find of a baker!

Rob said...

Our Le Creuset is also blue. but it is a 9 quart oval - perfect for making a triple recipe of risotto. ;) I do enjoy cooking with my cast iron dutch oven over the firepit. I must admit my favorite kitchen devise is my counter Kitchen Aide Artisen mixmaster. Yes I know, I can mix and knead by hand, but there's something about using this sleek machine for all sorts of doughs for breads, biscotti, cakes, etc.

Lo said...

"Big Blue has that effect on people." I love it! (and it's really true -- that's what comfort food is all about).

We've got a bright red oval Le Creuset that's perfect for baking up a batch of slow roasted pork. Or coq au vin.

I love my Le Creuset, but I think heirloom cast iron is the best. I've got a few pieces from my grandmother that I really treasure.

Trout Caviar said...

Emily, that was a remarkable find indeed. My best dumpster dive actually had nothing to do with food--a Stickley oak armchair that had been painted white! Mary devoted herself to refinishing it, and it came out gorgeous.

In the same trash heap with the wok I also picked up a baking stone (since broken, discarded) and a stovetop espresso pot that we still use out at the cabin. Apparently someone had decided to chuck the whole yuppie-foodie thing that was just starting to bloom at that time. There's a short story in there, I reckon.

El, the flame orange is a good color. I've also felt strangely drawn to the pumpkin-shaped soup tureen.... It's true what you say, though, and as Lo points out, too, a Le Creuset pot is not irreplacable, however attached I might feel to my Big Blue. That cast iron skillet is the real prize, and the wok has grown up with me, so to speak.

Anon., I'm with you on the Lidia love. She makes about the most honest, appealing food of any TV cook (do NOT get me started on Ming Tsai...!).

mdmnm, I've looked at other enameled cast iron, too, wanted to get like a 5-qt for the cabin, but the off-brands don't stand up to inspection. Maybe Staub, but I think that's even pricier than Le Creuset. I've noticed your blue one on the blog.

Rob, we could have a whole 'nother discussion about favorite uses for the Kitchen Aid! Just last night we used it to grind the beef for our burgers. I make the world's best hamburger buns--the renowned (but not widely) Corny Honey Butter Buns--and I'll post that recipe sometime. But I mix and knead most of my bread by hand, except for brioche.

Lo, just the mention of the red oval cocotte is so evocative. The last long-cooked pork shoulder I did, I used David (Momofuku) Chang's method, in a variation using some of our cider, and the results were out of this world. Insanely rich and flavorful.

Thanks for writing, everyone. With the weather turning more seasonably cool, it will be a good weekend for braising!


Chef Dad said...

It turned cold here in Austin, Texas today after warming up the last week. No doubt Minnesotans don't wanna hear about our idea of cold. But, getting out my own "Big Blue" (I like that) and doing some rosemary chicken sounds good.

Rob said...

I feel left out; what am I missing with the 5 qt braiser? Do I need this? I',m also thinking about a Tangine.

Sylvie said...

mostly "flame" - that's Le Creuset speak for reddish orange (4 different pieces) - and blue (oval dutch oven). Love them and use them all the time - them and my cast iron (mostly Lodge) skillets.

Funny story: when my dad was visiting a few years ago, the souvernir he brought back to France was the largest Lodge skillet that he could fit in his suitcase!

Sylvie said...

I keep forgetting to ask. How does one pronounce "Bide-A-Wee"?

Trout Caviar said...

Chef Dad, we have heard how you've been suffering! Austin's in the news plenty with S x SW going on. But buck up, I'm sure you can grow rosemary, outdoors, year 'round, for that rosemary chicken, something we can only dream of...(!)

Rob, I've always thought it would be cool to have a tagine. There's supposed to be something magical about how the moisture climbs the inside of the conical lid and slowly trickles back down. But it seems a bit of a specialized implement for making what basically amounts to a stew or a braise. But if anyone has more experience with one, I'd love to hear about it.

Sylvia, that is funny about your dad carrying cast iron back to France. I guess it is something of an iconic American image, the skillet on the campfire, the old Wild West, etc. I really want an oval dutch oven now, in flame. I want to make a stew of mixed game, with bacon, big chunks!

Bide-A-Wee: Bide- like in abide or VP Joe Biden; A- , like "uh...";
Wee, like the little piggy who went "Wee wee wee all the way home!" It's a Scottish phrase that means "rest a while" or "stay a little."

Cheers, all, thanks for writing~ Brett