When you think of ovenware, you probably think of a casserole dish first. The lidded baking dish is a staple of both the kitchen and the potter’s art, and can be used for casseroles, meats, roasted vegetables, and desserts. The lid can be used to cover the food while it’s cooking, or to cover it after it comes out of the oven. The dish can be round, square, rectangular, or oval, and it can be small enough to bake for one or two people, or large enough to serve a crowd.
What makes a casserole or baking dish useful and enjoyable to use? Is the glaze smooth and easy to clean? Is it deep enough to hold your favorite recipe? Does the lid fit well? Details like handles and knobs are important. Here are some questions to ask yourself when making a baking dish.
Is My Pot Useful?
Does the lid have an unnecessarily high dome, which wastes oven space?
Does the knob stick up so high the pot won’t fit between the racks?
Does the pot have a trimmed foot that may add excess height?
Is the knob easy to grasp, even with a pot holder?
If it has side handles, can you get fingers under them with pot holders?
If it doesn’t have handles, can you grasp the pot’s body with pot holders?
Does it need a trimmed foot or should it be thrown flat on the bottom? There is some difference of opinion among potters in this regard. Common practice is to avoid a trimmed foot on bakeware. Most cooks prefer to use a pot with a flat bottom and no foot; in addition to adding unnecessary height, a trimmed foot may catch on an oven rack. Also, a trimmed foot catches water in the dishwasher, although this is easily avoided by cutting a notch into the foot. However, some potters put a foot ring on baking dishes to glaze across the entire bottom. This ensures that the bottom of the pot isn’t stressed by having a glaze on one side only, since clay and glaze always expand and contract at slightly different rates with heating and cooling. In addition, if the clay is not fully vitrified—such as an earthenware clay—a trimmed foot ring allows for glazing as much of the surface as possible, thus helping to seal the clay from absorbing moisture. In general, however, a flat bottom with a slightly rounded corner helps protect the pot from heat shock and is an easy form to use.
Should the pot have a gallery to hold the lid, or should the lid have a flange to hold it in place? Typically, the lid of a casserole dish sits on a gallery built into the rim of the pot. While this is functional, some potters think the pot should have a simple rim with a flange on the lid.
To quote Vince Pitelka, “With the normal ‘cookie-jar’ socket-style gallery on a casserole, where the gallery is on the pot rather than on the lid, anything that bubbles and spatters onto the underside of the lid flows down onto the gallery and makes a real mess, sometimes sticking the lid in place. Also, a casserole with this kind of gallery makes a less-attractive presentation when placed on the table with the lid. In contrast, with the gallery on the lid, anything that bubbles and spatters onto the underside of the lid simply drips back down into the casserole and does not contaminate the gallery. It’s a fairly fine point, but worth considering.”
Also, a gallery built into the rim of the pot might make it more difficult to remove the first serving of a casserole. On the other hand, the traditional simple, slightly domed lid is easier to make and potentially easier to replace if broken. Some users believe that if there is a flange on the lid then it will end up getting into the food when it’s placed on the pot. Some potters think that the profile of the dish when the lid is set on a gallery inside the rim of the pot is more clean and compact. Also, this kind of lid stores easily and compactly upside down inside the gallery.
The decision about what kind of lid to make might depend on what is being cooked in the casserole, and whether it’s being cooked with the lid on or the lid is going to be used to cover the dish after baking. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.
Excerpted from In the Potter’s Kitchen by Sumi von Dassow, available on the Ceramic Arts Network Shop: https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/shop.