What is La Chamba?
La Chamba is a line of clay cooking pots that are handmade in Colombia. The non-toxic clay naturally contains mica which makes it extra-strong. The black color comes from the firing process and the smooth, satiny finish is accomplished by hand-rubbing the surface with stones. La Chamba is exclusively made in a village in Columbia and the women and craftsmen who make these pots are their own bosses and set their own prices. It is now available in many shapes and sizes (see My Toque's website, below.)
Why Use This Pot?
As we've discussed here before, cooking in clay is different than cooking in metal. The clay retains heat and moisture, enabling a slow, even, 'from the bottom up' cooking. Because the clay absorbs moisture, there is less harsh steam in the pot, so food is able to cook in its own juices and not dry out. And many foods, but especially beans, emerge from La Chamba pots tasting earthier and with a creamier texture.
Although she doesn't specifically talk about La Chamba, the video (above) of the estimable Paul Wolfert speaking about clay cookery is worth watching for more information. Especially interesting is her comparison between crock-pot and clay cookery, discussed here in part three.
Why Do I Like This Pot?
Well, for all the reasons listed above, for starters. I am really falling in love with cooking in clay pots due to this pot. It performs beautifully on the stove as well as in the oven. I have a gas stove and have had no problem using this pot directly on the flame. (Electric stoves should use a diffuser.) I have made beans, several soups, and a braise so far and have been very happy with the results. Somehow, the food I cook in this pot seems creamier, more infused with flavor.
I also LOVE the way this pot looks! It's both modern and rustic looking at the same time and the satin black color and finish add an extra touch of elegance. There's something almost endearing about its round squat shape and little ear-like handles. I can bring it straight from stovetop to table with style and grace. Plus, it retains heat, keeping food warm for a long time after it's left the oven. Another bonus is that you can use it in the microwave, although I haven't been able to test that.
As with many artisan products, La Chamba has a few quirks. It is sensitive to heat and should not go directly from the refrigerator to the stove or oven, for example. It also is recommended that it go into a cold (not preheated) oven. And because it is handmade, the lid doesn't always fit tightly on top. Also, for some people the fact that it shouldn't go into the dishwasher may be an issue. But so far, none of this has been a problem for me. I am looking forward to a long and happy relationship with my La Chamba Soup & Bean Pot! (Thanks, Lee and Susan!)