Paula Wolfert on Clay Pot Cooking

As part of my job, I get to work with Food & Wine contributing editor—and as far as I'm concerned, food deity—Paula Wolfert, who often writes our Master Cook column. One of the many bonuses to this gig: regular updates on Paula’s continuous research. For the past five years, Paula has been compiling a book on clay-pot cooking, due out from Wiley next spring.

Wolfert swears by cooking with clay, insisting that almost everything tastes better after slow cooking in an earthen vessel. She’s persuaded me: I recently bought what she is convinced is the very best pot for cooking beans. I do what she tells me because she knows of what she speaks. She owns hundreds: tagines from Morocco, cazuelas from Spain, clay pots from Tunisia, Turkey, Italy, Greece and China. The very first pot she bought was a clay triperie, a French vessel for making tripe stew. She found it in a shop on Sixth Avenue in New York, while taking cooking lessons with Dione Lucas in 1957. Flash-forward fifty years – and hundreds of pots – later, and she’s still discovering ways to learn from them. At chef Daniel Patterson’s recent wedding in California, acclaimed food scientist Harold McGee approached Paula about a project he’s working on, researching the effect of terroir on flavor. He’d like to come visit her in Sonoma to explore her pot collection: he wants, she says, to know how they smell.

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