The Kitchen Cabinet . . . Freezer-to-Oven-to-Table Pieces : Latest Clay Cooking Vessels 'Breathe' and Will Not Crack During Cooking or Drying

Times Staff Writer

Calling all cooks who have room in their kitchen cupboard for another piece of cookware that just came to town. But wait . . . that excludes a great many of us, probably even the majority.

Listen anyway; these new freezer-to-oven-to-table pieces may just catch your fancy.

Clean, finely proportioned pieces subtly shaded in the palest pink with rims contrasted in terra cotta, these cooking vessels might even have a chance for that coveted space on say, a display shelf, or in the china cabinet perhaps?

From Emile Henry Corp. in the province of Burgundy in France, the Verone line of oven-to-table clay cookware comes to the American kitchen, confidently backed by a name trusted by gourmet French cooks since 1850. The design is contemporary-country. Non-staining and lead-free, these baking molds and pots are modernized to look sleek, refined and smooth, but come in shapes recognized for generations.

Clays That Breathe

Probably the most unusual thing about the cookware is that the pieces will not craze like ordinary clay dishes that crack when they "breathe" (expand and contract) during cooking or drying after washing. Glazed by high-firing techniques, the Emile Henry clays continue to breathe despite the elimination of crazing. It is recommended, though, that they be thoroughly dried after washing, with lids removed before storing and kept upside down until completely dried.

Sans the rugged texture and earthy look of clay, the new French cookware, however, is not deprived of clay's natural benefits. It has the ability to diffuse heat for slow, even cooking, to lock in foods' natural juices as well as to retain heat for long periods. Although the dishes look totally glazed, the bottoms are left unglazed for greater heat absorption.

Aside from looks, function is updated, too, with convenience and easy cleanup given consideration. These dishes are cookware (for baking as well as microwaving), serving dish and storage ware all in one. Move a piece from freezer to hot oven and it won't crack. Because of greater thermic resistance, each piece is able to withstand extreme and frequent temperature changes.

It's easy to critique a cookware by believing all that's said in a manufacturer's brochure, as we've just listed so far. Seeing the product itself is one step toward buying, and call it impulse buying if it's love at first sight. When Times Home Economist Donna Deane and I caught a first glimpse of the Emile Henry Verone line at the San Francisco gourmet products show recently, we were halfway impressed, simply judging from visual appeal.

Product's Color Appreciated

A second good impression was at a luncheon hosted by the company at the Brentwood home of Judith Pacht, who developed and prepared the menu. Pacht, who conducts cooking classes in her airy garden kitchen, used all the glazed-clay pieces from appetizers to entree to desserts. During the luncheon, company chairman Jacques Henry asked us what we liked about the product. Our immediate answer (as other food stylists might have similarly responded) was the color--the clean looks--thinking of how the pieces would blend beautifully with countless table settings but without dominating the scene.

The food, of course, was the main attraction at the luncheon, as it should be for any meal, but the pretty serving dishes complemented each one. The plat rectangulaire (13x10-inch baking dish) is one of Pacht's favorites as a large all-purpose dish. In one she served roasted baby eggplants in garlic-herb vinaigrette and in another a cherry-tomato and herb-garnished veal loaf that was previously baked in the moule a cake (11x4.5-inch loaf pan). Another marvelous attribute of the cookware is that since the glazed surfaces are stick-free and scratch-resistant, any meats or other foods can be carved or sliced right on the dish, as we did with the veal loaf.

In France, any practical homemaker owns a fait tout (a dish that does everything), and the equivalent of that in this country is the large Dutch oven. When Pacht removed the lids of the fait tout avec couvercle (pot with lid) and the marmite avec couvercle (small lidded Dutch oven similar to a bean pot) to reveal the braised red cabbage with chestnuts, the dish was still steaming hot, even though it had been taken out of the oven an hour before, she said. We gave the two pots a big plus for that heat-retaining quality, which is always needed for entertaining.

An All-Time Pleaser

Another versatile dish is the tourtiere (9.5-inch quiche/flan dish), an all-time pleaser for classic bake-and-serve quiches, tarts and custards. Tasty examples to prove its talent were fresh tomato quiche Provencal and an artichoke frittata.

Some people prefer the graceful line of an oval casserole to a rectangular one. Emile Henry carries two oval sizes: a 1.5 and a 2.8-quart plat sabot . Pacht's chicken with lemon and garlic was marinated, baked and served in the large plat sabot. Another useful casserole dish in the Verone line which is one of my favorites is the caquelon avec couvercle (cookpot with handle and lid), which looks somewhat like a fondue pot with a cover.

The luncheon came to a finale with sampling a table full of desserts, featuring delicious pears in caramel sauce and cherry cobbler that were both done in the oval baker, citrus wine gelatin unmolded out of the moule a brioche (fluted brioche mold), a creamy bread pudding baked and served in the moule a souffle (2.5-quart souffle dish) and creme caramel in the little 4-ounce ramekins.

The proof of the pudding was not just in the eating but in testing the products ourselves. In the behandled 1.3-quart cookpot with lid I baked chicken adobo, a Philippine dish with loads of garlic that's braised in vinegar and soy. Taste was fail-proof, but the chicken was exceptionally juicy and tender without falling to pieces, even after it was refrigerated, then reheated in the microwave two days later, all in the same dish. Caramel custard in the ramekins and a risotto casserole in the little Dutch oven both came out with flying colors.

The Emile Henry gourmet French cookware is available at the Broadway and Buffum's stores and selected specialty cookware shops. Suggested retail prices range from $18 (4-piece ramekin set) to $54 ((4.2-quart fait-tout with lid ).

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