No matter what I'm cooking, I always seem to reach for the same pot.
My efforts to declutter my house have prompted some deep thinking about which household items add the most value to my life. Particularly in the kitchen, which has a tendency to build up clutter because so many tools have specialized functions, I've been paying closer attention to which items I use most often and which are most versatile.
One item stands out above all else – a Dutch oven made by Le Creuset. It seems that, every single day, no matter what I'm making, this is the pot I reach for. If you're familiar with the iconic French brand, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about – a round, red, 5.5-liter pot with a nice solid lid and black handle. (I also have an additional stainless handle that can replace the black one if I'm baking at high temperatures.)My husband purchased the pot shortly after we got married, following a conversation with the staff at The Healthy Butcher in Toronto. At the time I thought it was a rather spontaneous and overly pricey purchase, considering how little money we had, but he was determined to build up our collection of kitchen tools, slowly but surely. It turns out he was right; it quickly became one of my all-time favorite things to use.
That Creuset pot is like the analog equivalent of an Instant Pot. It does everything. In fact, there's hardly anything it doesn't do. The thick, heavy bottom makes it good for heat-sensitive sauces like béchamel, vanilla pudding, custard for ice cream, and caramel. The cast iron heats up beautifully to sear vegetables, meats, and to caramelize onions. The enamel interior washes clean and does not retain strong flavors, so I don't hesitate to use it for spicy curries and dals and long-simmering bolognese sauce.
Thanks to a heavy lid that fits perfectly, there are countless dishes I can start on the stovetop and transfer to the oven, like braises, chili, stew, baked mushroom risotto, and beans. It's perfect for baking loaves of wet no-knead bread and other slow-rise fermented loaves, giving it a divinely crispy crust, like something straight out of an artisanal bakery.
When I have a heap of dripping greens to sauté, I prefer the Creuset to a frying pan because I can dump everything in and it will fry up in no time, with less spitting oil and a shorter time to cook down. It's great for large batches of kale, collards, spinach, and rapini.
I've used that pot as a cake pan in a pinch, making a blueberry coffee cake, and it has worked well for loaves of cheesy cornbread. It even made an appearance once in the middle of an elegant afternoon tea table, acting as a punch bowl for lemonade.
Le Creuset appeals to me also because it represents a style of manufacturing that's largely being lost today. Still made by hand in France, every pot take ten hours to make and is handled by 15 people. In that context, it's easier to understand a price tag that's often in the mid-300s.
This is a tool that's built for constant use and an indefinite lifespan. Pastry chef and author David Lebovitz was a lucky visitor to a Le Creuset factory in France and described why he thinks this brand stays so relevant after almost a century in business, with virtually no change to its manufacturing process:
"Unlike a luxury watch or Hermès handbag, a Le Creuset pot, pan, or gratin dish is something that you can buy and use every day. If you buy a Made in France Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot or pan, you’ll be owning one that can be handed down for generations, just like they are in France."
To me, that's a beautiful concept, and one that's well worth the upfront investment. After nearly a decade of using this pot daily, I can say with confidence that it's hard to imagine life without it.