The Small Spanish Cooking Dishes Bobby Flay Can't Stop Using

If you order fajitas at a restaurant, they're often served still sizzling in a cast iron skillet. French onion soup might come to you in a cheese-encrusted soup crock, while enticing family-style meals from casseroles to roasts can be baked in the oven and brought right to the table. This is aptly called "oven-to-table cooking." Oven-to-table cooking is convenient for cooks and makes for a wonderful presentation for the diner. Webstaurant Store explains that multipurpose oven-to-table cookware like pots, bowls, and trays also keep food warm, and reduces the number of dishes you need to clean at the end of the meal.

According to Martha Stewart, oven-to-table dishes are aesthetically-pleasing workhorses that prevent messes when transitioning food from cooking to serving, and name materials like cast iron, ceramic, carbon steel, copper, enameled cast iron, and porcelain. There's also terra cotta, which is Italian for "baked earth" and it isn't just used for flower pots. Britannica explains that the fired clay has been used around the world since ancient times for everything from cooking to art and architecture. Celebrity chef and TV personality Bobby Flay is a proponent of oven-to-table cooking, and he's especially famous for the use of a specific Spanish clay cooking dish. You should be, too, and here's why.

Bobby Flay and the cazuela

Bobby Flay is known as a grill master, but he's also got oven skills. In an interview with Williams Sonoma Taste, he said, "I love oven-to-table cooking. Use sizzling platters or cazuelas to cook the food in and then bring it to the table and serve it." In a 2003 article from The New York Times, Flay stirred the culinary world with his roasted salmon with herb vinaigrette. The stars of the show were the two small cazuelas (pronounced kah-SWEH-lah, per SpanishDict) which NPR describes as round, shallow, glazed-on-the-inside clay dishes with straight sides and varying sizes. It's said that the slick surface of the cazuela prevents food from sticking and the thick earthenware offers superb heat control.

Ancient Cookware writes that cazuelas harden every time you cook with them, making them reliable and long-lasting and that in parts of Spain like Pereruela, cazuelas are still hand-made as they were for millennia with a special clay that grants it its culinary superpowers. Aside from his renowned salmon recipe, Flay also has roasted shrimp in cazuela, and he told Bon Appétit that he prefers eight-inch cazuelas and uses them for roasting mushrooms, shallots, and garlic or cooking squid in chili oil. Martha Stewart recommends the cazuela for vegetable gratins and roasted chicken.

Oven to table cooking at home

If you've already got a cazuela or two in your online shopping cart, know that they do come with a bit of a learning curve, not unlike cast iron pans. NPR explains that you must condition and maintain your cazuela, including soaking it overnight before its maiden cooking voyage and if it hasn't been used in a while to keep it from cracking due to moisture loss. The article also warns not to subject it to radical temperature changes or heat it above 400 degrees during its first few months of use. While they're great oven to table, don't go from oven to fridge, and be careful when handling and moving the cazuela. Lastly, NPR cautions not to use more than a few drops of soap when cleaning cazuelas and to use a soft-bristle brush.

You can always start small with over-to-table cooking with ramekins. Think mini pot pies, enchiladas, polenta, shakshuka, and desserts. The tiny dishes, which you can make a creme brulee in, can even withstand a blowtorch. Consider the Italian pignata the predecessor of the slow cooker: a terra cotta pot that's used for everything from lamb and octopus to beans and potatoes. Martha Stewart shouts out the Moroccan tagine, beloved by cooks worldwide. In fact, many celebrity chefs including Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, Robert Irvine, and Emeril Lagasse offer branded lines of cookware in which oven-to-table dishes can be found (per Reviewed). Bring ancient cooking into your modern home and impress your guests with oven-to-table cookware.