Food & Drink

February 4, 2014

Cowgirl Chef: Casseroles, crocks and cocottes

Cookware dedicated to a particular task is far from limiting.

In France, there’s a specific kind of dish for just about anything you can think of.

There are footed porcelain bowls for onion soup, served with melted Gruyère on top (and down the sides if you’re lucky). There are small ramekins for baking eggs and cast-iron cocottes for hearty stews, both of which go straight to the table.

This single-serving baking dish idea is so embraced by the French that there’s a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower devoted to it, Les Cocottes, where everything comes its own very petite — and very cute — serving vessel. It’s the opposite of our American super-size, all-you-can eat philosophy.

Cooking small is also how the French prepare meals at home. Grocery stores are stocked with smaller packages of ingredients than what you buy in the U.S., and if you just need one stalk of celery for a soup you’re making that day, all you do is pluck one from the bunch and pay a few centimes. Kitchen and grocery stores are filled with the right ramekin or casserole for whatever you want to cook — which is stylish but also rooted in necessity. Have you seen the size of the refrigerators in most Paris apartments? People tend to cook what they can eat for that particular meal.

Even though we’ve got big American ovens and side-by-side refrigerator-freezers for our leftovers, after living in Paris for six years, I’ve embraced the idea of cooking small wherever I happen to be. It certainly makes sense if you’re only cooking for one or two.

Plus, being able to serve in the same thing you’ve cooked something in just means one less dish to wash, which is always a good idea in my book.

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