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Kitchen gadgets review: earthenware clay oven – greatest of all time

What?
The Mason Cash Earthenware clay oven (£26.99, Ocado) is a non-vitreous earthenware vessel with a lid. Cooking in a presoaked pot generates a high-humidity atmosphere, preserving nutrients and enhancing flavor.

Why?
This isn’t common for garden cooking. It’s watery cooking in terracotta pots. This sounds quite a lot like gardening. Now you mention it.

Rhik puts on a hat and scarf because, um, because he, um, well anyway, World Scoop.

Rhik puts on a hat and scarf because, um, because he, um, well anyway. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
Well?

This week we’re looking at an old-school gadget, by which I don’t mean a Goblin Teasmade. I mean a clay cooker of the type used by Romans, ancient Africans, and native Americans. Clay has special properties: it’s used medicinally and is one of the oldest building materials, while ceramic art fragments provide the only clue to many lost civilizations. My main association with clay is a scene from the movie Ghost, in which Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore make a real pig’s ear out of throwing a vase. You have to concentrate on pottery, guys! Clay cooking is also special, neutralizing acidity to bring out food’s natural sweetness.

Pre-soaking a clay oven in water creates a super-steamy environment (much like Patrick Swayze), leading to extra-succulent food. This one is by Mason Cash, which sounds like a swaggering American boxer, stuffed full of hubris and sponsorship money. “Baking and steaming food in clay cookers has been practiced for many centuries,” the box claims. “And has now been perfected by Mason Cash.” Bit arrogant, isn’t it? I’m not sure how they’ve perfected it – it’s an earthenware box. Maybe it means the interior, which is glazed and ridged. I wouldn’t say I like that, though; clay cookers should build up a natural non-stick patina through use, the traces of meals you make together. To season cookware is to varnish a relationship.

This technique is identified with meat – I load up a whole chicken and rough-hewn veg, sliding the cooker into a cold oven. (This feels weirdly cruel, but preheating would crack the clay.) Ninety minutes later, I pull out a luscious bird is naturally sweet gravy. Superb. Vegetable ratatouille was aromatic (although I’d prefer a less liquid sauce) while baking a sourdough was revelatory, providing moist, open crumb and crackable, chewy crust. Box clever: they should have called this the Cassius Clay cooker. Still the greatest of all time.

Aromatic ratatouille from the clay oven.

clay oven
Aromatic ratatouille from the clay oven. Redeeming features? I pity the fool who washes his clay cooker, as the pores will absorb the soap. Ain’t no dishwashing to be done here, sucker!

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