Clay-pot cooking may seem mystifying at first, but the techniques are quite simple. Here is a step-by-step guide to get you started.

  1. To prepare the pot before cooking, fill a sink with warm water and completely submerge both top and bottom of the pot in water. Let it soak for 10-15 minutes, remove, drain briefly and add ingredients.
  2. Add liquid sparingly—the food will release its own juices. If you do use liquid, half a cup of stock or wine is about all you need. You shouldn't need any oil, other than a small amount of olive or other vegetable oil for flavor.
  3. Place the pot on the center rack of a cold oven. Never put a clay pot in a hot oven—it can crack, and a gradual temperature increase is crucial to the cooking process.
  4. Some recipes may call for stirring the ingredients during cooking, but generally, refrain from opening the oven or removing the lid of the clay pot, to keep juices and flavors sealed in.
  5. When you take the pot out of the oven, place it on a wooden cutting board or thick towel. Setting a hot clay pot on a cold tile counter may cause the pot to crack.
  6. Remove the pot from the oven before the dish is completely done, since the heat from the pot will continue to cook food for 5-10 minutes after it's out of the oven.

Most recipes can be adapted to clay-pot cooking—as a general guideline, increase the cooking temperature by 100° and the time by 30 minutes. So experiment! Try layering sliced vegetables with thick tomato sauces, pair fresh seafood with potatoes and peas, simmer poultry in a simple broth of white wine and saffron. You'll soon be hooked on easy, low-fat and fat-free clay-pot cooking. And that's no crock.